Valuable senior experience helps UMass Lowell capture Hockey East title

March 18, 2017 - 7:00 pm

When a team has played in this game as often as UMass Lowell has, it has something a lot of other teams might not: experience. For the senior group on the River Hawks, that rings true. Lowell has been in the last five Hockey East championship games, and the senior class has now won two of them following a 4-2 victory over Boston College on Saturday night. That senior class that has been a part of all four contests is small, with just three players. Joe Gambardella has seen four of these games, and he scored in the latest edition, netting the dagger with 8:23 left in the second period to extend the River Hawk lead to 4-2. "It's always nice when you have experience, things you can learn from, and they're not always negative," said the senior center. "From day one we were ready to execute." Dylan Zink and Michael Kapla, seniors on the top defense pair, have also been a part of four title contests. Both Kapla, a captain, and Zink produced 25 assists this season for one of the more dynamic pairings in the nation. Kapla, named to the Hockey East all-tournament team,  made his mark on the championship game with an assist on Saturday night, coming on Gambardella's 18th tally of the season. "As good as Joseph Gambardella is up front, Michael Kapla is that on defense," said head coach Norm Bazin. "He's the anchor, he's the pillar back there. Dylan [Zink] gets a lot of notoriety for his offensive game, Kapla is a good combination of defense and offense. He's going to play for a long time after college." That defense pair also helped freshman goalie Tyler Wall keep the puck out of the net late in the game when the Eagles outshot Lowell 15-2 in the final frame. Gambardella also assisted on John Edwardh's goal, the go-ahead for the River Hawks in the second period. The forward was also named to the all-tournament team. "He's certainly developed over four years, he's a substance player," said Bazin. "Aesthetically he might not look perfect but he produces. He's always a plus player, he's a glue guy in the locker room and a captain." Bazin has seen the River Hawks in this title game for five of his six years since taking over as head coach in 2011. The 2016-2017 Hockey East Coach of the Year has been able to lead Lowell past traditional Hockey East powerhouses Boston University and Boston College to be the mainstay at the top of the conference. It's the first time a Hockey East team has gone to five straight title games since Maine went to seven straight from 1987-93, and the dynasty has a lot to do with the recruits Bazin has brought, and he's in the conversation as one of the best coaches nationally. The River Hawks weren't on the map as a contender as much as they have been in the past half decade under Bazin, and the veteran leadership from the current senior class has been the core. "We just commit to the process," said Gambardella. "Every day is a new day, and everyone comes to the rink everyday wanting to be better. We choose to get 1 percent better every day or 1 percent worse, and I think we've been going in the right direction since day one."