The UMass-Lowell men’s team was in a celebratory mood Saturday after winning the program’s first Hockey East tournament championship, to go with its regular-season league crown. Rightly so, as it was a well-deserved and hard-fought honor after a 4-7-1 start.
Second-year coach Norm Bazin’s squad turned in a phenomenal performance against Boston University in the 1-0 victory at TD Garden.
The River Hawks had time to savor the honor because the CCHA championship was pushed from Saturday night to Sunday afternoon because of a scheduling conflict. That meant all the teams in the NCAA Tournament mix had to wait until Sunday night to find out their destination and opponent.
Predictably, the River Hawks are the No. 1 seed in the Northeast Regional in Manchester, N.H., and will face No. 4 seed Wisconsin at the Verizon Wireless Arena on Friday at 4:30 p.m. No. 2 seed New Hampshire will square off against No. 3 Denver at 8 p.m.
“It was pretty neat,’’ said Lowell captain Riley Wetmore. “They always have the predictions so we kind of knew where we’d be and who we’d be playing against but it’s great to be close to home and only 25 miles away so we can get a lot of fans again like we did at the Garden.’’
Last year, Lowell made it to the East Regional final before losing to Union. Wetmore said the River Hawks aren’t just happy to be there anymore.
“We want to keep going here,’’ said Wetmore. “This year we are going in as the No. 1 seed and we’ve earned our spot. But we have to be focused on that one game, that Friday game. We are definitely excited but we are definitely drawing on the experience from last year as well.’’
Defending national champion Boston College, which lost in the Hockey East semifinals to BU, is the No. 2 seed at the East Regional, to be played in Providence at the Dunkin’ Donuts Center. The Eagles will take on ECAC champion Union for the first time in program history. BC and Union both made it to last year’s Frozen Four in Tampa but Ferris State eliminated Union in the semifinals.
Quinnipiac, the top overall seed, is No. 1 in the East, will play No. 4 Canisius on Saturday at 5:30 p.m., with BC-Union to follow.
In the West Regional in Grand Rapids, Mich., No. 4 Yale will square off against No. 1 Minnesota at 2 p.m. on Friday, with No. 3 Niagara and No. 2 North Dakota in the second game at Van Andel Arena.
In the Midwest regional in Toledo, Ohio, No. 1 Notre Dame — which beat Michigan, 3-1, in the CCHA final — will play No. 4 St. Cloud State at 1:30 p.m. on Saturday, and No. 2 Miami University will take on No. 3 Minnesota State at 5 p.m. at the Huntington Center.
BC coach Jerry York, who is recovering from eye surgery, was at Conte Forum Sunday night to watch the selection show. York said he was very relieved the Eagles were slotted in Providence because he isn’t allowed to fly and he would’ve had to drive had BC been sent to the Midwest or West regionals.
“On a selfish reason, all our alumni and people who live in the New England area can easily see us,’’ said York. “Students can get down there so we should have a real large turnout at the Dunkin’ Donuts Center.’’
Last year, when the Eagles gathered for the NCAA Tournament pairings, York placed the trophies the team had already won on the table underneath the television. There was the Icebreaker Tournament trophy, the Beanpot championship, and the Hockey East tournament championship.
This year, all that was on the table was the Beanpot trophy. The team was disappointed to have been knocked out of the Hockey East semifinals for the first time since 2009, the only blemish for the BC senior class at TD Garden. But now, it’s a new season.
“We wanted to play for hardware,’’ said York. “We had our chances in the game against BU to score early and we didn’t capitalize. More credit to them, they hung in there and they beat us. We learn from it and we move on.
“It’s one trophy we don’t get but like I told my players, this is the shiniest of all the trophies. This has all our attention, the 16 best teams for the most part in college hockey.’’
BC captain Pat Mullane, whose class was 14-0 at the Garden going into Friday night’s game, said it wasn’t a lot of fun not having a game to play on Saturday.
“Obviously, that was a tough one to swallow,’’ said Mullane. “It’s not something that any of us have ever experienced. I think we’re spoiled in that regard. None of us had left TD Garden with that feeling in your stomach. So obviously that was tough for us.
“But at the end of the day, we realized we’re going to play [next weekend] and it’s a good feeling. It was difficult sitting around all weekend wondering, ‘Are we in Toledo? Are we in Grand Rapids or Providence?’ It’s nice to have that over with.’’
Mullane said most of all, the team is excited to be playing so close to home.
“With Coach and his eye, he’s not allowed to fly,’’ said Mullane. “If we got put in Toledo or Grand Rapids, that’s a long drive. For us, it’s comforting that our friends and family will be able to support us and the super fans will be there for us. Everyone is excited we’re staying east.’’