MANCHESTER, N.H. Former Odessa Jackalopes goaltender Connor Hellebuyck stopped 28 shots and UMass-Lowell advanced to the Frozen Four for the first time with a 2-0 victory over New Hampshire in the NCAA Northeast Regional final Saturday night.
Scott Wilson scored with 30 seconds left in the second period, and Adam Chapie added a goal with 6:02 left in the third, providing more than enough offense for UMass-Lowell (28-10-2) and its freshman star in net.
"You don't go anywhere this time of year without a great goalie and we have one," said coach Norm Bazin, who took over at his alma mater last season after the River Hawks went 5-25-4 in 2010-11.
Hellebuyck has allowed only four goals in six postseason games for the Hockey East champion River Hawks, who lost all three regular-season meetings against New Hampshire (20-12-7). Hellebuyck played just one period of that series, coming off the bench of a 5-2 loss on Nov. 30.
The River Hawks surged shortly after that, sweeping the Hockey East regular-season and tournament championships and earning the top seed in the Northeast. On Saturday, UMass-Lowell extended the best season in school history by reaching the national semifinals for the first time as an NCAA Division I program.
"It's a great feeling. Everyone here has a big smile on their face. It's huge for our program and it's huge for our school," said Hellebuyck, 20-2-0 as the starter. "We knew what we needed to do and I think we brought it. We really worked hard from that puck drop."
The River Hawks will play Yale in the Frozen Four debut for both schools April 11 in Pittsburgh.
Casey DeSmith had 26 saves for the Wildcats, who have reached the tournament in four of the last five seasons and lost in the regional finals each time.
"We've been here one too many times in this situation where we won the first game and then lost," New Hampshire captain Connor Hardowa said. "Credit goes to them on this one. But I thought we played a pretty good game and there were just a couple mistakes here and there that cost us the game."
New Hampshire was without forwards Grayson Downing and Kevin Goumas, who both took hits to the head Friday in a 5-2 win over Denver. Goumas led the Wildcats in points with 42 points, and Downing tied for the team high in goals with 15.
With two of its top three scorers out of the lineup, New Hampshire struggled against UMass-Lowell's tight checking. When the Wildcats did get a decent scoring chance, Hellebuyck was always there to stop it.
DeSmith matched Hellebuyck almost save-for-save until Wilson poked in his own rebound near the end of the second period. New Hampshire remained within a goal until late in the third when Chapie skated the puck the length of the ice, got around defenseman Brett Kostolansky and lifted a backhand between DeSmith's pad and blocker with 6:02 left to play.
"I don't even remember how it got on my tape, but it ended up there," Chapie said. "I just tried to drive wide and get the puck to the net. It just happened to go in.
The UMass-Lowell fans who made the 30-mile trip north started chanting "U-M-L! U-M-L!" as the time ticked away. New Hampshire pulled DeSmith with less than 3 minutes to go but the extra skater was little help against the River Hawks' defense.
"Two goals they say is the worst lead in hockey. You've still got to work hard and we knew that UNH was going to come back," Chapie said. "We stuck together and at the end of the game we had a huge shift from all our guys on the ice, blocking shots and trying to get it out. And our goaltender was playing unbelievable."