It only took one game for the UMass Lowell River Hawks to screw up their No. 1 ranking, and boy, did they screw it up in a stupid way.
The River Hawks opened the season Friday night against Sacred Heart. It should have been a warmup game for UMass Lowell, but when the horn sounded the Pioneers walked out of Tsongas Center with a 2-1 upset.
Context: UMass Lowell made it to the Frozen Four last season (yes, like the Final Four in college basketball). River Hawks goalie Connor Hellebuyck had a 1.37 goals against average in 24 games (which is excellent). The team had a 28-11-2 record last season. There were very good reasons behind voters' decisions to rank UMass Lowell first.
To get an idea of how weak UMass Lowell's competition in their season-opener was, look at Sacred Heart's 2012-13 season. The Pioneers won two games. Two games! They notched home wins against Holy Cross and Bentley. Friday was the Pioneers' first win against a Hockey East team ever. This shit should not ever, ever happen.
Sacred Heart drew first blood in the first period after winger Drew George's goal, which was shocking enough. When the River Hawks finally scored in the third period, it took the Pioneers only 1:25 to regain the lead with George's second goal.
It's hard to chalk this up as anything other than fantastic play by Sacred Heart, especially goalie Alex Vazzano. UMass Lowell had its scoring chances, but Vazzano's excellent goaltending and 35 saves stifled the River Hawks' offense.
Saturday night, everything returned to normal: UMass Lowell beat UMass 5-2, and Sacred Heart was pummeled by Rensselaer, 6-0. But chalk that Friday night up as a huge morale boost for the Pioneers, and a reminder for the River Hawks that no game—not even one against a team that hadn't won on the road since March 3, 2012—will be handed to you.
Photo: Justin K. Aller/Getty Images