Joseph Pendenza has been one the keys to his UMass-Lowell teammates having reason to celebrate this season.
Junior Joseph Pendenza grew up less than 20 minutes from the UMass-Lowell campus in nearby Wilmington. With names like Vallorani, Wilson, Wetmore and Ferreira getting much of the attention, Pendenza has floated under the radar for much of his first three seasons in Lowell.
Most people around Hockey East would probably be surprised to know that Pendenza has notched ten goals or more in each of his first three seasons. This season he ranks first on the team in assists and points and second in goals. Pendenza also has the third best plus/minus on the team.
This past weekend was a big series for UMass-Lowell. Prior to the weekend the River Hawks were sitting in sixth place, two points behind Boston University, the team they would face twice. Pendenza notched a goal and an assist each night for four points on the weekend. New to the spotlight, Pendenza spoke of the team being a bigger priority than his scoring after the game Saturday. "It's great to get the four points [on the score sheet], but I'll take the four points in the standings any day of the week," he said.
The first half of the season was rocky for Pendenza and his teammates. Coming off a surprising second place finish and a trip to the NCAA Tournament, the River Hawks struggled out of the gate. It was in part due to a tough schedule, but the team didn't play as well as it was capable of either. The team didn't start to play to its potential until around the Christmas break.
Pendenza said, "We really started to crack down around Christmas. We bought into the systems and bonded as we came together as a team more."
Another reason for the second half turnaround has been the play of freshman Connor Hellebuyck in goal. The Winnipeg Jets draft pick has really come on strong with a 1.53 goals against average and a .942 save percentage.
The whole conference knows about the reigning Hockey East Rookie of the Year Scott Wilson. The talented Pittsburgh Penguins draft pick has some slick moves and a hard, accurate shot. Wilson has a four game point streak of his own currently.
Teams will look to hone in on Wilson's line. That makes it even more important that Pendenza continues to step out of the shadows. He has been paired with fellow junior Josh Holmstrom for much of the season. The two have made for a pair to play against.
The River Hawks have five games remaining, all against teams in the top four of the league standings, starting with Tuesday's showdown against defending national champions Boston College. It appears that UML will be up to the task as second year coach Norm Bazin has the team peaking at the right time.
Jeff Cox covers college hockey for SBNation. Follow him on twitter @JeffCoxSBNation.