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Gritty Joe Gambardella is one reason UMass Lowell is the team nobody wants to play

Joe Gambardella deflects credit the way Toronto Maple Leafs goalie Frederik Anderson deflects pucks.

Quickly and efficiently.

If things work out someday they could be teammates.

Gambardella’s “share the wealth” outlook is not the only reason the senior forward has been a fan favorite for UMass Lowell. But his team-first mentality is certainly a major reason why the River Hawks are 13-5-3 heading into a Hockey East showdown at New Hampshire Friday on ASN.

Gambardella and teammates Dylan Zink and C.J. Smith netted spots on the school’s all-era team comprised of players from 2007 to present. The school recently released five decades of all-era teams to celebrate their 50th season of hockey.

Gambardella’s gritty style earned him an invitation to the Anaheim Ducks summer camp this past offseason, something he called both an honor and a learning experience.

He said the same about being named to the all-era team.

“Me being on that team is an honor I’m extremely proud of and I have to thank my linemates since I was freshman for getting me there,” Gambardella said. “It’s more of a reflection on them. I’ve been paired with some amazing players, including C.J. right now and getting to play with Dylan.”

Gambardella eclipsed the century mark for career scoring on Dec. 9 in a win against Merrimack and scored seven points to lead the River Hawks to the Ledyard Bank Classic championship over the New Year’s Eve weekend. The tournament MVP, Gambardella tallied one goal and four assists in the 7-4 win over Dartmouth in the title game and had two points in a 3-2 win over Colgate in the tournament opener. He now has 40 goals and 69 assists in 130 games, but he’s one of those players whose biggest contributions don’t always show up in the stats line.

A grinder at heart, Gambardella has one goal with each shift.

“I try to go out, and be hardest worker on the ice for each shift,” he said. “When I get back to the bench my goal is being able to say I did that.”

Gambardella has 23 points in his last 14 games, including a goal in Tuesday night's 5-1 victory against RPI.

UMass Lowell has consistently been the team nobody wants to play at tournament time, particularly for in-season tournaments. The River Hawks have appeared in the championship game in seven consecutive regular-season tournaments, winning five.

They took the Ledyard Classic trophy this past weekend, and at the UConn Holiday Classic, the Frozen Holiday Classic, the Mariucci Classic and the Friendship Four Tournament. During that time UMass Lowell has had a 12-1-1 record in tournament play and also won a shootout.

Smith, a junior forward, will be the next River Hawks player to reach the century-point mark. In 100 games he has 46 goals and 53 assists for 99 points. He had the second hat trick of his career this past weekend.

Zink, also a junior, has scored 28 goals as a defenseman, but 17 have either tied games or given the River Hawks the lead. He also had 43 career assists.

For his part, Gambardella said hockey will be in his future in some capacity. He already has his business degree and has backup plans set, but he’s doing everything possible to get his shot at the NHL.

“That’s a long ways off right now,” he said. “I just want to focus on the next game and the rest of this season.”

Dave Dondoneau is a freelance writer based in Honolulu. Follow him on Twitter @DakotaHI.

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