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Joe Gambardella (UML - 5) - The University of Massachusetts Lowell River Hawks defeated the Providence College Friars 2-1 at 12:27 of the third overtime in their Hockey East semi-final meeting on Friday, March 18, 2016, at TD Garden in Boston, Massachusetts. (Melissa Wade)
Joe Gambardella led UMass Lowell with 18 goals and 51 points during the 2016-17 season (photo: Melissa Wade).

The Gridiron Club of Greater Boston announced Wednesday that UMass Lowell senior forward Joe Gambardella is the winner of the 65th Walter Brown Award, presented annually to the best American-born college hockey player in New England.

Gambardella, from Staten Island, N.Y., is the first Lowell player to win the Walter Brown Award, the nation’s oldest nationally-recognized college hockey honor.

The award was established in 1953 by the members of the 1933 Massachusetts Rangers, the first American team ever to win the World Championship tournament. Brown coached the Rangers to the title in Prague, Czechoslovakia, that year as the team defeated Canada 2-1 in overtime in the championship game.

Gambardella led the River Hawks to a first seed in the 2017 Hockey East playoffs and a 4-3 win over Boston College in the league championship game. During his career, UML played four times in the championship game and won the title twice.

Gambardella finished the season as the team’s scoring leader with 18 goals and 33 assists for 51 points. In his 148 career games, prior to the 2017 NCAA tournament, he has scored 47 goals and added 81 assist for 128 points. In 2016-2017, his seven game-winning goals tied him for first place in the nation in that category.

He also received the Len Ceglarski Sportsmanship Award from Hockey East for the second consecutive year.

“Joe Gambardella has developed greatly as a man and a student athlete throughout his four years,” said River Hawks coach Norm Bazin in a news release. “He has become one of the elite offensive threats in Hockey East due to his work ethic and persistence. He is a true example of what a student-athlete should stand for on and off the ice. He is very deserving of this award.”

In the final voting, Gambardella won by a slight margin over Northeastern senior forward Zach Aston-Reese, also of Staten Island, and New Hampshire senior forward Tyler Kelleher of Longmeadow, Mass.

“Once again we had a large contingent – 23 in all – of semifinalists for the Walter Brown Award,” noted Gridiron Club Hockey Awards Committee chairman Tim Costello. “By the end of the season, Joe, Zach and Tyler had separated themselves from the pack and had become the clear front-runners. The final vote was very close, and any of them would have been a worthy recipient. The Gridiron Club extends its congratulations to all three – all of them seniors – for their superb seasons and outstanding college careers.”

Harvard’s Jimmy Vesey won the award in 2016 and 2015.

The award will be formally presented at the New England College Hockey Writers’ Dinner on April 11 at the Prince Restaurant in Saugus, Mass.