Lowell Preview; KAEO Zac Rondeau

Lowell River Hawks 2-16-2 (2-12-0) Hockey East 10th


Massachusetts Minutemen 3-11-3 (2-6-3) Hockey East 8th

I’m worried about this weekend’s series against Lowell. UMass has not played well since prior to Thanksgiving. They currently seem incapable of playing a full sixty minute game. And anything less than three points this weekend will create some major problems in the standings. In fact if Lowell can gain three points from the Minutemen they’ll pull even in the standings, granted with three more Hockey East games played. Still, with Northeastern coming back to beat UMass last weekend it’s important for the team to put some distance between themselves and the River Hawks, the last place team in Hockey East. I’m not sure what the goals the team have made for themselves but I just want to see a playoff berth, yeta lackluster showing against Lowell will put that in doubt.

How bad would a loss to the River Hawks be at this point? Well let me point out that they’re currently mired in an 11 game losing streak. If you want to expand that out they’ve actually lost 15 of their last 16. They are last among the Hockey East teams in scoring and last in defense. This is a team UMass can beat. I said “can” because “should” went out the window in last weekend’s loss to Northeastern after being up 3-1.

Lowell has been struggling in a lot of areas but one they’ve done well in is their power play, which is currently converting at 17.4%, 3rd best in the conference. Last year he was good for a freshman but I think it’s time to officially call Riley Wetmore one of Hockey East’s stars. The sophomore has 9 goals and 7 assists so far for the River Hawks and is certainly one of the more exiting players in the league. I would call him the best of the Lowell squad, which is great considering he’s a sophomore but also shows how far guys like Maury Edwards and Scott Campbell (though injured) have fallen. In fact offensively he’s joined by other underclassmen like Derek Arnold, Josh Holmstrom (yes, Ben’s brother), and Joe Pendenza in putting up points for the River Hawks, but the upperclassmen are conspicuously absent. This is the future of Lowell hockey and while things look bleak now, these guys do look skilled.

Defensively, these guys are a trainwreck. When they’ve been outscored 138 to 220 it’s not surprising that no one on the team has a positive plus/minus. But when they have guys like Mike Scheu and especially Edwards at the very bottom of the +/- stats column, it’s surprising. And then you have their goaltending. None of their three goaltenders has a goals against average better than 3.79 or a save percentage over .900. Doug Carr, who was at one time recruited by UMass, has taken the brunt of the abuse with 15 games played so far. If there’s one thing Lowell has done well defensively it’s that they haven’t taken many penalties. In fact they’ve taken the fewest penalties in the league. But maybe that actually favors UMass since the Minuteman power play is one of the worst in the conference.

On the UMass side of things they need to play a full game. They had a 3-1 lead last weekend on a team that does not score a lot of goals (and doesn’t give up much either) and in a blink of the eye lost it all. Then they went toe-to-toe with #4 UNH and faded at the very end to lose that chance at an upset. I certainly think that UMass is more skilled than Lowell at this point and have the advantage of having a senior goaltender. UMass can win these games. Whether they choose to win though is up to them. It sounds like healthwise they’re coming back with Briane Keane ready. It’s also being reported that Branden Gracel could be in the lineup which will give them a lot of offensive weapons, especially with Mike Lecomte back for the semester. Defensively I’m not as worried, which is something considering their youth. But the defense has been a bend but don’t break kind of defense. It’s one or two goal outputs offensively that is killing the Minutemen recently. Hopefully they can light the lamp against Lowell’s underachieving defense and youthful goaltenders.

Beer The Triangle
The easy choice for tomorrow’s road trip is Lowell Beer Works, located just a couple blocks away from Tsongas Arena Pavillion Gardens Parthenon Center. I like the Beer Works chain, though I tend to find they usually have around 25% great beers and 75% mediocre beers (usually no truly bad beers). To make sure I could write an informed Beer The Triangle tonight, I stopped off at the local Beer Works in Hingham to scout their January offerings. This month’s theme is Beligans. Top recommendation would go to the Belgian Special Ale, a Belgian Strong with a good balance of malt and sugar to it. I also liked the Houblon Rouge, a tough to find Beligan IPA. But I have to say their Saison always holds a special place in my heart since it’s the beer that finally turned my beer-hating wife into her current beer connoisseur state. Years and years of “taste this”, “yuck”, “taste this”, “yuck”, were all turned to fruition with her sip of Beer Works’ Saison. Now I have to fight her for the beer in the fridge. In retrospect, I’m not really sure that was a good thing.

Back on topic, LBW is good but if you can get off work a couple hours early and want to have some of the best beer of the Merrimack Valley I recommend heading to The Tap in Haverhill. The Tap is the bar extension of Haverhill Brewery, one of my favorite breweries in the Commonwealth. While it’s a little chilly right now to enjoy their excellent patio overlooking the river, the atmosphere of the bar itself is only topped only by the beer itself. The first thing that attracted me to Haverhill Brewing is the fact that they’re one of the few breweries that can make a decent alt bier, in the form of their Gestalt. I’m not exactly sure what beers they’ll have on draft tomorrow, but I’m personally hoping for their Snowbound Ale, an old ale appropriately named for this past week, and their Triskelion Barleywine. The Tap is probably close to a half hour drive from Lowell so please plan accordingly and responsibly.

According to the Springfield Republican UMass is looking at Springfield Cathedral goaltender Zac Rondeau. They also report he’s being looked at by BC, UNH, and Holy Cross. He’ll likely end up in the prep league or a junior league before heading to college.

I couldn’t help but notice that Rondeau’s backup at Cathedral is Evan Moorhouse. Of course the Panthers had another Moorhouse in the net previously in former UMass play-by-play announcer Donnie Moorhouse.

I apologize for yesterday’s lack of View From Section U column, but I had planned on doing a summary of UMass’ place in the Hockey East standings and then saw that Dick Baker did a pretty good job of such earlier in the week. Plus I didn’t have power yesterday which killed my plans of blogging.

Paul Dainton talks about his tendency to play outside the net and how much he’s rooting for Kevin Moore to get in the game in Hockey East’s Five Minute Major.