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Preview ▲ UMass Faces #11 Lowell In Home And Home Series

#11 Lowell River Hawks 12-4-4 (7-2-3) Hockey East 1st

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Massachusetts Minutemen 7-10-4 (2-5-4) Hockey East T-7th

The Massachusetts hockey team hasn’t won a league game since their sweep of UConn in the first week of November, going 0-3-3 in that time.  Their return to Hockey East play in the new year got off to a very rough start last Friday when they were blown out by the Boston University Terriers 7-2.  They’ll look to get back on track in conference this weekend, but it won’t be easy as they’ll have to face the 1st place Lowell River Hawks in a home and home series starting Friday in Amherst.

Lowell was picked to finish fourth in Hockey East before the season but they got off to about as hot a start as could be expected, exceeding most people’s expectations.  The River Hawks went 10-1-4 in their first 15 games with the lone loss a 2-1 defeat to then #6 Minnesota-Duluth out west.  However once the calendar turned to December the team has struggled a bit, coinciding with their return from winning the Friendship Four tournament in Northern Ireland.  The team has gone 2-3-0 since crossing back over the Atlantic, losing to Robert Morris and getting swept by UConn.  However it should be noted that both of their wins have come by shutout, including a 1-0 decision over New Hampshire last Friday.

Like with all Norm Bazin teams, Lowell’s strength comes in the form of their defensive play.  As I wrote extensively on in yesterday’s post, former Minuteman Kevin Boyle is having a career year for the River Hawks.  His .939 save percentage is 7th best in the nation and tops among Hockey East goaltenders.  He has a 1.74 goals against average and has posted 5 shutouts so far this season, 3rd most in the country.  Like all Bazin teams though, it’s a team effort on defense.  Boyle’s numbers are helped immensely by the stifling defense their coach employs.  The 1.75 goals allowed per game is the 3rd fewest in the NCAA.  The 28.6 shots allowed per game is 20th best in the country and 4th best among league teams.  Their penalty kill of 83.8% is second best among Hockey East teams behind Boston College.  The River Hawks have one of the better two-way defensemen in all of Hockey East in junior Dylan Zink.  Zink has 5 goals on the season with 4 coming on the power play.

Lowell has been mostly average on offense this season with their 2.75 goals scored per game 6th best among Hockey East teams and just ahead of UMass’ 2.67.  UMass will have to be wary of their power play however which is converting at a 21.7% rate, 14th best in the country.  The River Hawks are led offensively by senior forward Adam Chapie and sophomore C.J. Smith, who both have 19 points total.  Chapie has the edge on goals scored with 9 to Smith’s 8.

It’s tough to make sense of the Minutemen right now.  For the first month of the season most everything seemed to be going right.  Then the offense dried up, but the defense, penalty kill, and goaltending was strong.  Then last Friday against the Terriers, despite sticking with BU for almost half the game, everything went wrong and the team dropped a 7-2 decision that was more reminiscent of last season’s UMass team.  The Minutemen will need to improve in all areas of their game if they’re going to find success against the Hawks this weekend.

The first line of Walsh-Iacobellis-Pigozzi has been consistently good for the Minutemen.  But the problem is they’ve really been UMass’ only option, accounting for 9 of the 11 goals scored in the team’s last 6 games.  UMass desperately needs to start getting scoring from its other lines.  Dennis Kravchenko, who had 17 points in the team’s first 11 games, missed his second straight game due to injury against BU.  As of now there’s no word on his status, but if UMass is going to kickstart its offense getting him back on the ice would go a long way to doing so.  He’d also help in the faceoff circle where the Minutemen has struggled recently, carrying over into possession problems.

Hopefully the seven goals given up last weekend end up being a fluke and the team can return to the strong defensive play we saw in November.  To do so they’ll likely need the return of  Nic Renyard to the net, as the freshman has put up a respectable .911 save percentage on the season.  It also wouldn’t hurt if the Minutemen got defensemen Marc Hetnik and Carmine Buono back from injury to help shore up the blueline as well.

One of the few bright spots in last year’s torturous season was the fact that the Minutemen went 1-1-1 against the ranked River Hawks.  The results likely ended up keeping the River Hawks from gaining an at-large berth to the NCAA tournament.  The Minutemen will look to at least match those results this weekend as a split against the league’s top team would help in the standings and, probably more importantly, with team confidence.

Weekend preview from UMass Athletics.

Former Minuteman Conor Allen was traded from the Predators to the Ottawa Senators today.  Allen had been playing for Nashville’s AHL club.  Allen will play for Ottawa’s AHL club in Binghampton where he’ll be reunited with former UMass captain Mike Kostka.  The two played alongside each other at Hartford while in the Ranger’s system.

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