Massachusetts Minutemen 8-19-4 (2-14-4) Hockey East 12th
Lowell River Hawks 19-7-5 (11-5-4) Hockey East 4th
Ideally Friday’s game would feature UMass playing the satellite campus, perhaps with the Alumni Cup on the line, in a competitive tune-up before their final weekend of the regular season against Providence. Instead there’s very little at stake as Lowell clinched the Alumni Cup with their January sweep and UMass obviously isn’t any position where potential non-conference wins hold much value at this stage of the season. For UMass the only thing on the line in Friday’s game against the River Hawks is pride.
These teams met in a home and home weekend that counted towards league standings in mid-January during a weekend that saw the Minutemen outscored 9-1. On the Friday night in Amherst Lowell built a 3-0 lead before Shane Walsh was finally able to get the Minutemen on the scoreboard in the third period. UMass ultimately fell 4-1 with Lowell dominating shots on goal on the night, 37-18. The goal to Walsh was the only one allowed by former Minuteman goaltender Kevin Boyle during the weekend as the next night in Lowell he got the 5-0 shutout. Lowell scored a shorthanded goal with less than five minutes into the game and never looked back, outshooting the Minutemen 38-18 that night. The weekend was nothing less than utter domination by River Hawks.
Lowell has struggled a little since that weekend against UMass. They would split the next weekend against Providence and then sweep DI newcomer Arizona State. The next weekend they would tie Northeastern and then drop a 3-2 decision to New Hampshire. Last weekend they split against Boston University before surviving a scare against AIC on Tuesday, gaining the 5-4 win on a last minute goal.
As the Minutemen found out in January Lowell’s biggest strength is their defense. On the season the 1.84 goals given up per game is the second fewest in the country next to Yale. While a lot of the defensive success has to do with Lowell coach Norm Bazin’s system and the talented defensemen he has brought in, fans shouldn’t discount the job done by Boyle. His .932 save percentage on the season is the third best in the country while facing the third most shots as well. His goals against average of 1.86 is second best in the country next to Boston College’s Thatcher Demko. Boyle is having one hell of a season and as we know he likely has extra motivation when facing John Micheletto who cut him from the UMass squad.
Offensively senior Adam Chapie and sophomore C.J. Smith currently boast identical 13 goal and 17 assist season totals. Smith had four points, a goal and three assists, in the previous games with UMass. On the blueline junior Dylan Zink should not be overlooked. One of the top defensemen in the league, Zink has four goals and an assist in his last two games, including a hat trick against BU.
UMass was never in those previous two games against Lowell this season and those matchups had league points and the Alumni Cup on the line. There are no such stakes on Friday, which should make fans wonder if the team can muster up the motivation to give the River Hawks a fight. The clock is quickly ticking toward the end of the season. Lately it has seemed like the Minutemen are just looking to run out the clock.
College Hockey News has this feature on the Lowell team.
SBN College hockey ranked the most recent coaching hires in Hockey East. Not surprisingly, Micheletto was ranked last.
Frank Vatrano was recently on a local TV newscast in Providence to talk about his time with the P-Bruins.