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Weekend preview: We are legion

February 1, 2008

No. 16 UMass Lowell River Hawks (11-8-4, 6-6-4 Hockey East) vs. the Maine Black Bears (8-11-3, 4-8-3 Hockey East) and the Vermont Catamounts (6-9-7, 5-5-5 Hockey East)

Vs. Maine 7 p.m. Friday at Tsongas Arena – Officials TBA
Vs. Vermont 4 p.m. Sunday at Gutterson Fieldhouse – Officials TBA

All-time head-to-head: Maine leads UML 65-22-3; UML and Vermont are tied 8-8-1

Lowell is fifth in Hockey East with 16 points from 16 games, Maine is ninth in Hockey East with 11 points from 15 games, Vermont is sixth in Hockey East with 15 points from 15 games

Last three games
Lowell: 1-4 vs. Minnesota-Duluth, 0-1 vs. Minnesota-Duluth, 3-1 vs. UMass
Maine: 2-4 vs. BC, 3-3 (ot) vs. BC, 4-0 at Providence
Vermont: 2-2 (ot) at UMass, 5-4 at UMass, 5-2 vs. Northeastern

Prior meetings
Lowell lit up Maine 6-0 in the finals of the Florida College Classic in Estero, Fla. over the Christmas break. Scott Campbell and Jonathan Maniff each scored twice in the game, which saw Carter Hutton pick up a 31-save shutout. Ben Bishop gave up four goals on 18 shots before getting pulled early in the third period. Dave Wilson did little better in relief, giving up two goals on seven shots.

Lowell and Vermont have not met this season.

Season series
Though Lowell and Maine have played once this year, it was a non-league game, and thus we consider Lowell to be 0-0-0 against both teams.

Top scorers
Lowell:
Mark Roebothan – 23 GP, 11-8-19 (16 GP, 9-4-13 HE)
Kory Falite – 23, 9-8-17 (16, 8-5-13 HE)
Mike Potacco (injured) – 19, 6-10-16 (14, 3-9-12 HE)
Ben Holmstrom – 23, 2-14-16 (16, 1-11-12 HE)
Scott Campbell – 23, 6-8-14 (16, 4-6-10 HE)

Maine:
Bret Tyler – 22 GP, 6-9-15 (15 GP, 3-6-9 HE)
Wes Clark – 18, 4-9-13 (12, 1-7-8 HE)
Rob Bellamy – 21, 4-9-13 (15, 3-6-9 HE)
Billy Ryan – 19, 4-7-11 (12, 2-3-5 HE)
Andrew Sweetland – 19, 5-4-9 (12, 3-2-5 HE)

Vermont:
Dean Strong – 22 GP, 4-14-18 (15 GP, 4-9-13 HE)
Colin Vock – 22, 5-12-17 (15, 3-9-12)
Peter Lenes – 22, 6-9-15 (15, 4-7-11)
Corey Carlson – 22, 6-8-14 (15, 5-5-10)
Viktor Stålberg – 22, 4-10-14 (15, 4-9-13)

Goaltending
Lowell:
Carter Hutton (3-4-2) – 9 GP, 547:37 minutes, 1.86 GAA/.931 sv% (6 GP, 368:28, 2.44 GAA/.918 sv% HE)
Nevin Hamilton (7-4-2) – 13, 791:07, 2.50/.915 (10, 6111:32, 2.55/.920 HE)

Maine:
Ben Bishop (8-11-3) – 22 GP, 1,246:31 minutes, 2.55 GAA/.913 sv% (15 GP, 2.55 GAA/.916 sv% HE)
Dave Wilson (0-0-0) – 4, 79:39, 6.78/.791 (3, 63:09, 6.65/.806 HE)

Vermont:
Joe Fallon (4-8-5) – 17 GP, 978:17 minutes, 3.07 GAA/.894 sv% (13 GP, 3.18 GAA/.894 sv% HE)
Mike Spillane (2-1-2) – 7, 368:06, 3.42/.881 (4, 179:34, 4.01/.860 HE)

Team stats
Lowell:
Overall (23 games), 67 goals for (2.91/g), 53 against (2.30/g). Power play 14/100 (13.7%, 0 SHGA), penalty kill 79/89 (88.8%, 0 SHGF)
Hockey East (16 games), 46 goals for (2.88/g), 43 against (2.69/g). Power play 10/68 (14.7%, 0 SHGA), penalty kill 49/57 (86.0%, 0 SHGF)

Maine:
Overall (22 games), 51 goals for (2.32/g), 64 against (2.91/g). Power play 10/101 (9.9%, 2 SHGA), penalty kill 82/97 (84.5%, 5 SHGF)
Hockey East (15 games), 33 goals for (2.20/g), 45 against (3.00/g). Power play 7/64 (10.9%, 2 SHGA), penalty kill 49/61 (80.3%, 2 SHGF)

Vermont:
Overall (22 games), 53 goals for (2.41/g), 73 against (3.32/g). Power play 13/85 (15.3%, 5 SHGA), penalty kill 92/108 (85.2%, 2 SHGF)
Hockey East (15 games), 41 goals for (2.73/g), 53 against (3.53/g). Power play 9/50 (18.0%, 3 SHGA), penalty kill 54/65 (83.1%, 2 SHGF)

Outlook
On paper at least, these are two remarkably winnable games, and they’re games that Lowell needs to win. Needs to. Yeah, the ‘Hawks have dropped four of their last six, but all the losses were against teams that were either nationally ranked (BC, UMD) or are now (Providence). And apart from the UMD game on Saturday, Lowell was in every one.

With a pair of teams in Maine and Vermont that are (shockingly) cupcakes this year on tap for this weekend, four points haven’t looked this easy since a home-and-home against Merrimack two years ago.

Maine, of course, has been frighteningly pedestrian this year, and most of their team stats are as remarkably close to last in Hockey East as the team itself. No offense, hole-ier than thou defense, and goaltending that has been, at best, mediocre. Teams that normally get eviscerated by Maine (read: Lowell) are now cruising to easy wins by the boatload.

Stepping outside the stats for a moment, it’s tough to say what’s wrong with Maine. Are they just listless this season? Did graduation losses hurt them this badly? Was Grant Standbrook’s reduced role with the team really that painful? Or is it, as most Mainuhs seem to imply, the Whitehead Effect that finally brought the Black Bears crashing to Earth?

It’s probably a combination of the above factors, but let’s think about one thing: Lowell beat Maine 6-0. Six to nothing. Pity it was a non-league game and all, but even that shouldn’t take the sting out of it for Maine fans. This is a team that the Black Bears have positively owned for the longest time (think of the 9-2 game in 05-06 and weep). Maine went 14 games without losing to Lowell once. In fact, most of those games were well in hand by the end of the first period.

Have the roles reversed? Doubtful. But Lowell seems to be a team on the rise, while Maine is bad, and losing almost all of their good players after this season.

Vermont’s a different story.

Sure, Vermont is unbeaten in its last four with two wins and two ties, but those last four were against the spiraling UMass and Northeastern. We’re not impressed.

Vermont’s never scored a ton of goals since they joined Hockey East, but they at least made up for it by playing good defense and relying on solid goaltending. This year? Ehhhhhh not so much.

The Catamounts’ ability to keep the puck out of the net and keep shot quality low has been, for the most part, an unmitigated disaster. Vermont is coughing up 3.32 goals per game, the second-worst total in the league. And with the third-fewest goals for in Hockey East, they’re not even compensating for it. Their team save percentage is .885, if you can believe that, but what about goals-against average? 3.44. It’s mind-boggling for a club that has long prided itself on team defense.

If there was ever a cure for last weekend’s offensive woes, it’s running into these two teams.

Now is no time for a crisis of confidence. Settle for nothing less than four points. Expect them.

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