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Weekend preview: Batton down the hatches

February 15, 2008

No. 18 UMass Lowell River Hawks (12-10-4) vs. No. 7 Boston College Eagles (15-6-7)

7 p.m. Friday at Conte Forum – Officials TBA
7 p.m. Saturday at Tsongas Arena – Officials TBA

All-time head-to-head: BC leads UML 50-26-6

Lowell is seventh in Hockey East with 18 points from 19 games. Boston College is in second place in Hockey East with 24 points from 19 games.

Last three games
Lowell: 2-6 vs. Boston University, 2-3 at Vermont, 3-2 vs. Maine
Boston College: 6-5 vs. Harvard (ot), 4-1 vs. UMass, 4-3 vs. Boston University (ot)

Prior meetings
Lowell jumped out to a two-goal lead in the first period on Jan. 18, but BC answered with three goals in the second period and two in the third on the way to a 5-4 loss. Though Nate Gerbe was held without a goal in the contest, the line of Joe Whitney, Benn Ferriero, and Ben Smith combined for six points. Maury Edwards, Jonathan Maniff, Kory Falite and Jeremy Dehner all scored for Lowell. Neither John Muse nor Carter Hutton were especially impressive in net, making 22 and 25 saves, respectively.

Season series
UML is 0-1-0 against the Eagles.

Top scorers
Lowell:
Ben Holmstrom – 26 GP, 4-17-21 (19 GP, 3-14-17 HE)
Kory Falite – 26, 11-9-20 (19, 10-6-16 HE)
Mark Roebothan – 26, 11-8-19 (19, 9-4-13 HE)
Mike Potacco – 20, 6-10-16 (15, 3-9-12 HE)
Barry Goers – 26, 2-14-16 (19, 1-10-11 HE)
Jonathan Maniff – 26, 10-4-14 (19, 7-1-8 HE)

Boston College:
Nate Gerbe – 27 GP, 22-21-43 (18 GP, 12-14-26 HE)
Joe Whitney – 28, 7-27-34 (19, 5-16-21 HE)
Ben Smith – 28, 15-17-32 (19, 10-12-22 HE)
Benn Ferreiro – 28, 10-19-29 (19, 4-10-14 HE)
Dan Bertam – 27, 6-17-23 (18, 2-12-14 HE)

Goaltending
Lowell:
Carter Hutton (4-6-2) – 12 GP, 706:19 minutes, 2.21 GAA/.918 sv% (9 GP, 527:10, 2.73 GAA/.905 sv% HE)
Nevin Hamilton (7-4-2) – 14, 811:07, 2.59/.912 (11, 631:32, 2.66/.915 HE)

Boston College:
John Muse (15-6-7) – 28 GP, 1,707:41 minutes, 2.35 GAA/.914 sv% (19 GP, 1,172:13, 2.35 GAA/.914 sv% HE)

Team stats
Lowell:
Overall (26 games), 74 goals for (2.85/g), 64 against (2.46/g). Power play 17/118 (14.4%, 0 SHGA), penalty kill 89/103 (86.4%, 0 SHGF)
Hockey East (19 games), 53 goals for (2.79/g), 54 against (2.84/g). Power play 13/84 (15.5%, 0 SHGA), penalty kill 59/71 (83.1%, 0 SHGF)

Boston College:
Overall (28 games), 105 goals for (3.75/g), 67 against (2.39/g). Power play 35/143 (24.5%, 2 SHGA), penalty kill 122/145 (84.1, 5 SHGF)
Hockey East (19 games), 65 goals for (3.42/g), 46 against (2.42/g). Power play 23/96 (24.0%, 1 SHGA), penalty kill 83/100 (83.0%, 4 SHGF)

Outlook:
Hoo boy.

What can we say about this weekend that hasn’t been said everywhere by everybody? They are simply a dominant team with a dynamic offense and stifling defense. Lowell, meanwhile, is in the midst of a month-long tailspin, with the unforgiving, jagged rocks of reality growing inexorably closer through the windshield. On paper, Lowell needs a miracle.

Miracles, however, can happen.

Three years ago, on this very weekend in fact, the 13th-ranked River Hawks stunned then-No. 2 and tops in Hockey East Boston College on consecutive nights, sweeping a two-game series with 3-1 and 4-1 wins.

We were in attendance at the Conte Forum that Friday, Feb. 18, 2005 when Brian Boyle scored just 4:24 into the game, and we saw the stunning comeback with our own eyes. Ben Walter and Todd Fletcher scored a few minutes apart before that first period ended, and Jason Tejchma added an insurance goal less than a minute into the second. What followed was Lowell manning its battle stations and suppressing an incredible Eagle barrage of 33 shots, many of which were surprisingly low-quality. Lowell’s defense was just that good.

It certainly did not hurt that Lowell took just two penalties that night. BC, at the time, still had Boyle, Pat Eaves, Ryan Shannon, Dave Spina, Chris Collins, Andrew Alberts, Cory Schneider and so on and so forth. Certainly the prospect of BC playing at all, let alone a man up for more than four minutes in that game, would have been troublesome.

The next night was a little more harrowing, as Lowell once again allowed the first goal, but also took 10 penalties (BC, to be fair, took 12) and afforded the Eagles six power-play opportunities. Once again, Lowell squashed all of them. Pete Vetri, though, had to stand on his head to make 39 saves (then a career high) to preserve the 4-1 win.

We must acknowledge, however, that Eaves, Alberts, and Schneider were all missing for part or the entirety of the weekend. That only left BC with two future NHLers and four kids that were picked in the first three rounds of an NHL draft. Shucks.

A lot of parallels can be drawn between this weekend series and that fateful mid-February meeting, though. BC came in highly ranked (No. 1 in the USA Today poll, No. 2 by USCHO’s count) with a high-scoring offense and a strong defense, against a Lowell team that had been sputtering (2-2-1 in its previous five) after a very strong start (they were 17-7-4 coming in). Lowell’s offense, especially the power play, at the time was leagues better than it was now, but the team defense and penalty kill were remarkably similar.

Given how tightly Lowell played BC with a similarly thin lineup just a few weeks ago, it’s not out the realm of possibility that a situation reminiscent of the 2005 affair could occur. Plus, this time BC might be suffering from a bit of a hangover from its Beanpot championship win on Monday, of which Eagles fans seem shockingly fearful.

Or, y’know, the River Hawks could get their heads smashed in. It’s really all up in the air.

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