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Weekend preview: The last castle

March 7, 2008

UMass Lowell River Hawks (15-13-4, 10-11-4 Hockey East) vs. the Maine Black Bears (11-18-3, 7-15-3 Hockey East)

Friday and Saturday at Alfond Arena, 7 p.m. – Officials TBA

All-time head-to-head: Maine leads 65-24-3

Lowell is tied for sixth in Hockey East with 24 points from 25 games, Maine is eighth in Hockey East with 17 points from 25 games

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

Prior meetings
In the Florida College Classic final on Dec. 29, Lowell lit Maine up 6-0 behind two goals each from Scott Campbell and Jonathan Maniff, while Carter Hutton made 31 saves to pick up the shutout.

On Feb. 1, it was Maniff again who guided Lowell past the Black Bears 3-2. Maniff scored the game-winner with 23 seconds left for his second of the night. Kory Falite scored his 10th goal of the year to open the scoring early in the first period. Hutton (18 saves) got the win in that game as well.

Season series
Lowell leads Maine 2-0-0, with one win coming in the out-of-conference holiday tournament.

Top scorers
Lowell:
Kory Falite – 32 GP, 15-12-27 (25 GP, 14-9-23 HE)
Ben Holmstrom – 32, 5-19-24 (25, 4-16-20)
Mark Roebothan – 32, 13-9-22 (25, 11-5-16)
Barry Goers – 32, 4-18-22 (25, 3-14-17)
Mike Potacco – 26, 10-11-21 (21, 7-10-17)

Maine
Wes Clark – 28 GP, 10-10-20 (22 GP, 7-8-15 HE)
Bret Tyler – 32, 6-12-18 (25, 3-9-12 HE)
Andrew Sweetland – 26, 8-8-16 (19, 6-6-12 HE)
Rob Bellamy – 31, 4-12-16 (25, 3-9-12 HE)
Billy Ryan – 23, 5-9-14 (16, 3-5-8 HE)

Goaltending
Lowell:
Nevin Hamilton (8-6-2) – 17 GP, 982:44 minutes, 2.56 GAA/.911 sv% (14 GP, 803:09, 2.61/.913 HE)
Carter Hutton (6-7-2) – 15 GP, 889:16, 2.36/.911 (12 GP, 710:07, 2.79/.901 HE)

Maine:
Ben Bishop (11-18-3) – 32 GP, 1,849:49 minutes, 2.53 GAA/.918 sv% (25 GP, 2.53 GAA/.920 sv% HE)

Team stats
Lowell:
Overall (32 games), 89 goals for (2.78/g), 80 against (2.50/g). Power play 22/144 (15.3%, 0 SHGA), penalty kill 111/130 (85.4%, 1 SHGF)
Hockey East (25 games), 68 goals for (2.72/g), 70 against (2.80/g). Power play 18/110 (16.4%, 0 SHGA), penalty kill 81/98 (82.7%, 1 SHGF)

Maine:
Overall (32 games), 71 goals for (2.22/g), 90 against (2.81/g). Power play 17/143 (11.9%, 4 SHGA), penalty kill 126/146 (86.3%, 5 SHGF)
Hockey East (25 games), 53 goals for (2.12/g), 71 against (2.84/g). Power play 14/106 (13.2%, 4 SHGA), penalty kill 93/110 (84.5%, 2 SHGF)

Outlook
(Editor’s note: We waited to see how last night’s Providence-BU game shook out to finish this. Luckily for Lowell, BU cruised to a 6-0 victory, keeping that hope of home ice alive for at least a few more hours.)

Lowell heads into the weekend needing a sweep in Orono, but the Black Bears have not recently been quite so bad as we’ve become accustomed. The last few weeks, Ben Bishop has played solid hockey, allowing totals of 2, 1, 2, 4 (they still won), 3, and 0 in his last six games. This is a far cry from earlier this year when (to take a random sampling), he allowed 2, 3, 6, 7, 2, and 3.

Maine is fighting desperately for a playoff spot with Merrimack and UMass, who play eachother this weekend) and will make its last stand at Alfond Arena. It’s pretty much win or go home for the Black Bears, and one suspects that, if nothing else, they will make this a war of attrition. If they’re going to go down, they’re taking Lowell’s chances of home ice with them. Alfond, as we well know, has not been the friendliest of venues to our River Hawks over the years.

Allow us, if you will, to put this whole thing in perspective: 24-year-old Kelly Sullivan (the ‘Hawks’ oldest player) wasn’t eligible to get a driver’s license for another six months the last time Lowell won at Alfond.

So there’s that.

On top of the psychological effect that comes with losing every game there over the past eight or so years, Maine is more or less fully healthy for the first time in a while. By our estimation, only four of Maine’s better players has played in each of Maine’s 32 games this year (we stretched our definition of “better” to include Simon Danis-Pepin), but other top players, like Wes Clark and Billy Ryan, have missed significant portions of the season.

The River Hawks, though, have a few things going for them. They are riding high on the wave of last week’s sweep of Northeastern, which is a much better team than Maine, and they too have everyone healthy (more or less). The offense seems to have gotten going again and Carter Hutton proved himself capable of winning back-to-back games on a weekend, stealing one at Matthews.

Lowell also has the advantage of playing at Alfond in a year in which it’s not quite the impenetrable fortress it has been for the rest of its history. Maine’s all-time winning percentage against Hockey East teams at Alfond is a ludicrously high .719 (Maine’s overall winning percentage is .612.). Vermont, at 5-3, is the only HE team with a winning record there thanks to a much smaller sample size.

This year, however? Not so much. Maine is 3-7-2 in Orono this year, beating Merrimack (3-1 on Dec. 8), and sweeping UMass two weeks ago (3-2 and 5-4 in overtime). That’s not exactly beating up on the brass of the league, and both team have a combined 6-52-2 record in Orono anyway. The two ties came against BC (3-3) and Vermont (5-5).

So the question is, can Lowell break the curse and win two games in Maine for the first time since 1985? Can Lowell beat an opponent four times in a year for the first time since 1997-98? We’d like to think so, and we know the ‘Hawks are capable of it, but time will tell.

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