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Weekend preview: This is big

February 5, 2009

UMass Lowell River Hawks (12-12-0, 9-8-0 HE) vs. the No. 1 Boston University Terriers (20-5-1, 12-5-1 HE) and the UMass Amherst Minutemen (11-12-3, 6-8-3)

at BU 7 p.m. Friday at Agganis Arena, Boston, Mass.
at UMass Amherst 7 p.m. Saturday at Mullins Center, Amherst, Mass.

All-time head-to-head Lowell trails BU 16-56-8 and leads Amherst 29-19-6

Lowell is tied for fifth in Hockey East with 18 points from 17 games and BU is second in Hockey East with 25 points from 18 games and Amherst is seventh in Hockey East with 15 points from 17 games.

Last three games
Lowell — 3-2 at Maine, 3-2 at Merrimack, 3-2 vs. Merrimack
BU — 4-3 vs. Harvard (Beanpot), 3-1 at Merrimack, 3-1 at UNH
UMass Amherst — 1-2 at Maine, 6-4 vs. Northeastern, 1-1 at Vermont

Prior meetings
Lowell has lost a pair of heartbreakers to BU this year. It first lost 6-4 on Nov. 7 behind a late surge led by Colin Wilson and Co., despite having controlled the vast majority of the game and leading for all but a few minutes. In the final game before break on Dec. 12, Lowell led twice but surrendered a goal late in the first period, another less than a minute after scoring the go-ahead goal once again, and then gave up a power play goal in the third to lose the game 3-2.

Lowell shut out Amherst in their first meeting on Nov. 15, with Nevin Hamilton getting the clean sheet on the road in an impressive 2-0 win. Amherst took the return leg at Tsongas Arena on Jan. 17, winning 4-3 behind a pair of third-period goals.

Season series
Lowell trails BU 0-2-0 and is tied with Amherst 1-1-0.

Top scorers
Lowell:
Maury Edwards — 24, 8-11-19 (17, 7-10-17)
Kory Falite — 23 GP, 12-6-18 (16 GP, 8-3-11 HE)
Jeremy Dehner — 24, 2-16-18 (17, 2-13-15)
Scott Campbell — 24, 8-9-17 (17, 3-7-10)
David Vallorani — 24, 4-13-17 (17, 3-9-12)

Boston University:
Colin Wilson — 24 GP, 9-23-32 (18 GP, 6-18-24 HE)
Chris Higgins — 24, 11-15-26 (16, 10-7-17)
Nick Bonino — 25, 9-16-25 (18, 4-10-14)
Chris Connolly — 26, 7-14-21 (18, 6-8-14)
Colby Cohen — 24, 3-18-21 (17, 2-16-18)

UMass Amherst:
James Marcou — 26 GP, 8-23-31 (17 GP, 5-17-22 HE)
Casey Wellman — 26, 8-16-24 (17, 5-11-16)
Alex Berry — 24, 10-13-23 (16, 8-7-15)
Cory Quirk — 26, 8-14-22 (17, 4-7-11)
Chris Davis — 26, 9-6-15 (17, 4-2-6)

Goaltending
Lowell:
Carter Hutton (5-6-0) — 12 GP, 661:36 minutes, 2.00 GAA/.921 sv% (7 GP, 364:59 minutes, 2.30 GAA/.914 sv% HE)
Nevil Hamilton (6-5-0) — 12, 690:47, 2.35/.920 (11, 630:51, 2.28/.925)

Boston University:
Kieran Millan (16-1-1) — 18 GP, 1,082:46 minutes, 1.55 GAA/.933 sv% (13 GP, 782:53 minutes, 1.53 GAA/.933 sv% HE)
Grant Rollheiser (4-4-0) — 8, 474:30, 2.66/.876 (5, 294:37, 3.26/.868)

UMass Amherst:
Paul Dainton* (8-7-1) — 16 GP, 936:19 minutes, 2.18 GAA/.917 sv% (11 GP, 644:22 minutes, 1.96 GAA/.931 sv% HE)
Dan Meyers (3-5-2) — 7, 636:37, 2.45/.919 (7, 397:16, 3.02/.910)

Team stats
Lowell:
Overall (24 games) — 70 goals for (2.92/gm), 56 goals against (2.33/gm). Power play 25/126 (19.8%, 2 SHGA), penalty kill 94/110 (85.5%, 2 SHGF)
Hockey East (17 games) — 53 GF (3.12/gm), 44 GA (2.50/gm). Power play 17/82 (20.7%, 1 SHGA), penalty kill 72/83 (86.7%, 2 SHGF)

Boston University:
Overall (26 games) — 97 goals for (3.73/gm), 50 goals against (1.92/gm). Power play 36/149 (24.2%, 4 SHGA), penalty kill 140/159 (88.1%, 4 SHGF)
Hockey East (18 games) — 62 GF (3.44/gm), 37 GA (2.06/gm). Power play 23/104 (22.1%, 2 SHGA), 95/108 (88.0%, 2 SHGF)

UMass Amherst:
Overall (26 games) — 78 goals for (3.00/gm), 62 goals against (2.38/gm). Power play 18/120 (15.5%, 4 SHGA), penalty kill 101/118 (85.6%, 4 SHGF)
Hockey East (17 games) — 48 GF (2.82/gm), 42 GA (2.47/gm). Power play 12/78 (15.4%, 3 SHGA), 70/81 (86.4%, 1 SHGF)

Outlook
BU is obviously the much bigger task this weekend, but the game plan against it is also much easier to remember (though certainly not to execute).

It’s simple: stay outta the box. That’s it. BU’s averaging almost 1.4 power play goals a night but has the second-most penalty minutes in Hockey East play. Lowell, meanwhile, averages about one power play goal a night and has the second-fewest penalty minutes in Hockey East. With this in mind, it stands to reason that Lowell can beat BU if only it limits BU’s power play chances (preferably to two or three, though with the Terriers’ copious skill, four or five is probably a more reasonable expectation), while allowing BU to take as many penalties as it likes. The two teams’ power play numbers, especially in Hockey East, are not dissimilar. Neither are the PK numbers.

That, of course, is easier said than done, and it hardly guarantees a win. Lowell had an extra two power plays in the teams’ last meeting, six to BU’s four, but BU scored on one of their four (incidentally, the game-winner) and Lowell went 0-fer. In the earlier game, BU was 1 for 3 and Lowell was 1 for 2. Given how close both of the earlier games this season have been, it’s not unreasonable to say that Lowell can win this game, and special teams would obviously play a huge role. You simply cannot give a team like BU the ability to beat you with its terrifying power play. Limit those opportunities and BU is in a much worse position, obviously. But if Lowell were to make the Terriers pay for their penalties, then everything, we think, could come up roses.

And with the Beanpot final looming, might we see long-absent netminder Grant Rollheiser get his first start since Jan. 13? Lights-out freshman Kieran Millan has gotten the go in both games against Lowell this year.

BU’s No. 1 for a reason, but it is not invulnerable or immovable. Harvard proved that easily enough on Monday, and Lowell is a better team than Harvard.

The next night, things aren’t so tough to figure. Amherst is Amherst and that hardly scares us. Yes, the Minutemen won 4-3 last time thanks in part to a woeful defensive performance and a shaky start from Hamilton, who previously had owned Amherst in a very serious way. But if the question is, “Can Lowell beat the ‘Mass Attack’ (yeeeeuch)?” The answer is an obvious and profound: “Clearly.”

When was the last time Lowell lost in Amherst? If you guessed “in the middle of that 20-game winless streak in 2006,” you would be correct. So as much as Lowell struggled with the Black Bears in Orono, it has had no problems getting the job done at that awful rink in Amherst. Since that last Lowell loss out that way, the River Hawks is 2-0-1 and have taken five of six points against the Minutemen. They have also only scored three times against Lowell in this span, despite Amherst going 19-9-7 in-league at home over the last three seasons and outscoring opponents 113-77 (averages of 3.23 GF/g and 2.2 GA/g).

The night before Lowell punked them out in their own building earlier this year, they positively handled then-No. 1 BU 5-1. Their only losses at home this year have been to Lowell, then-No. 13 Vermont and, somehow, Providence, back when they first started this little run of theirs. They’ve outscored Hockey East opponents 32-24 at home in eight games, but the offense that scores four goals a night was dead silent against Lowell.

Why should anything from the last three years change now?

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