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Weekend preview: Big time, Bill! Big time, big time!

February 12, 2009

UMass Lowell River Hawks (13-13-0, 10-9-0 HE) vs. the No. 15 Boston College Eagles (13-9-4, 8-7-4 HE)

at BC 7 p.m. Friday at Conte Forum, Chestnut Hill, Mass.
vs. BC 7 p.m. Saturday at Tsongas Arena, Lowell, Mass.

All-time head-to-head Lowell trails BC 28-56-2.

Lowell is tied for fifth in Hockey East with 20 points from 19 games. BC is the team with which Lowell is tied for that fifth-place spot, also with 20 points from 19 games.

Last three games
Lowell — 2-1 at UMass Amherst, 3-5 at BU, 3-2 at Maine
BC — 4-3 (ot) vs. Harvard (Beanpot), 2-0 vs. UMass Amherst, 1-6 vs. Northeastern (Beanpot)

Prior meetings
Lowell edged BC 4-3 at Conte Forum on January 16 with the overtime game-winner coming from Nick Schaus. Lowell gave up a goal to Brock Bradford midway through the third period as BC jumped out to a 3-2 lead, but Scott Campbell scored with the goalie pulled to force OT. Patrick Cey and Maury Edwards also scored for Lowell, David Vallorani had a pair of assists and Carter Hutton made 28 saves in the win.

Season series
Lowell leads BC 1-0-0.

Top scorers
Lowell:
Maury Edwards — 26, 8-12-20 (19, 7-11-18)
David Vallorani — 26, 5-14-19 (19, 4-10-14)
Jeremy Dehner — 26, 2-17-19 (19, 2-14-16)
Kory Falite — 24 GP, 12-6-18 (17 GP, 8-3-11 HE)
Scott Campbell — 26, 8-10-18 (19, 3-8-11)

Boston College:
Brock Bradford — 26 GP, 18-12-30 (19 GP, 13-8-21 HE)
Brian Gibbons — 26, 8-16-24 (19, 4-11-15)
Benn Ferriero — 26, 7-11-18 (19, 5-9-14)
Barry Almeida — 25, 5-8-13 (19, 4-6-10)
Ben Smith — 26, 4-9-13 (19, 3-7-10)

Goaltending
Lowell:
Carter Hutton (5-7-0) — 13 GP, 720:50 minutes, 2.25 GAA/.913 sv% (8 GP, 424:13 minutes, 2.69 GAA/.902 sv% HE)
Nevil Hamilton (7-5-0) — 13, 750:47, 2.24/.923 (12, 690:51, 2.17/.928)

Boston College:
John Muse (13-9-4) — 26 GP, 1,581:25 minutes, 2.77 GAA/.903 sv% (19 GP, 1,1167:22 minutes, 2.67 GAA/.910 sv% HE)

Team stats
Lowell:
Overall (26 games) — 75 goals for (2.88/gm), 62 goals against (2.38/gm). Power play 25/137 (18.2%, 2 SHGA), penalty kill 101/119 (84.9%, 2 SHGF)
Hockey East (19 games) — 58 GF (3.05/gm), 50 GA (2.63/gm). Power play 17/93 (18.3%, 1 SHGA), penalty kill 79/92 (85.9%, 2 SHGF)

Boston College:
Overall (26 games) — 82 goals for (3.15/gm), 75 goals against (2.88/gm). Power play 26/159 (16.4%, 6 SHGA), penalty kill 113/135 (83.7%, 5 SHGF)
Hockey East (19 games) — 59 GF (3.11/gm), 53 GA (2.79/gm). Power play 20/106 (18.9%, 2 SHGA), 77/93 (82.8%, 2 SHGF)

Outlook
Say you’re looking for the definition of an important weekend. Crack open an encyclopedia (don’t go to Wikipedia, you nerds!) and there, right between “Important Events of the 21st Century” and “Important Xylophonists” would be a wonderful little picture of this weekend’s games.

It doesn’t get much bigger than this, folks. This is two teams that are strikingly similar stats-wise, two teams with the same number of league points in the same number of games, and two teams that are jockeying for home ice position, one point behind UNH.

Let’s look at stats first, since that’s the pragmatic way to break things down. Both teams have played 19 Hockey East games, and BC has scored one extra goal (a difference of .06 GF/g). In those games, Lowell has allowed three fewer goals (difference of .19 GA/g). BC’s power play is .06 percent more efficient (20 goals on 106 tries to Lowell’s 17 on 93), and Lowell’s penalty kill is the only thing that appreciably separates these teams, with the ‘Hawks holding a 3.1 percent advantage.

No wonder these teams needed overtime, two waived-off goals and a questionable five-minute major to settle their first meeting.

And while both struggled at different points in the season, BC is 4-1-1 in its last six, and Lowell is 4-1-0 in its last five. It’s a little crazy.

The only difference that we can see is that much of BC’s production comes from six players (Brock Bradford, Brian Gibbons, Benn Ferreiro, Kyle Kucharski, Jimmy Hayes and Matt Price have combined for 55 of BC’s 82 goals this year, or 67.1 percent) and Lowell’s production is much more evenly spread-out, with Lowell’s top six goalscorers contributing 44 of 75 (58.7 percent). That means Lowell is more of a threat to score more often than BC because there’s a big difference in 33ish percent from the bottom two lines versus 41-plus.

Lowell also is much more of a threat to score from the blue line, and that’s something BC will have to watch out for, where it isn’t so much a concern the other way around. BC’s top 12 scorers are forwards, and Carl Sneep checks in at No. 13 with nine points. Three of Lowell’s defensemen have more assists than that. And one need look no further than the NESN game from just under a month ago to see Lowell get two goals, including the game-winner, from its defense jumping up in the play.

But the most striking things in the last game were all related to eachother. One was that Lowell outworked and outhustled BC all night, one was that Lowell was able to get a lot of very good chances by sending the puck through the middle of the ice, and one was that John Muse made a number of spectacular saves that kept the Eagles in it when they perhaps did not deserve to be.

There’s a sign right near the Lowell dressing room that reads, “Will beats skill,” and certainly that was the case the last time these teams met. Despite both teams entering with tough losing streaks, Lowell showed more desperation and won because of it. A team like Lowell will never be able to beat a team like BC in a skill game. So the ‘Hawks have to get their hands dirty, go to the high-traffic and high-contact areas, and win the games there by drawing penalties and wearing BC down.

These are definitely the four biggest points Lowell will be playing for this season, at least to this point. The River Hawks have to want it more. They did last time. Why wouldn’t they again?

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