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Weekend preview: A new star shall arise

November 17, 2011

The Lowell River Hawks (5-3-0, 3-2-0 HE) vs. the New Hampshire Wildcats (4-4-2, 3-3-1 HE) and the UMass Amherst Minutemen (4-4-2, 2-2-2 HE)

7 p.m. Friday at Whittemore Center, Durham, N.H.
7 p.m. Saturday at Tsongas Center, Lowell, Mass.

Lowell is tied for sixth in Hockey East with six points from five games. UNH is tied for fourth in Hockey East with seven points from seven games. Amherst is tied for sixth with six points from eight games.

Last three games
Lowell — 4-3 at Maine, 5-3 at Maine, 7-1 vs. BU.
UNH — 4-4 (OT) at Vermont, 3-2 vs. Maine, 7-3 vs. Amherst.
Amherst — 4-2 vs. Northeastern, 7-2 vs. Holy Cross, 4-2 vs. BC.

Prior meetings
Lowell trails UNH 30-54-15 and leads Amherst 31-22-6, all-time.

Season series
Nothing to report.

Top scorers
Lowell:
Matt Ferreira — 8 GP, 5-5-10 (5 GP, 3-4-7 HE)
Riley Wetmore — 8, 6-3-9 (5, 3-1-4)
Scott Wilson — 8, 4-5-9 (5, 4-3-7)
Derek Arnold — 8, 4-4-8 (5, 2-2-4)
Joe Pendenza — 8, 3-5-8 (5, 2-4-6)

UNH:
Nick Sorkin — 10 GP, 5-7-12 (7 GP, 2-5-7 HE)
Stevie Moses — 10, 4-7-11 (7, 3-5-8)
Dalton Speelman — 10, 3-3-6 (7, 3-2-5)
Grayson Downing — 9, 2-4-6 (6, 2-1-3)
John Henrion — 10, 3-2-5 (7, 1-2-3)

Amherst:
TJ Syner — 10 GP, 5-10-15 (8 GP, 5-5-10 HE)
Conor Sheary — 10, 4-9-13 (8, 4-6-10)
Michael Pereira — 10, 7-5-12 (8, 3-3-6)
Danny Hobbs — 9, 3-4-7 (7, 2-2-4)
Brandon Gracel — 10, 3-4-7 (8, 2-3-5)

Goaltending
Lowell:
Doug Carr (4-1-0) — 5 GP, 299:46, 2.20 GAA/.913 sv% (4 GP, 249:36, 2.50/.902 HE)
Brian Robbins (1-2-0) — 3, 137:51, 3.92/.852 (1, 16:57, 14.16/.692)
Marc Boulanger (0-0-0) — 1, 43:03, 2.79/.818 (same)

UNH:
Matt Di Girolamo (4-3-1) — 9 GP, 513:24, 3.51 GAA/.881 sv% (1 GP, 412:53, 3.49 GAA/.874 sv% HE)
Jeff Wyer (0-1-1) — 3, 96:04, 2.50/.897 (1, 11:23, 0.00/1.000)

Amherst:
Kevin Boyle (3-2-2) — 5 GP, 356:02, 3.20 GAA/.883 sv% (6 GP, 296:06, 3.24/.884 HE)
Jeff Teglia (0-2-0) — 3, 145:22, 3.71/.890 (same)
Steve Mastalerz (1-0-0) — 2, 109:01, 3.85/.865 (1, 49:20, 6.08/.821)

Team stats

Lowell:
Overall (8 games) — 31 goals for (3.88/gm), 23 goals against (2.88/gm). Power play 12/51 (23.5%, 1 SHGA), penalty kill 25/32 (78.1%, 1 SHGF)
Hockey East (5 games) — 21 goals for (4.20/gm), 17 goals against (3.40/gm). Power play 8/33 (24.2%, 1 SHGA), penalty kill 16/22 (72.7%, 1 SHGF)

UNH:
Overall (10 games) — 30 goals for (3.00/gm), 36 goals against (3.60/gm). Power play 8/37 (21.6%, 1 SHGA), penalty kill 30/38 (78.9%, 1 SHGF)
Hockey East (7 games) — 20 goals for (2.86/gm), 25 goals against (3.57/gm). Power play 5/21 (23.8%, 1 SHGA), penalty kill 22/26 (84.6%, 0 SHGF)

Amherst:
Overall (10 games) — 38 goals for (3.80/gm), 36 goals against (3.60/gm). Power play 13/57 (22.8%, 2 SHGA), penalty kill 34/46 (73.9%, 0 SHGF)
Hockey East (8 games) — 26 goals for (3.25/gm), 31 goals against (3.88/gm). Power play 10/49 (20.4%, 2 SHGA), penalty kill 27/37 (73.0%, 0 SHGF)

Outlook
Well this should be interesting.

Lowell is coming off perhaps it’s most important series, at least psychologically, of at least the last decade. If it now thinks it can beat BU 7-1 and Maine twice in its own building, we fail to see where it will ever think losing to another team is even a possibility. Certainly now, losses against sad-sack defenses and goaltenders like UNH and Amherst have don’t seem feasible, regardless of those teams’ recent runs of success.

Take for example UNH. Supporters would be happy to remind you that they haven’t lost since Oct. 21, and that game was on the road. It also led to Matt Di Girolamo getting benched for a game and presumably getting his head on straight. But what that run of six games without a loss tells you is: Not much. The night after the 7-5 loss at St. Cloud, they drew 3-3 in front of backup Jeff Wyer, then rattled off four straight wins over titans the likes of Union (in overtime), Northeastern, Amherst and Maine, who entered those games with a combined record of 7-9-7. All of them, by the way, were at the Whitt. Then last weekend they had just one game, went up to Vermont and drew 4-4, with Di Girolamo allowing those four goals on — get this — 29 shots. Frankly, UNH’s stats do little to impress the objective viewer. The 30 goals in 10 games is a decent amount, we suppose, but that number drops considerably when you consider their Hockey East total is just 20 in seven, especially because they hung a TD and PAT on Amherst in one of those four vaunted Ws in a row. So 13 goals in their other six league games that weren’t against Amherst? And those games were against BU, Northeastern, BC, Northeastern again, Maine, and Vermont? That’s really rather poor no matter how slowly they started the year (very). They are, after all, still winless on the road.

Now, that having been said, do we think UNH is more than capable of beating anyone on their gimmick home rink? Of course we do. We’re not idiots. But do we think Lowell can skate with them very easily? Yes. The Olympic rink isn’t anything new to Lowell, given that Mankato’s Verizon Wireless Center is 200 feet by 100. For more information on how that turned out for the hosts, please see our thoughts on those games, in which we used words like “impressive,” “admirable,” “organized,” “disciplined,” and “strong” liberally. And not unduly, either. See also the 8-3 aggregate scoreline Lowell hung on its hosts 1,500 miles from home.

Then of course there’s Saturday’s game with Amherst, which is unfortunate. Just once we would like to go like a decade or two without those mutants darkening our door. But that doesn’t seem likely unless the state finally sees fit to do the right thing and eliminate their program, which has been entirely without success forever and is literally one of the biggest wastes of money and time in this great commonwealth. (And we say that knowing full well that Lowell hasn’t beaten Amherst in its last five tries, the result of luck and 2009-10 and Lowell being horrendous in 2010-11.)

Like UNH, Amherst fans are riding all high on the team having won its last three games. And like UNH, all of those games were at home. And unlike UNH, only one of those games was against an even remotely respectable opponent (that being Boston College, which was clearly still too busy breathing heavy and deep sighs of relief at having swept Lowell the previous weekend. That also ignores that Amherst views the BC games as their own personal Super Bowl as part of its school-wide delusion that the team is better than what it is (that being a calamitous misappropriation of public funds), and BC very much doesn’t. The other two wins were against Holy Cross and Northeastern. Forgive us if we’re not falling out of our chairs with admiration for the accomplishment.

And would you look at that, Amherst does it all by scoring a bunch of goals (but not as many per game as Lowell), and also allowing a bunch. We believe very much in statistical outliers and would argue that Lowell allowing 10 in one weekend to BC is not as great an indicator of its defensive prowess as the 13 it has allowed in its other six games. And even including those two embarrassing blips (Doug Carr saw zero seconds of ice time in the uglier one, by the way), Lowell’s defense and goaltending are significantly better than Amherst’s.

We would also point out that while Lowell dominated play and shot totals in most of its games so far, its two most recent wins don’t fit that mold. Maine outshot the River Hawks in both games in Orono, but that didn’t stop the Lowell forwards from dissecting the opposing defense, goaltending and particularly penalty kill to the tune of 10 goals and a pair of Ws.

Will we predict that for this weekend? No. But will we say that less than two points is unacceptable? Yes. Lowell is starting to make up the games in hand it has on nearly every Hockey East team, and getting points from two of the shabbier ones is essential.

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