Friday, February 26, 2016

Lowell Preview

Tomorrow night will be Boston College's second chance to take home a major trophy in the month of February. After defeating archrival Boston University to once again lay claim to the Beanpot, the Eagles will face-off against UMass-Lowell this weekend with an opportunity to bring home the Hockey East regular season title. I think this trophy flies a bit under the radar because in college hockey, conference tournaments have much bigger impact on the NCAAs but winning the regular season title means you were the best team from October to March in one of the toughest leagues in the country. The Eagles would clinch the #1 spot with a win tomorrow but they must take three of four points in order to avoid sharing the title with Providence (assuming PC sweeps UMass). Since BC has the tiebreaker over PC, they would own the "Bertagna Cup" (as Coach York likes to call it) in the event that both teams end up with the same amount of points.

That being said, it won't be an easy task for the maroon and gold as they take on a team that has given them fits in the past. Norm Bazin has turned Lowell into one of the perennial powers Hockey East, evident by their 5 consecutive 20 wins seasons. That is a heck of an accomplishment for any program, let alone a program that was almost discontinued a few years ago. The River Hawks will have a lot to play for, even though they cannot win the regular season title. As of tonight, they are 13th in the pairwise and if the tournament started tomorrow, UML would be the second to last team in the tournament. A pair of victories against the Eagles would all but cement their place in the NCAAs. They're also in a fight with BU for the last bye in the Hockey East playoffs- the Terriers travel to Notre Dame for a pair starting Friday night. BU would own the third tiebreaker with Lowell if both teams are swept because they managed a tie against the first place team (BC). When I look at UML, I see a team that does not have a go to star but has one of the deeper lineups in Hockey East. Up front, they're led by sophomore CJ Smith, senior Adam Chapie, and sophomore Joe Gambardella, with Smith and Chapie being the only Hawks to record 30 or more points so far. The past few weeks, Bazin's first line has been Chapie, Gambardella, and Ryan Collins, a Newton native. It is kind of amazing if you look at Lowell's lineup because they have two players on their first and second lines that have recorded under five points but each of their fourth liners have notched more than that. Of course, Lowell is known for their defensive excellence. Ever since Bazin took the reins, they have been one of the top teams in terms of goals against in the entire country year in and year out. They have lost some top tier defenseman like Kamrass, Suter, and Folin but they always seem to bring in these guys that fit their system perfectly. The man to watch on the backend is junior Dylan Zink, who tallied a hatrick against Boston University two weeks ago in a 6-3 Lowell win. In net will be UMass transfer Kevin Boyle, who was cut by the Minutemen a few years back before reigniting his career with the River Hawks. Boyle is one of the top goaltenders in college hockey with a 1.87 goals against average and .941 save percentage.

As for the Eagles, nothing more to say other then they have a chance to win a trophy. It doesn't matter whether it's a holiday tournament or National Title, whenever there is a chance to win a title, you know the maroon and gold will be ready to go. For them to win a regular season championship in front of their home fans would be an unbelievable accomplishment for a team that has overcome so much adversity in the past year or so. The Hawks are going to try and slow the game down, probably more so than any other opponent BC has played this season, but as has been the case all year, look for the Eagles to adapt. I listened to radio analyst Andy Powers do an interview on WEEI this afternoon and he made a great point in saying that no matter what an opponent's strength is, BC seems to take that and use it to their favor. Andy used the first Beanpot game as an example- Harvard had the #2 power play in the country but it was the Eagles who scored twice on the man advantage en route to a 3-2 victory. They have won games against teams that play similar to them (BU, Harvard) and teams that play snooze-fest hockey (PC, UVM). However, there are a couple of issues that need to be addressed. First and foremost, they have to stay out of the penalty box. Lowell's power play is legit and whenever you get five or six chances a game, you're bound to cash in. It's the unnecessary infractions they need to cut back on- there is no need to wack someone's stick out of their hand 30 feet away from the puck or to be mouthing off to an official after yet another missed call. The other worry is injuries. I can't talk about specific players but there may be a surprise or two depending on how some guys feel in the morning. Hope for the best.

Should be a heck of a series.

Scouting Lowell- 

Record- 20-7-5 (13th in pairwise)

Leading scorers- CJ Smith (14-18-32), Adam Chapie (13-17-30), Joe Gambardella (6-23-29)

Team offense- 3.16 goals scored per game (14th)

Team defense- 1.84 goals against per game (2nd)

Power play- 21% (13th)

Penalty kill- 85% (18th)

Shots on goal per game- 32.22 (18th)

Keys for BC- 

1. Stay out of the box. I don't think I have written a preview this season in which this has not been a key.

2. Keep mistakes to a minimum. Sounds obvious, I know, but Lowell makes fewer errors than any other team in the league. They win games by frustrating opponents and forcing them into costly situations. When there isn't a play, get the puck deep.

3. Traffic in front of Boyle. Like our guy, when he sees the puck, he is going to save it 99 out of 100 times. Get bodies to the net.

Notes- There are some injuries outside of Calnan (don't expect him to play). Hopefully everyone feels better in the morning.

Go Eagles

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