November 10, 2011

Hockey East Journal: Lowell, UMass pull off stunners

UMass-Lowell's Shayne Thompson, right, avoids a check from Brian Dumoulin of Boston College. (photo: Dave Arnold Photography)

By Andrew Merritt

The surprises continue to pile up in Hockey East.

A few dozen miles north of Boston, UMass-Lowell jumped all over a Boston University team with a clear identity crisis on Saturday, taking a 7-1 victory that suddenly has the River Hawks looking like a player in the Hockey East standings this year.

Out west, the biggest surprise of the young Hockey East season came in the form of a 4-2 win by UMass over defending league champion and reigning No. 1 Boston College.

Score one – no, make it two – for the Massachusetts taxpayers.

UMass-Lowell ran roughshod over BU despite giving up the game’s first goal Saturday, and a four-goal second period gave the River Hawks all the cushion they needed, riding a 15-save performance by Doug Carr to the win. Led by Derek Arnold’s pair of goals, including the game winner, six River Hawks had goals in the team’s biggest victory of the year, and arguably its biggest since a 6-4 win over Merrimack on Jan. 21 of last year.

That said, and with all due respect to the suddenly rising River Hawks, it’s become quite clear that the Boston University team taking the ice each night is hardly the one that appeared on paper at the start of the year.

If the earlier 5-4 loss to Holy Cross was less expected, Saturday’s embarrassment in Lowell was the more demoralizing. Corey Trivino put the Terriers up 1-0 just 16 seconds into the game, but that was pretty much the end of the bright spots for BU. Goaltender Kieran Millan was yanked after two periods, 24 shots and six goals allowed, and the bottom two lines took a combined two shots, by Sahir Gill and Yasin Cisse.

While it’s become obvious that BU is not a team in control at this point in the season, no one could have expected Boston College to have trouble taking a win out of the Mullins Center Saturday, particularly after a dominating 4-2 win over UMass at home on Oct. 21. But the Minutemen started causing trouble early when Michael Pereira (West Haven, Conn.) evened the score just 1:45 after Steven Whitney’s (Reading, Mass.) opening strike 5:15 into the game.

After a second period full of penalties but devoid of goals, UMass came out of the locker room for the third on a mission, and Steven Guzzo put the hosts up 2-1 four minutes in. Freshman defenseman Oleg Yevenko, heretofore known only for his size at 6-foot-7, 225 pounds, scored with 6:31 to go, and even with a Chris Kreider (Boxford, Mass.) goal 2:05 later, the Eagles couldn’t restart the engine.

It was UMass’ first victory over the Eagles in 12 games, dating to a Nov. 22, 2008, win in overtime. That includes two straight years being swept out of the playoffs by BC in the quarterfinals.

Meanwhile, normally a weekend sweep by Providence would qualify as a big surprise, but with the two UMasses’ wins on Saturday, and the fact that the Friars are looking more and more like a playoff team every week, the two-fer against Vermont at home wasn’t that much of a shock.

The Friars were all over the Catamounts both nights, and never trailed on Saturday en route to a 5-1 victory. As far as milestones go, it’s not exactly one to start sewing a banner for, but the Friars matched last year’s Hockey East win total with Saturday’s victory.

“Yeah, we’ve got a lot of work to do, though,” first-year coach Nate Leaman said. “We’re just taking it one day at a time. The first 30 minutes, we played our best hockey of the season, but we have to learn how to win games a lot better to get to where we want to be.”

Perhaps Providence has a few more surprises up its sleeve.

Game of the Week

UMass-Lowell at Maine, Friday and Saturday

The River Hawks showed some muscle Saturday, and now they get a better test in the form of a Maine team that always gets a boost from playing at historic Alfond Arena.

Hockey East power ratings

1. Merrimack (7-0-1, 5-0-1 HEA) – The Warriors vault coach Mark Dennehy’s alma mater this week after running their unbeaten streak to eight games to start the year, picking up the No. 4 national ranking and a first-place vote in the process.

2. Boston College (8-2-0, 6-1-0) – The No. 2 Eagles’ uncharacteristic stumble in Amherst is mitigated somewhat by their solid 5-1 win over Maine at home the night before.

3. Providence (4-3-1, 4-2-0) – The Friars are doing an awful lot of things right, including being second in the league with a 3.75 goals per game average. They’ve got two non-league clashes against Alabama-Huntsville this weekend to tune some things up.

4. New Hampshire (4-4-1, 3-3-0) – The awakening is happening in Durham, where the Wildcats handily beat UMass Friday night and edged rival Maine the next evening to take their unbeaten streak to five games and improve their home record to 4-1-0.

5. Maine (3-4-1, 3-3-0) – A pair of losses to BC and UNH made for a sour weekend on the road for the Black Bears, who are eighth in the league in goals scored per game and getting by on their defense, fourth best in the league with three goals allowed per game.

6. Boston University (3-3-1, 2-2-1) – The good news: Saturday’s loss only knocked the Terriers down to a .500 record. The bad news: they’ve got a mountain to climb against No. 4 Merrimack and rival Boston College this weekend.

7. UMass-Lowell (3-3-0, 1-2-0) – Saturday’s win was a definite early highlight for the River Hawks, particularly with the seven goals scored to match the previous three games combined haul, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves – it’s the only league win for UMass-Lowell so far, and two games at Maine and one at UNH are looming this week and next.

8. Northeastern (1-5-2, 1-5-2) – That 4-0 victory over UNH on Oct. 14 is looking more and more like a fluke every week, as the Huskies haven’t won another game since and are on a five-game winless slide after a tie and loss against Merrimack over the weekend. A brutal 5.1 power play percentage doesn’t help matters much.

9. UMass (2-4-2, 1-4-2) – The Minutemen have a middle-of-the-pack offense, but have allowed an even four goals per game, putting them ahead of only Vermont. The win over BC was huge, but it’s still just one win, bringing a five-game winless streak to a close.

10. Vermont (1-5-0, 0-4-0) – The Catamounts are last in the league in just about every meaningful category, including a woeful 65.6 percent success rate on the penalty kill, plus the worst goals scored average (1.83 per game) and goals against (4.67 per game).

Andrew Merritt can be reached at feedback@hockeyjournal.com.