It’s that time of year again. Playoff hockey is coming to Lowell and it is bringing a rematch of last season’s Hockey East championship game.
This season, the match-up is a quarterfinal one that will be a best of three series between the River Hawks and the defending champion Boston University Terriers to be played at the Tsongas Center Friday, March, 12 at 7:15 pm and Saturday, March, 13 at 7:00 pm. If necessary, the third game will be played on Sunday, March, 14 at 4:00 pm.
Having home ice advantage is something that agrees with River Hawks coach Norm Bazin.
“The home ice advantage could prove very effective if it (series) goes to a third game,” said Bazin when asked about playing at home. “We’ve had great crowds at the Tsongas Center this year and we hope to take advantage of that and give us a seventh attacker. We feel very good playing in front of some of the best fans in the country.”
The Hockey East regular season came to a close on February 27th and while UMass Lowell enjoyed a bye in the first round of the conference playoffs by finishing fourth in the standings with a 12-6-4 league record (21-8-5 overall) their opponent, the Boston University Terriers ended the season in fifth place with an identical 12-6-4 record (21-10-5).
Leading up to the postseason, the clubs played twice with BU winning the first game 2-1 and UML taking the second tilt 6-3.
Understandably, Bazin has liked what he has seen from his squad this season, however, he sees similarities between UML and BU.
“We’ve had a strong year, so far. We have a resilient group and we’ve had scoring by committee, which has been a positive for us. They’ve (BU) got a very good hockey club and we’ve got a very good hockey club also. Both teams seem to have good defense, good goaltenders. Special teams is always a factor and you like to think that depth is going to become a factor for both teams.
The Terriers dispatched the University of Massachusetts in two games last week to advance to this week’s series.
Boston University has a history of being known for its offensive firepower and this season is no different as they have been paced by senior forward Danny O’Regan, whose 28 points in conference play is third best in the league. In 36 total games this season, O’Regan, drafted by the San Jose Sharks in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft (5th round, 138th overall), has registered 16 goals and 26 assists for 42 points in 38 games, perhaps more impressively, BU is 18-3-3 when O’Regan scores a point.
Terriers coach David Quinn believes O’Regan is one of the best players to have put on the red and white.
“Danny’s playing his best hockey of the season,” Quinn said. “He’s been the model of consistency since he set foot on campus. He plays on our top two lines, kills penalties, plays on the power play. He certainly sets the tone for us and he’s a leader on and off the ice. He’s meant an awful lot to our program.”
In the crease, Sean Maguire has been the top dog for the Terriers. He is sixth best in Hockey East with a 2.25 goals against average. His .925 save percentage is ranked 5th in the conference. Maguire, a 2012 Pittsburgh Penguins draft pick (4th round, 113th overall) enters the series versus UML with a 13-6-1 record on the season.
UMass Lowell will look to its leading scorer, CJ Smith, to set the tone in the series. He enters the postseason with 14 goals and 19 assists to lead the River Hawks with 33 points in 34 games. In conference action, the sophomore forward totaled 17 points on five goals and 12 assists in 22 contests. Smith’s point production rivals that of O’Regan in that, when Smith records at least one point, his River Hawks have a record of 14-3-4 this season.
Of course, when people engage in a conversation about UMass Lowell hockey, the subject inevitably turns to goaltender Kevin Boyle. The senior has been, arguably, the best player for the River Hawks this season. He has posted a league-leading 1.62 goals against average, and his save percentage of .941 is also the best in the circuit. He is second in the conference with six shutouts. Overall, Boyle’s goals against average is 1.84 and his save percentage is .932. He played in all but one game this season and enters the series with a 20-8-5 record.
“He’s been tremendous for us,” Bazin said about his puck stopper. “He’s a legitimate Hobey Baker candidate. I feel he’s been our most consistent player, our most prolific player. We all know how good Hockey East is and to finish number one in both those categories (GAA and save percentage), and you throw in that he’s been our first star on nine different occasions, it tells you how important he is to our hockey club.”
There is not much else that needs to be said in anticipation of this series so, in the words of Boston University’s venerable public address announcer, Jim Pryor, “The teams are ready so let’s play hockey!”
Friday night’s contest will be shown nationwide on American Sports Network and on NESN in New England.
Follow ESPN New Hampshire’s NHL/NCAA Hockey Writer, Shawn Hutcheon, on Twitter at @Shawn Hutcheon
Reprinted with permission of The Lowell Sun.