The University of Massachusetts-Lowell men’s hockey team has become one of the most discussed programs in the nation this year. After going 5-25-4 in 2010-11, the River Hawks have made a complete turn around this season, holding the top rank in Hockey East in mid-February – the latest they have ever been in first place.
Boston University head coach Jack Parker still thinks it isn’t enough.
“I don’t think anybody’s given them enough credit,” Parker said. “Everybody’s thinking, well, I wonder when that bubble’s going to burst. That bubble’s not bursting. That’s a real good college hockey team.”
UML (19-8-0, 14-7-0 Hockey East) leads BU (17-10-1, 13-7-1) and Boston College by one point in the Hockey East standings with 28. BU was on the losing end of the River Hawks’ most lopsided win of the year, a 7-1 game in Lowell on Nov. 5, and Parker said that blowout may have marked a turning point for both teams.
“Lowell showed us how we have to play, and we started playing as hard as they were playing, and now we’re going to see who can out-think and out-work and out-discipline each other tomorrow night,” Parker said on Thursday.
The River Hawks don’t have one explosive scorer on the level of the University of Maine’s Joey Diamond or BC’s Chris Kreider. What they do have is a sophomore goaltender, Doug Carr, leading the league in save percentage (.935) and goals-against average (1.81) after a pedestrian freshman year when injuries limited his effectiveness.
“I know that [former UML coach] Blaise McDonald spoke very highly of him coming in, thought he was going to be a great goaltender. It turns out Blaise was correct on that,” Parker said. “Blaise also thought he had a great freshman class coming in this year, before he was let go, and certainly [Scott Wilson] has shown to be one of the best freshmen in this league.”
Parker noted that last year’s freshman-heavy UML team now features a strong sophomore class, including Carr and leading goal-scorer Derek Arnold, which has also contributed to its success. And Wilson, a freshman forward – the only River Hawk who has been drafted by an NHL team, the Pittsburgh Penguins – leads UML in scoring with 28 points in 26 games.
The Terriers will need to put Monday’s loss in the Beanpot finals completely behind them to keep up with the young UML squad. After advancing to the finals by beating Harvard University in a lethargic 3-1 game on Feb. 6, the Terriers’ championship hopes ended when forward Bill Arnold scored for BC with just 6.4 seconds left in overtime.
Parker and junior defenseman Sean Escobedo both said there should be no problem moving on from the loss – one of the most memorable Beanpot games in recent history – and focusing completely on UML.
“Right now, if you can’t get hyped up for a game then you’ve got bigger problems,” Escobedo said.
Escobedo said the unprecedented rise of the River Hawks has surprised him as much as anyone, but that none of the Terriers have forgotten the beating they took back in November or started to take UML for granted.
“I think that’s definitely something we don’t forget,” Escobedo said. “They put a pretty good licking on us up there, so I think that besides the fact that they’re the number one team in our league, it’s going to add a little extra incentive to play hard and make sure that they don’t forget that – who we are as a team and we deserve to be in first place.”
Notes: Yasin Cissé will return to the lineup after sitting out four of BU’s last five games (counting Jan. 28 against Maine, where he dressed but did not play).
“He played well the last game he played,” Parker said. “I took him out of the lineup because I wanted to play Kevin Gilroy in the final of the Beanpot, his final Beanpot here, and I didn’t think Cissé deserved to come out because of the way he played and Kevin Gilroy does not deserve to come out, the way he played, so we’ll see what the lines look like and make a decision. Cissé will play, somebody else will sit out, I haven’t decided. But Cissé will play tomorrow.”
Freshman defenseman Alexx Privitera won’t play this weekend, but he will have an x-ray of his broken wrist tomorrow and exchange a hard cast for a soft one. Parker said that he could be in the lineup against the University of Vermont next weekend but more likely won’t return until the next weekend’s series against Northeastern University.