By: Dave Souza
Separated by just one point in Hockey East standings, the Boston University men’s ice hockey team squares off with conference foe the University of Massachusetts – Lowell this weekend in a pair of home-and-home contests.
At the beginning of September, both the Terriers and the River Hawks were ranked nationally in the USCHO’s Top 10; BU began the season ranked second overall while UML was pegged as the fifth best team in the nation after a 27-11-3 season a year before.
Now, both teams are on the outside of the Top 20 looking in, with the River Hawks the last team out and the Terriers five teams behind No. 20 Niagara in the rankings. And while the squads sunk down the rankings earlier in the year, both teams have begun heating up as of late, despite suffering recent setbacks.
“We feel good about the direction we’re going,” said BU Head Coach Dave Quinn of his team. “I know there’s this ‘win one, lose one’ routine but [… there’s been] a lot of energy all week. We feel like we’ve played well, and we just haven’t been rewarded.”
The River Hawks dropped their most recent contest to the Bentley Falcons, 3-2, back on November 28; however, before that home defeat, UML rattled off four straight wins and came out on top in five of their previous six. Those wins, all of which came against Hockey East opponents, featured an impressive victory over No. 10 Northeastern at home, and a narrow win at No. 13 University of New Hampshire the night before.
Similarly, Boston University has looked strong since a 7-0 pummeling of Maine back on November 18. Since that win, the Terriers lost a close game against No. 6 Cornell at Red Hot Hockey, before exploding offensively against No. 14 Boston College a week later in Chestnut Hill. And while BU dropped the back end of their home-and-home series with BC, the Terriers again looked strong – outshooting the Eagles 37-27 and allowing just three shots on net in the final frame.
“I think we gained some confidence […] we did a lot of things right,” said freshman Logan Cockerill on his team’s split with BC. “Playing one of our rivals and being able to beat them the first day gave us a lot of confidence. But, we’ve got to be able to be more consistent and try to start getting some sweeps…get our record back up.”
In the last five games, Cockerill has come alive, collecting all seven of his points on the season. The young winger credits his recent offensive output to his adjustment to college hockey.
“Just getting used to the speed of the game here, you know playing at a lower level last year, it’s hard to make the jump,” Cockerill said. “I’ve also got to give credit to my two line mates, Shane [Bowers] and Patrick [Harper]; they’ve been really helping me out and getting me adjusted.”
Harper and Bowers have been two of the Terriers best offensive players as of late. A sophomore, Harper earned the Hockey East Player of the Week Award for the third time in his career this week. In last week’s series with BC, Harper collected four assists, vaulting him to second best in Hockey East with 19 points.
Bowers has seen a similar resurgence, adding four goals and three assists in his last five games. The freshman is currently second on the team with eight goals, while his 13 points are good enough for fourth most on the Terriers.
For the River Hawks, it’s been sophomore Ryan Lohin that’s been the catalyst for the UMass Lowell offense. Leading the team with 14 points – including a team-high five goals and nine assists, Lohin has been uncharacteristically quiet the last three games. However, before his recent dry spell, Lohin recorded three goals in two games against ranked opponents; scoring both UML goals against UNH and then adding another against Northeastern the following night.
And while the Terriers have relied on Jake Oettinger for almost every game this season, the River Hawks have not had as much consistency in net. Tyler Wall looked to be the go to guy at the beginning of the year after tallying a 2.06 goals-against-average a season ago. However, in five games this year, Wall has been porous, as his GAA has sky rocketed to 4.99.
In Wall’s place for Lowell has been junior Chris Hernberg, who has started in 10 of the 12 games he’s appeared in. With a 1.64 GAA and a .939 save percentage, Hernberg has been dependable thus far for UML, despite allowing three goals on 13 shots against Bentley.
“They’re very disciplined, they’re very structured, they have good players, and they have a good coach. And they always have a good goalie,” Quinn said. “Tough combination, you know it’s a tough matchup.”
The Terriers will begin their weekend series with an away contest at Lowell’s Tsongas Arena on Friday night at 7:15 p.m. The two teams will then travel down to Agganis Arena for a Saturday night tilt at 7 p.m. in Boston.