By Brian Lombardo
The Boston University Terriers (14-16-4, 12-9-3 conf.) will go on the road for the quarterfinal round of the Hockey East Tournament as they square off with the No. 18 University of Massachusetts River Hawks (18-11-5, 12-7-5 conf.) in a best of three series starting on Friday, March 15.
The teams split the season series one game a piece, with the road team winning in each contest. The River Hawks topped the Terriers by a score of 5-3 at Agganis Arena on December 7th, a game where five different players scored for UML and eleven skaters recorded a point. But the next night BU showed up to Tsongas Center and beat UML 5-2, a game highlighted by two-goal efforts from captain Bobo Carpenter and Shane Bowers.
With the regular season in the rearview, both teams look to move on from rollercoaster years and punch their ticket to the TD Garden for the Hockey East Semifinals on March 22. Lowell had a rough start to the season and struggled to string together wins and find consistency with the man-advantage. Their power play ranks seventh in Hockey East at 16.8%. However, the River Hawks began playing their best hockey of the season down the stretch under head coach Norm Bazin and riled off an unbeaten streak of 11 games (10-0-1) from Jan. 1 until Feb. 14.
Lowell enters the postseason having hosted home playoff games in all eight of the years with Bazin as bench boss. Bazin holds a 19-9 record all-time in the Hockey East Tournament and has led the River Hawks to Hockey East Tournament championship games in five of the last six years, winning the tournament in 2013, 2014 and 2017.
The Terriers take to the ice at Tsongas Friday night to begin their title defense. Having won the Hockey East Tournament in 2018 and earning an automatic bid into the NCAA tournament. Having suffered from up and down play all season long, first year head coach Albie O’Connell highlighted some keys for the team going into his first postseason series at head man:
“It’s really about getting out to a good start and having a good first period.” said O’Connell.
One thing that has plagued the Terriers is having to play from behind. Whether it’s a miscommunication leading to a turnover and a strong chance, or not having the confidence to make plays, poor first periods have usually taken the Terriers out of contests this season.
BU is finally back at full strength with their locker room leader back on the ice in Carpenter. In addition, goalie Jake Oettinger has played flawlessly down the stretch, with only one slip up that came in the regular season finale where he let in four goals to Maine and was replaced in the middle frame by freshmen Vinnie Purpura. But besides that, O’Connell is confident in his team to follow the plan.
“Guys pretty much by now know their role, and I think they understand how we have to play to be successful.”
Players to Watch: River Hawks
It is unknown who will get the start in goal for Bazin’s team. Two goaltenders have nearly split starts on the season. Christoffer Hernberg is a senior, who started the year as the go-to netminder. Hernberg boasts an impressive 8-4-2 record with 3 shutouts to his name. Junior Tyler Wall played himself into the starting role down the stretch for Lowell and finished the regular season with a 2.06 goals against average and a 10-7-3 record with 4 shutouts.
Lowell also has a very evenly distributed scoring output. Only three players have more than 10 goals for the River Hawks, junior Kenny Hausinger (11), senior Ryan Dmowski (12), and junior Ryan Lohin (12). The team’s three leading scorers account for less than 40 percent of goal scoring. Several other players have chipped in four and five goals during the regular season.
“They’re well balanced. With good experience. They’re a highly competitive team: they’re good in the offensive zone, they’re dangerous through transition, and when you get into their zone it’s a battle. They’re hard at both nets.
“It’s going to be a challenge.” said O’Connell about the River Hawks.
The game (as well as all quarterfinal games will be streamed on FloHockey. You can listen to WTBU Sports call of the game on Mixlr.com/WTBUSports. And keep up with WTBU’s social media on Twitter @wtbusports for updates. Puck drops at 7:15.