Thursday night, UMass-Lowell and Providence met in a battle of two teams who appear to be the front runners for grabbing Hockey East's final home ice spot. After a scoreless first two periods, UMass-Lowell scored twice in the final frame to defeat the visiting Friars 2-1.
This game showcased two second year head coaches who appear to be moving their respective programs in the right direction. It was also a battle of two drafted freshman goaltenders who have been difference makers for their teams.
If it weren't for Jon Gillies' heroics in net for the Friars, the River Hawks easily could have won by three or four goals. The Calgary Flames draft pick who made 48 saves on the night has certainly been the most valuable player all season for Providence.
Overshadowed by Gillies performance was the winning goaltender, Connor Hellebuyck. The Winnipeg draft pick made 31 saves to preserve the 2-1 win. The Commerce, Michigan native only played in one of the first nine games, but with UML struggling, Bazin gave Hellebuyck more playing time. He rewarded his coach by stopping 22 of 23 in a 3-1 win over Princeton. Following a tough outing against UNH, he shutout Northeastern and Harvard in back to back games.
It will be interesting to see what Bazin does with his goaltending situation. Junior Doug Carr was so good a year ago, but has struggled for the majority of this season. Currently, Hellebuyck gives UML the best chance to win.
Lowell appears to be cruising in the right direction, now on an eight game winning streak. The River Hawks have a much easier schedule than Providence or Merrimack, its nearest competitors. Even with its rough start, UML should continue winning and find itself hosting a quarterfinal series.
Even with the loss, head coach Nate Leaman has the Providence team playing hard. With a very tough schedule remaining, the Friars will most likely stumble out of the fourth position, but could very well find itself with a chance to upset Lowell again in a rematch of last year's quarterfinals. Providence is a year or two away from competing with the big boys of the league. If Gillies sticks around, some of the young forwards make progress and more skilled recruits keep coming in, the Friars will be a team to be reckoned with in the coming years.