UMass-Lowell and Boston University will meet for a fourth time this year in tonight's Hockey East Finals. The River Hawks won each of the three previous meetings this season.
Although the River Hawks have had BU's number this season, second year head coach Norm Bazin knows what a great program they are going up against tonight. Following a weekend sweep of the Terriers back in February, UMass-Lowell coach Norm Bazin reflected on how tough it has been for the River Hawks to beat BU throughout the years. "I'm going to enjoy this. In my time here as a player and an assistant coach we don't have too many wins against BU so I'm going to take some time to sit back and enjoy this. They're a great organization, and we respect them a great deal."
Jack Parker knows how tough his team's opponent is in tonight's championship tilt. "We'll have all we can handle with Lowell [tonight] with how they played us the first three games," said Parker. "They've had everybody's number. We're going to have to try and posses the puck in their zone. They have a tenacious defense, they don't spend a lot of time in their own zone, they block a lot of shots and they play a different kind of defense than most teams we face," added Parker.
Both teams certainly have their share of superstars and known commodities. Sophomore Scott Wilson, a Pittsburgh Penguins draft pick, scored the game-winning goal for UML in last night's semifinal victory over Providence. It was set up by a tremendous cross-ice feed from senior captain Riley Wetmore. Joseph Pendenze and Josh Holmstrom assisted on the game-tying goal. Derek Arnold is another key player for the River Hawks. Junior Chad Ruhwedel is one of the better defenseman in the league.
Boston University's big guns came out blazing in their comeback victory over arch-rival Boston College. The second line has been superb all season, and it was Friday night. Freshman Danny O'Regan and sophomore Evan Rodrigues had two goals while junior Matt Nieto added a pair of assists. Senior captain Wade Megan and sophomore forward Cason Hohmann are dangerous on the first line. Junior alternate captain Garrett Noonan had the go-ahead power play goal late in the second period against BC.
The Terriers were 3-for-7 on the power play in Friday night's win. The BU penalty kill also held BC's vaunted power play, with all its skilled players, to just one conversion on seven attempts.
Both teams will be starting freshman goaltenders in tonight's game. UML freshman Connor Hellebuyck has been sensational ever since taking over the reins as the number one netminder. His solid performance, especially since January, earned him a selection on the Hockey East All-Rookie Team and the All-Hockey East Second Team.
Boston University freshman Sean Maguire was splitting the goaltending duties with fellow rookie Matt O'Connor for much of the season. Right before the end of the regular season, O'Connor suffered a collapsed lung, causing him to miss the remainder of the season. Maguire has been steady, but has picked up his game since taking over full-time. "It was like Sean knew that he had to be the guy, and he got more confident knowing it was up to him," said Parker after last night's game.
The River Hawks, win or lose tonight, will most likely be the number one seed in the Manchester Regional that begins next Friday. The same cannot be said for BU.
The game is a do-or-die for the Terriers who sit outside the Pairwise bubble at the moment. The only way BU will get into the NCAA Tournament is by gaining the league's automatic bid that goes to the winner of the post-season tournament. With Jack Parker having announced his retirement two weeks ago, the Terriers will have even more motivation to keep their season alive and to prolong the career of their legendary coach. Parker echoed that in last night's post-game press conference. "Now we have a chance to not only win a championship [tonight] but if we do we'll have a chance to go to the [NCAA Tournament]," said the outgoing bench boss.
Jeff Cox covers college hockey for SBNation. Follow him on twitter @JeffCoxSBNation.