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Preview: BU, UMass Lowell meet in Hockey East Final for fourth time

UMass Lowell senior captain Zack Kamrass has been a part of two Hockey East championship squads.
UMass Lowell senior captain Zack Kamrass has been a part of two Hockey East championship squads.
Matt Dewkett

Boston University and UMass Lowell will meet in the championship game of the Hockey East Tournament for the fourth time at 7 p.m.on Saturday night at the TD Garden in Boston, Mass. Each team won its semifinal game, 4-1, over New Hampshire and Vermont, respectively.

The top seeded Terriers are the favorite, but the River Hawks might be the more experience team playing with a lot more urgency. If Norm Bazin's team fails to win a third straight Hockey East title, it will almost certainly be left on the outside looking in when the NCAA Tournament Selection is announced at 12 noon Sunday on ESPNU.

"We're very excited to be back in the championship game," said Bazin who is responsible for four of the five appearances in the title game as either a player or coach.

Just three seniors were dressed for Friday's methodical win over Vermont compared to eight freshmen and three sophomores. It is some of the juniors and seniors who have been part of two Hockey East championship teams that have been able to continue the winning way, despite the loss of so many key cogs to the first two Lamoriello Trophy winners.

"There are some upperclassmen that have been through some wars and battles. They've done that job bringing along some of the younger guys," said Bazin.

"It's very important. We have three seniors. That veteran leadership and leading the younger guys is a key component to our success," added senior Terrence Wallin, who had a goal Friday night.

With all the success Lowell has had since Bazin returned to guide his alma mater, it might be difficult for some to remember that some in the UMass administrative chain of command wanted to take away the River Hawk hockey program just a few years before.

"It's pretty special to be here for a third time. Hopefully we can finish the job," said Wallin. "We're all humble guys. We all work hard. It's that dog mentality. We have an underdog mentality. That's part of our culture."

If there is one coach in college hockey that is comparable to Bill Belichick, it is Bazin. He's mild mannered and tight to the vest on some answers to questions from the media, but it's more than just that. UMass Lowell has its top players, but it's a team with a balanced attack that can seemingly plug one guy in for another when one goes down with injury or leaves early.

"It's contributions from a lot of different guys. It's terrific and helps you going at opponents a different away. You can keep rotating lines and not have to worry about match-ups," said Bazin.

Bazin knows that his team has its back against the wall this weekend, but is still hopeful he's yet to find out how good his fourth team at Lowell can be.

"We try to make every team we have be the best we can possibly be. We've yet to find out how good this team can be," said Bazin. "It's do or die."

UMass Lowell gets credit for its depth, but more acknowledgement should be made of BU's ability to roll all four forward lines and all three defensive pairings.

On Friday night, the Terriers game-winning goal was scored by freshman left wing Chase Phelps. The fourth line was doing a solid job of forechecking and going into the dirty areas -- all things a fourth line is supposed to do. Nick Roberto dug the puck out from behind the goal line and made a pretty feed out front to Phelps who lifted the puck into the top corner of the net.

"The Moran line had that huge goal to make it 2-1. That gave us a little bit of a spark," said BU coach David Quinn, who was an associate head coach when the Terriers downed Lowell in the 2009 championship game.

BU's coaching staff did a little bit of line shuffling prior to the Hockey East semifinal against UNH.

"You're always trying to mix and match and find the right formula. Even this late in the season you're trying to do that. It was just kind of a hunch by our staff. I thought all four lines contributed tonight and it was a true team effort," said Quinn.

Robbie Baillargeon was moved down to the third line and A.J. Greer was moved up to the second line with Ahti Oksanen and Cason Hohmann. That decision really paid off as Greer, a young freshman who will be selected in this summer's NHL Draft, had a terrific game.

"I really liked the make up of the lines. I thought A.J. probably had as good a game as he's had all year. He brings a little bit of a different element to that line," said Quinn.

"I like Robbie playing with [Matt] Lane and [Nikolas] Olsson. There's a little bit of balance there, too," added Quinn of the team's third line on Friday night.

While UMass Lowell has the urgency of needing to win to continue its season, BU has plenty to play for as well. The Terriers are fighting for a number one seed and would like to do to Lowell what Lowell did to them in 2013.

"They've been here. They're the two-time champions. They're a well-coached team. They're hard working and skilled. The last time I played them in the championship game here two years ago. I can't wait to go out there and play these guys again. It's going to be fun," said Hohmann.


Jeff Cox covers college, junior, high school and prep hockey, NCAA recruiting and NHL Draft prospects. Follow him on Twitter @JeffCoxSports.