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Hockey East Roundup: UMass Lowell proves its not far off

Ryan Lohin John Corneau/SB Nation

Under Norm Bazin, winning has become the expected result for UMass Lowell. That’s why shock-waves were felt around Hockey East when the team started 1-5 in league play.

After defeating New Hampshire and Northeastern over the weekend to improve to 3-5 in Hockey East and return to the .500 mark overall, fans of the River Hawks can begin to exhale.

While the rough start to the season was certainly unexpected, Lowell is much closer to being a top team than the bottom team it appeared to be after 10 games. In six losses, UMass Lowell goaltenders combined for a .850 save percentage. In the team’s six wins, junior goaltender Christoffer Hernberg has a .953 save percentage.

Defensive breakdowns and a team that lost four key pieces from last year’s Hockey East Championship run is certainly part of the blame, but the unforeseen struggles of sophomore goaltender Tyler Wall was certainly a large reason for the losses.

Lowell lost five of its six games by a total of eight goals. The only blowout was a 6-2 setback against Maine. If Wall had just a .903 save percentage, still below average, the River Hawks would likely find themselves in a much better position. That difference is worth nine goals against. A goaltender’s save percentage doesn’t always tell the full story, but it along with a defense that is playing tighter would likely have made a big difference.

Up next for UMass Lowell is a home-and-home series with UConn, a team that has surprisingly given the River Hawks fits since joining Hockey East. A weekend sweep of the Huskies could go a long way in repairing what’s broken and rejuvenating the team’s confidence going forward.

Pairwise Troubles

The validity of the Pairwise Comparisons before the semester break is often debated, and rightfully so. The Ivies have played far fewer games and there is still a long way to go.

However, it should be worrisome to coaches, fans and administrators of Hockey East teams that no league team falls inside of the top 10 in the Pairwise as of Nov. 13. New Hampshire and Northeastern are the only teams in the top 16.

Hockey East teams have a combined record of 6-22-2 against foes from the Big Ten, NCHC and WCHA. The league is eight games under .500 in total out-of-conference. The only saving grace is Hockey East teams going 14-6-3 against Atlantic Hockey and ECAC opponents.

There is still time to make up ground, but significant damage has been done. Hockey East has prided itself as being one of the top two leagues in college hockey for a while now, but third best might be on the horizon this season.

Miscellaneous Notes

  • Northeastern senior captain Nolan Stevens has at least a goal in four straight games, including a hat trick in a game against Boston University. The St. Louis Blues prospect has six during this span after scoring just once in his first six games this season.
  • Expectations were high for Massachusetts freshman Cale Makar, the fourth overall pick of the Colorado Avalanche in this past summer’s NHL Draft. He has one goal and five assists in 11 games, but his 35 shots on goal is a little more telling. The Calgary, Alberta native has the skating and puck-moving ability to impact possession each shift.
  • Providence split its series against the Minutemen last weekend, losing a 5-2 decision in Amherst before bouncing back for a 7-2 win on home ice. Freshman defenseman Ben Mirageas, who wore No. 4 instead of No. 7 on Saturday night to honor the late Drew Brown, had two goals and two assists. The New York Islanders prospect has four goals over his last five games.
  • Merrimack sophomore defenseman Jonathan Kovacevic got off to a slow start. He was ineffective in a game against Wisconsin, and wasn’t getting glowing reviews over the first few games for the Warriors. The Winnipeg Jets’ third round pick has stepped his game up lately, registering three assists in the team’s win over Bentley to push his point streak to four games.
  • On a five-game winning streak, BC’s all-freshman line has been on fire, continuing a trend of the trio being the best forwards for Jerry York’s Eagles this season. BC’s scoring leader, Logan Hutsko, had two goals and two assists in the weekend sweep at Vermont. Chris Grando had two goals and three assists while the line’s center, Aapeli Räsänen, picked up his first two collegiate goals and added an assist in Burlington.
  • Speaking of Vermont, the Catamounts are 1-5-1 over the past seven games to drop their record to 3-7-1 on the season. Kevin Sneddon’s team has given up a league high 35 shots on goal per game. Outside of sophomore Ross Colton’s eight goals, there have been few bright spots for UVM.
  • Boston University rebounded nicely from a second straight ugly loss to Northeastern. The Terriers shut out UNH, 4-0, thanks to a 29-save performance from junior Max Prawdzik. The local product became the first Terrier to record a shutout in his collegiate debut since Sean Fields pulled off the feat on Nov. 4, 2000. He was also the first Massachusetts-born goaltender to start a game for the Terriers since Rick DiPietro did so during the 1999-2000 campaign.
  • Junior center Maxim Letunov is the only true forward on UConn to be drafted by an NHL team so it should be of little surprise how important he is to the team’s success. He was held off the score sheet in a loss and tie against Ohio State over the weekend. When the Moscow, Russia native scores at least a point, Mike Cavanaugh’s team is 3-1-1. In games he’s held scoreless, UConn is 0-7-1.
  • After a weekend off, Maine returns to action with two games against BU. It will be interesting to see who gets the nod in net for the Black Bears who’ve used a rotation with junior Rob McGovern and freshman Jeremy Swayman, a Bruins Draft pick. After two so-so performances to start his collegiate career, Swayman has a .940 save percentage over his last two starts. He’s not the only freshman in Orono off to a hot start. Eduards Tralmaks trails only Max Gildon in terms of rookie goal scoring in Hockey East. The undrafted Latvian has lit the lamp five times, including twice the last time out.
  • New Hampshire has lost two games in a row, and is just 1-3-1 over its last five. The Wildcats can attribute the losses to a power outage. In the three losses, UNH has scored just two total goals. Dick Umile’s team is averaging over four goals per game in the other seven, six wins and a tie.