In a bout of déjà vu, the No. 9 Boston University Men’s Hockey Team (10-3-1) will complete what feels like a home-and-home series with the UMass Lowell River Hawks (8-8-1) this weekend in the quarterfinals of the Hockey East Tournament. The teams faced off last Saturday in a hard-fought tie that even overtime couldn’t decide, taking the Terriers into their first shootout of the season. BU won the shootout to earn an extra point on the weekend.
The River Hawks, who sit seventh in the Hockey East standings, put up a fight in the shootout loss. While they may have been a seemingly weaker opponent, the River Hawks got on the board twice on the power play and once at even strength with junior goaltender Owen Savory looking solid in net.
“They’re a really good hockey team, now they’re really balanced. They got some balanced scoring, their goaltender is very good, their defense, and just their schemes and how they play, and how heavy and strong they are, on top of having skilled players. They’re very hard to play against, so we expect a very tough matchup,” head coach Albie O’Connell said.
In the play-in round, the River Hawks hosted the University of Vermont Catamounts at home to move on to the quarterfinals with a 5-3 victory. After UVM opened up the scoring, the River Hawks scored four times in the second period to build a lead they would maintain throughout the rest of the game.
Sophomore forward Matt Brown scored twice for the River Hawks, while junior defensemen Nolan Sawchuk and Seth Barton and senior blueliner Anthony Baxter rounded out the scoring. Savory stopped 20 shots on goal in the win for an overall .846 save percentage and a 3.35 goals against average.
With both teams coming off of a win, it’ll be interesting to see what other factors make a difference in the playoff matchup. This will be the first meeting between the two at Walter Brown Arena in nearly 6000 days, with the last one being a 5-3 Terrier victory in 2004.
Not only that, but the Terriers, who are undefeated in the second game of any series this season, will have had over a week between games, while the River Hawks had a mid-week game and time to get in the competitive mindset.
“We’re just trying to figure out what’s the best so we’d have the right rest with the right legs too, just get on the ice and off before the game on Sunday,” O’Connell said. “Hopefully guys go to bed early on Saturday night.”
In the BU-Lowell matchup both teams struggled to stay out of the box with nine penalties between the two, and a third of those penalties being called for too many players on the ice. The River Hawks capitalized on two of their power play opportunities, pointing to some room for improvement on the Terrier’s penalty kill heading into the tournament.
“It’s the time of the year when you need the power play to actually work, you know you can survive in a regular season, we’re gonna have some ups and downs, but as the playoff comes up, you need your special teams to be clicking. And hopefully, we can do a better job killing penalties if one gets on the power play,” O’Connell said.
In a single-elimination tournament, the Terriers will have to come prepared to compete if they want not just a Hockey East Trophy, but a shot at the national title.
“We’re just gonna have to make sure we’re disciplined. We have to make sure our bench is positive no matter what’s going on because it’s a 60 minute game, it could be, potentially, a lot longer than 60,” O’Connell said. “We just got to be ready to compete.”