Game Previews

Men’s hockey prepares for UMass Lowell’s structured defense in Hockey East home-and-home

Photo by Gracie Davenport.

The Boston University men’s hockey team knows what to expect when it faces UMass Lowell in a home-and-home series this weekend: physicality and defensive structure.

“They don’t beat themselves,” BU head coach Jay Pandolfo said of the River Hawks. “They’re going to have four or five guys back in the neutral zone, and they’re going to play with structure in all three zones. They have great sticks, they finish their checks hard around their net.”

Under head coach Norm Bazin, UMass Lowell (4-4-0, 1-3-0 Hockey East) has played with a unified identity year in and year out. The River Hawks grind opponents down with size and a defensive mentality, which enables them to hang with teams that may be more talented on paper.

BU (4-3-1, 1-1-1 HEA) says it is ready for that challenge.

“I think we have a really skilled roster, but against certain teams, you’re gonna have to put pucks behind their D and go to work and skate,” said sophomore forward Ryan Greene. “I think that’s something we’re going to have to utilize this weekend.” 

After splitting a phenomenal series with No. 3 North Dakota, the Terriers seem to be hitting their stride one month into the season. 

“I feel like we’re in a good spot right now,” Greene said. “I think we had a really good weekend last week, kind of a statement weekend.”

The improved play has been especially evident on the defensive end. BU blocked 38 shots in the two games against the Fighting Hawks. For comparison, the Terriers recorded 30 blocked shots in their first three games of the season. 

“There’s definitely an adjustment to playing college hockey, and I know we have a couple freshmen on the back end here,” said freshman defenseman Gavin McCarthy. “We’re just getting used to playing that style and playing against bigger, older guys.” 

Pandolfo said UMass Lowell’s structure mirrors North Dakota, in some ways. Both of those teams are heavy and physical, with plenty of experience. 

Photo by Gracie Davenport.

“I think North Dakota was one of the better teams we’ve seen with just how heavy they are on the puck,” Pandolfo said. “There’s no easy path to the net against them, and it’s the same thing against Lowell.” 

But even before they faced the Fighting Hawks, the Terriers got a taste of a heavily-structured defense when they battled Bentley in the season opener on Oct. 7.

Since the Falcons are coached by former UMass Lowell assistant Andy Jones, Bentley’s defensive scheme has similarities to Bazin’s system with the River Hawks. Pandolfo noted that the Falcons’ structure is “a little bit different” than UMass Lowell, but added that “all the teams we’ve played recently should help us.”

Freshman forward Macklin Celebrini wore a non-contact jersey at Thursday’s practice. His ailment, Pandolfo said, is not concussion related — even though Celebrini took a hit to the head in the first period of Saturday’s game against North Dakota.

“We have a couple guys banged up from the weekend,” Pandolfo said. “Just some residual soreness from a few different guys. So, there will be some game time decisions tomorrow night from some guys.”

Five things to know about UMass Lowell:

  • The River Hawks have played in a lot of close games. Six of their eight contests have been decided by one goal, including their four most recent games. 
  • If BU is defined by its youth, UMass Lowell is defined by its experience. The River Hawks’ top two point-scorers (Matt Crasa and Owen Cole) are both juniors, and the team’s roster has 15 upperclassmen.
  • UMass Lowell was swept by Boston College last weekend. Still, the River Hawks played the Eagles tough, losing 3-2 in both games. 
  • UMass Lowell has yet to win a game on home ice, dropping games at the Tsongas Center to UConn and BC
  • UMass Amherst transfer Luke Pavicich and Henry Welsch have split time in net for the River Hawks. Pavicich has a 1.99 goals against average with a .935 save percentage, and Welsch has earned a 2.00 goals against average and .933 save percentage.

The series opens Friday at 7:15 p.m. at UMass Lowell’s Tsongas Center, followed by a 7 p.m. start time on Saturday at Agganis Arena. The Boston Hockey Blog will have full coverage of both games, so be sure to follow along on Twitter (X) @BOShockeyblog and Instagram

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