The regular season has come and gone, and the first two rounds of the playoffs have been played. Four teams have punched their ticket to the Hockey East Semi-Finals this weekend at the TD Garden in Boston, MA. Before the puck drops on Causeway Street, let’s take a look at the Friday night matchups.
#1. UMass Lowell vs #4. Notre Dame
These teams haven’t faced off since November. Since then, they have authored excellent seasons and have legitimate championship aspirations. They have the highest scoring players remaining in the tournament in Lowell’s Joe Gambardella and Notre Dame’s Anders Bjork. Beyond their top men, they’ve both shown excellent depth.
CJ Smith and John Edwardh join Gambardella to form the most dominating top line in the conference, and one of the best lines in the country. They’re backed up by, as Riverhawk coach Norm Bazin calls them, three second lines. They’ve played like that. Freshman Kenny Hausinger got three points in the close-out game over New Hampshire, en route to this week’s Hockey East Rookie of the Week honor. Fellow freshmen Ryan Lohin, Colin O’Neill, and Nick Marin skated well against the Wildcats and give support to the veteran top line.
Lowell boasts the top offense in the conference because of their depth. However, no freshman is more important than the one minding Lowell’s net, Tyler Wall. He has performed well in net and has given Lowell a lift on the back end. He isn’t the best goalie in the conference, but he is an excellent netminder and plays behind a quality defense anchored by Dylan Zink and Michael Kapla.
The Irish are no slouch either. Notre Dame comes into the weekend after topping the red-hot Providence Friars in two games and they’re looking for their first Hockey East championship in their last season before going to the Big Ten. They’re not as powerful an offense, only ranking fifth in the conference, but they can put the puck in the net.
Anders Bjork, Jake Evans, and Andrew Oglvie form a powerful top line that can match Lowell in efficiency and physicality. Jordan Gross and Dylan Malmquist are high point getters as well and can cause problems for Wall and the Lowell defense.
The biggest advantage that Notre Dame has over Lowell is their goaltender. Cal Petersen is the best goalie in the conference, with the most saves, highest save percentage, best goals against average, and most minutes played by a goalie in the Hockey East. He has powered the Irish to wins through his career, including a 43 save shutout in the recent Providence series. He is the key to the defense for the Irish.
Lowell has shown they can beat Petersen this season. They got three pucks by the junior on November 17th in a 3-1 victory in South Bend. Notre Dame answered with a four-goal performance the next day that sent Tyler Wall to the bench for the Riverhawks. Both teams feel good going into the weekend and will play hard on the Garden’s rink.
Ultimately, I see Lowell’s depth figuring out Petersen and Notre Dame having a hard time containing Gambardella, Smith, and Edwardh. These teams will entertain, especially with Notre Dame in their final Hockey East Tournament. But Lowell will have just enough offense to skate by in this toss-up game.
#2. Boston University vs #3. Boston College
The best rivalry in college hockey takes center stage once again. These teams have been brawling since 1918 and are expected to stage another classic game at 8 PM ET at the TD North Boston Garden. These teams last faced off in the opening round of this year’s Beanpot. BU won the game 3-1. This was when BC was in a scoring rut, falling out of the top spot in the Hockey East. Since then, both teams had rocky ends to their regular seasons and convincing postseason openers.
Boston College has been all over the place this season, with victories over Notre Dame and Providence, but difficult losses to BU and Northeastern in the Beanpot, a 6-3 loss at home to Merrimack, and a sweep by Lowell to close out the season. They struggled to score late in the season. Then the playoffs arrived and the Eagles throttled the Vermont Catamounts with 7-0 and 7-4 victories. They looked like a dominant team again and built excitement for the team’s chances in the Garden. Austin Cangelosi led the way against Vermont, earning the Co-Player of the week award and righting the BC ship. Joseph Woll also picked up his performance in the playoffs and looks to be rejuvenated for a trip to Causeway Street.
Boston University had similar moments to their rivals. They lost to Harvard in the Beanpot Final and were swept by Merrimack, but got on track by beating Notre Dame on senior day. They then had a brutal series against Northeastern and barely got by, with back to back 3-2 wins. BU has shown some more depth than BC late this year. Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson joined Cangelosi as co-player of the week in the conference and he has been backed up by a talented corps of freshmen in Clayton Keller, Kieffer Bellows, and Chad Krys among others. Like Lowell, BU’s most important freshman is their goaltender. For most of this year, Jake Oettinger kept pace with Cal Petersen for best goaltender honors this season. He didn’t quite catch Petersen in most stats, but he is still formidable in net and has allowed only two goals in three games against the Eagles this season.
BC has struggled to score against BU this season. They’ve lost all three games to the Terriers, 2-1, 3-0, and 3-1 in the Opening Round of the Beanpot. After getting on track, BC will find a way to score more frequently against the Terriers. But can they stop BU? Woll has not shown that he can stop the Terrier offense. I think this will be a higher scoring game than the first three matchups this season, but BU will come away with another victory over their ancient rivals.