It's a huge game for both Boston College and UMass-Lowell tomorrow night when the Eagles and the River Hawks face off at Conte Forum. To help preview the matchup and break down the 'Hawks, Justin Soderberg, the editor-in-chief of Mill City Sports, answered some questions about UML.
1. After a hot start to the season, Lowell has stumbled in January and February. What happened? Is it a case of freshmen and sophomores hitting a wall?
Justin: During the first part of the season, UMass Lowell tended to play like the first season Norm Bazin was behind the bench in Lowell (126 goals scored). If they score more goals this season there is no need to worry about the loss of great defensive players like Christian Folin, Connor Hellebuyck and Doug Carr. However, in the second part of the season they have reverted to the previous way of playing in Lowell and haven't seemed to get their offense clicking and still have suspect goaltending.
2. That said, Lowell's offense clicked on Saturday night, lashing out in a 7-1 win over UMass-Amherst. Is this a sign of things to come, or an anomaly against a bad UMA team?
Justin: Saturday night was a mixture of both the offense clicking back into the way they started the season and a bad UMass team. Additionally, Steve Mastalerz has always struggled a the Tsongas Center, so it was no surprise he surrendered four goals in the first period. You can expect to see the offense back on track the rest of the regular season and into the playoffs, but not to the extent of Saturday night.
3. Under Norm Bazin, Lowell teams have been defined by being defensively stout, but this year things are a little different as it's a prolific offense that led the way through the first half of the season. Has Lowell modified its system at all to fit the new personnel on the team, or do they try to play a similar game to the last few years with results varying due to the different personnel?
Justin: Norm Bazin has always coached "Lowell Style Hockey." This season the style seems to be more offensive minded, where in the past more defensive and goaltending minded. It's partly due to the mixture of players the River Hawks have on their roster. According to some, Bazin was hoping C.J. Smith would transition from the junior level to Hockey East and become a more defensive forward, but his scoring touch is just too good. Additionally, Bazin has had the likes of Chad Ruhwedel and Christian Folin on the blue line, two players that a great defensive defensemen. This season he has more offensive-minded Dylan Zink and Michael Kapla. Bazin is excellent at coaching the players he has and not trying to force anything. He has a more offensive-minded team this season and a lack of defense and goaltending and he will use those strengths.
4. What's Lowell's goaltending situation right now? Is Boyle going to be the guy through the playoffs? How about next year?
Justin: Kevin Boyle is the man for now. Norm Bazin likes Boyle's previous Hockey East experience and his maturity. Jeff Smith and Olli Kälkäjä are young, inexperienced goaltenders and Bazin isn't a fan of that. Although Boyle has had his struggles, specifically on his rebounds, he is the guy for now and into the playoffs. Although Norm has been quicker to pull Boyle if things get out of hand lately.
Next year, in my opinion it will be Boyle's job to lose. The next option will be Smith. As it sits right now there are no goaltenders committed to join the River Hawks. If that doesn't change soon, it will be these three again next season.
5. What needs to happen for Lowell to go on a run in the next few weeks and get into the tournament?
Justin: Score goals. I know it sounds so simple and obvious, but if this UMass Lowell team wants to make another deep run in the Hockey East playoffs or even the NCAA Tournament they need to score goals. Their goaltending is suspect and can give up four-plus goals on any given night; they just have to score one more than their opponent. I don't think the River Hawks will have many low scoring games the rest of the season.
5. Realistically, where do you see Lowell and BC ending up when all is said and done this season?
Justin: My preseason poll had BC at No. 2 in Hockey East followed by UMass Lowell at No. 3 and I think that's where it ends up in the regular season. However, I don't think this young, inexperienced team can make another deep run in the Hockey East playoffs or NCAA Tournament. It is possible they prove me wrong, but I know it will take a great goaltender to win the whole thing and Lowell just doesn't have that. Boston College has come into their own and likely will make a deep run in both the Hockey East and NCAA Tournament.
Thanks to Justin Soderberg and Mill City Sports for taking the time to do this Q&A. Follow Just in on twitter here.