UMass hockey prepared for ‘rival’ UMass Lowell team that looks a lot like the Minutemen

  • UMass coach Greg Carvel looked at UMass Lowell as a program to emulate when he started building at UMass. Now the two system rivals are in a battle for spots atop the Hockey East standings. THOM KENDALL/UMASS ATHLETICS

  • Matthew Kessel and the UMass hockey team are preparting to face a UMass Lowell team over the next two days that looks a lot like they do.  THOM KENDALL/UMASS ATHLETICS

Published: 12/2/2021 4:26:15 PM
Modified: 12/2/2021 4:25:42 PM

AMHERST – Looking across the faceoff circle at a UMass Lowell player may feel like the other side of a funhouse mirror for UMass hockey players.

The two Massachusetts state schools in Hockey East share more than the same university system. Both the Minutemen and River Hawks play a hard-nosed, defensive style. There won’t be much to separate the two highest-ranked teams in Massachusetts when they meet Friday at the Tsongas Center in Lowell at 7 p.m. and again 24½ hours later at the Mullins Center.

Some of that is by design. When Greg Carvel was hired in 2016, he looked at Lowell and Providence as two programs he wanted to emulate.

“We’ve worked toward that, being a hard, heavy, strong defensive team,” Carvel said.

They’re two of the top three defensive teams in Hockey East. The 15th-ranked River Hawks have allowed the fewest goals in the conference (18 in 12 games), while No. 14 UMass sits third (25).

“They’re a problem for us because they want to play like us,” UMass defenseman Matthew Kessel said. “They’re a big rival for us because they’re a lot like us.”

The Minutemen (7-4-1) have won the teams’ past four games, including a 1-0 trench war for the 2021 Hockey East title. They finally exorcised their Tsongas Arena demons last year, taking down the River Hawks there for the first time in 10 years.

“They’re our rival now,” Carvel said. “We’ve finally found ways to beat Lowell. They’re the one team we couldn’t beat for a long time.”

It hasn’t gotten easier. The River Hawks (8-2-2) are unbeaten at home in regulation (5-0-2). They’ve already beaten Boston College and Northeastern at Tsongas.

Goalie Owen Savory leads Hockey East with a 1.1 goals against average and a .954 save percentage.

“It’s gonna be two teams that play pretty much the exact same way and whoever does it better is gonna win,” UMass senior forward Anthony Del Gaizo said. “It’s gonna be physical, fast and it’s going to come down to a little mistake that’ll determine the game.”

Lowell has nine players with at least five points. Only Andre Lee, their leading scorer with eight goals, has 10. UMass will be playing down six forwards, so scoring will come at a premium, just like always.

“If you look at the last number of games we played against each other, they're very low scoring,” Carvel said. “Every battle counts. Every every puck decision counts.”

Those small moments will likely have a big impact on the Hockey East standings. UMass currently sits second in the conference with 18 points, one point behind league-leading Providence (19). Lowell is tied with Northeastern and BC for third (17) but has played two fewer games than the Huskies and Eagles.

So a strong showing by the Minutemen could push the Friars for pole position, while the River Hawks could muddle the top of the standings even further.

“They're very well coached. I think Norm (Bazin) is probably the best coach in our conference. He just keeps winning year after year,” Carvel said. “Complete, total respect for their program.”


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