November 13, 2009

River Hawks make early statement

(photo: Ken Babbitt)

It’s only November. There are still four months before the Hockey East title will be wrapped up, and in between now and mid-March is a grueling stretch of games that will have the standings changing on a weekly basis.

Still, Hockey East is a topsy-turvy league this year, with perennial powers looking up from the cellar and perennial also-rans possessing the top spots, so there’s no reason to think it’s too early for a game to be crucial to the outcome of the conference season.

That’s why UMass-Lowell’s 6-3 victory over New Hampshire Sunday mattered so much – and it might be part of the reason UNH coach Dick Umile (Melrose, Mass.) was spitting fire after a game that saw his squad take four big penalties in the third period.

“I was just disappointed that we gave it away in the third period,” Umile said. “We played hard for two periods. … I don’t think they beat us as much as we gave it away.”

On the flip side, the River Hawks got a huge boost from the win, and vaulted over UMass to take sole possession of first place in the league along with the No. 5 spot in the USA Today national poll. They’ve played just seven of the 27 games on their league schedule, but they drew Umile’s praise – the wizened Wildcat coach called them the best team in the league Sunday – and they’ve got a lot of momentum running through Tsongas Arena.

Not that they’re getting ahead of themselves.

“Points are points, all year long,” said senior forward Kory Falite (Billerica, Mass.), who scored two goals including the clincher in the UML win Sunday. “Two points on the line, every night. It’s nice to get them now (and) it’s nice to get them in the future, in February. Any time it’s nice.”

UMass-Lowell coach Blaise MacDonald, also a Billerica native, sounded an awful lot like President Josiah Bartlet on TV’s “The West Wing” when talking about the team’s outlook.

“You hope maturity allows you to put things in perspective. We talk a lot about what’s next, next, next,” MacDonald said. “You had a great shift? OK, what’s next? Bad shift? What’s next? So you have to be in the moment and focus on where you’re going. It sounds simple, but if you continually preach it, you’ve got a chance to get to that spot.”

What’s next for the River Hawks is a weekend away at non-conference Alabama-Huntsville, making them one of two league teams along with Providence to have a whole weekend off from Hockey East competition. That opens the door for almost anyone in the conference to snatch their first-place spot, but it is early, after all, and there are still plenty of big games to be played.

NEHJ Player of the Week

Nick Schaus, sr., UMass-Lowell


To be honest, we’d pick Schaus this week just for his absolute rocket of a wrister over Brian Foster’s glove side shoulder late in Sunday’s game, but that was merely one of his four points (two goals, two assists) on the weekend in a tie and win for the River Hawks.

Looking Ahead

UNH at UMass, Friday and Saturday


It’s always interesting to see the teams with the biggest ice surfaces in the league square off, and the Wildcats’ and Minutemen’s two-game weekend set in Amherst also carries the intrigue of whether UNH can prevent a slide and whether UMass can retake first place.

Around Hockey East

Boston College


Freshman Philip Samuelsson scored his first collegiate goal in Saturday’s win over Northeastern. That last name may ring hauntingly familiar with New England hockey fans – Philip is the son of the notorious Ulf Samuelsson, often credited with accelerating the end of Cam Neely’s career with a vicious hit to the knees while playing for Pittsburgh in the 1991 Wales Conference finals.

Boston University

The Terriers take to the ice Friday night at Merrimack riding a streak of 154:47 without an even-strength goal, and their 2-5 start is the program’s worst since 1998-99.

Maine

Sophomore Gustav Nyquist’s torrid start continued for the Black Bears last weekend, as he picked up a goal and an assist Sunday to extend his point streak to seven games.

UMass

Junior Michael Lecomte made a big splash after missing four games with an injury, scoring two goals in the Minutemen’s 4-1 win over Niagara Friday night.

UMass-Lowell

Senior Ben Holmstrom and classmate Paul Worthington are both riding five-game point streaks, each with six points over that span. Worthington has three goals and three assists, while Holmstrom has scored twice and added four helpers.

Merrimack

How hot has Chris Barton’s start been this year? Despite the Warriors being idle while the rest of the conference’s teams had games last weekend, the junior still has the most goals (7) of any player in the league.

UNH

Freshman Austin Block picked up his first collegiate goal Sunday, though it wasn’t quite one to write home about. Block cleanly lost an offensive zone face-off to UMass-Lowell’s Ben Holmstrom, who knocked the puck back to River Hawk defenseman Ryan Blair. Blair one-timed a perfectly imperfect backhander past his unsuspecting goaltender, Carter Hutton, and by rule, Block picked up the credit for the goal.

Northeastern

The Huskies’ 1-0 win over Boston University gave coach Greg Cronin (Boston, Masss.) his 60th win behind the Northeastern bench. It was also the first time NU has beaten a defending national champion since Jan. 10, 1979, when they beat – you guessed it – Boston University.

Providence

Six of the Friars’ first eight games this season have been on the road, and they went 4-2 in those games. Five of their next
nine, however, will be played in the cozy confines of Schneider Arena.

Vermont

Bow, N.H., native Mike Spillane made 33 saves Sunday to pick up his first career assist, and was given the game puck by fellow Catamount netminder Rob Madore.

Andrew Merritt can be reached at feedback@hockeyjournal.com.