Lowell, pretender or contender? Going into the River Hawks’ quarterfinal series with Boston University, the consensus among seasoned college hockey observers is the former. Although they are coached by the universally respected Norm Bazin, and sport the same electric blue uniforms as the Lowell teams that owned Hockey East in 2017 and reached the Frozen Four in 2013, there is no mistaking this River Hawks squad with either of those powerhouses. In a conference brimming with household names, only coach Norm Bazin stands out up at Lowell. If not for Boston University’s own struggles this year, the River Hawks wouldn’t even be a favorite on home ice in the forthcoming quarterfinals.
But before you dismiss Lowell out of hand, keep in mind that the River Hawks have beaten national power UMass, and done it twice. On Feb. 9, Finnish senior goaltender Chris Hernberg pitched a 31-save shutout gem. But since then, not a peep, as the River Hawks slid off the NCAA bubble with barely a whimper.
They’ve got what appears to be a premier scorer in senior Ryan Dmowski, who rattled off seven goals in a seven-game span in midseason. But with the season’s fortunes being shaped at crunch time, he’s been officially MIA.
New York Rangers goaltending prospect Tyler Wall, a freshman from Ontario, won Hockey East’s Goalie of the Week honors in early February, after stoning Northeastern. But he has not played consistently well enough to wrest the No. 1 spot between the pipes for Bazin.
Leading scorer Ryan Lohin has cooled off during Lowell’s dormant stretch run. The month of March is the time when the best players need to be playing their best. None of this bodes well for the River Hawks. So… why Lowell? Here’s why. If they take care of business on home ice and beat BU in the quarterfinals, there’s a very good chance they’ll be playing No. 1 UMass at Boston Garden in the semis. Lowell has been to the Hockey East Championship game twice in the last three years, winning in 2017. In the past decade, no one associated with UMass hockey has gotten to the Garden without having to pay admission.
ALSO, Lowell plays with a chip on its shoulder against UMass: the River Hawks are technically the University of Massachusetts at Lowell, AKA UMass Lowell. The program has a proud hockey tradition, and wants to be considered the REAL UMass, not UMass Amherst. They even created t-shirts that read “This is Our State” for the UMass game on Feb. 9, and then sent the interlopers home without scoring a goal. So, call Lowell irrelevant at your own peril, especially if they find themselves playing against national No. 2 UMass. If and when, get out the popcorn.
Author Tim Rappleye just released his latest book: Hobey Baker, Upon Further Review (Mission Point Press, 2018). He can be reached on Twitter @TeeRaps.