UMass hockey ‘not that far off’ ahead of matchup with UMass Lowell at Tsongas Center

  • The UMass hockey team will face No. 18 UMass Lowell at the Tsongas Center in Lowell on Friday at 7:15 p.m. CHRIS TUCCI/UMASS ATHLETICS

  • Ryan Lautenbach and the UMass hockey team will face No. 18 UMass Lowell at the Tsongas Center in Lowell on Friday at 7:15 p.m. CHRIS TUCCI/UMASS ATHLETICS—

Staff Writer
Published: 1/25/2023 3:01:49 PM
Modified: 1/25/2023 3:01:23 PM

AMHERST – The trip to UMass Lowell’s Tsongas Center has never been a pleasant or simple one for the UMass hockey program, even when it was firing on all cylinders.

UMass has beaten the 18th-ranked River Hawks just twice there in the past decade. That includes a 4-3 victory last January. The Minutemen will go for two in a row at 7:15 p.m. Friday (NESN-Plus).

“They know us. We know them. It’s a rivalry game. The teams play hard. I hope for the same. I hope it’s a tight game. We’ve got to find a way to win a tight game,” UMass coach Greg Carvel said. “I don’t think we’re that far off.”

The Minutemen (9-12-3, 3-10-1 Hockey East) have lost five games in a row. They haven’t won since beating Brown on Jan. 3 and haven’t won a conference game since taking down the River Hawks in Belfast, Northern Ireland, in late November. UMass is 0-6-1 in its last seven conference games since then.

“When you go through a stretch where you’re not winning, it’s a bit unusual for us. It makes you start searching for answers. I’m pretty sure I know the answers, and I messaged that to them,” Carvel said. “We’re not far off. We have to be a good defensive team, and I think we’re capable of that. Good defense wins. We’re capable. If we could get healthy and get goaltending like we did Saturday at UConn, we’ll be alright.”

Luke Pavicich returned to the UMass net and stopped 37 shots against the Huskies. He’ll be the last line of defense for the Minutemen. They’ve allowed at least three goals in every game since shutting out Brown. That won’t cut it against Lowell.

“Lowell’s a gritty team. They’re tough like us. They throw everything at the net. You’ve got to be ready for everything,” Pavicich said. “It’s a bunch of scrappy goals, it’s not much anything pretty.”

The River Hawks have the best defense in Hockey East and one of the best in the nation. They’ve only given up 52 goals this season, six fewer than the next closest league team. That’s as wide as the gap between No. 2 Boston College and No. 8 Maine.

Statistically, Lowell has the two best goalies in the conference. Grad student Gustavs Davis Grigals leads the league with a 1.96 goals against average (eighth in the country) and a .929 save percentage (third nationally). His compatriot Henry Welsch allows just 2.14 goals per game (second in the league) and stops .920 percent of the shots he sees (fourth in Hockey East).

The River Hawks also boast the league’s second-best penalty kill (86.2 percent) and face off percentage (53.6).

“It’s a rivalry game. We’re going to be ready to go. It’s going to be physical, it’s going to be hard,” UMass sophomore Ryan Lautenbach said. “We’ve got to bear down and put some pucks in the net.”

The Minutemen will receive reinforcements in the defensive corps, however. Junior Aaron Bohlinger should return to the lineup after missing the past four games. During that stretch UMass has regularly used three freshmen defensemen and allowed four goals per game. Bohlinger has played more games for the Minutemen than any other defenseman.

“We’ve got a young lineup, it’s tough,” Carvel said. “We need his help. We need a lot of guys’ help right now.”

UMass will still be shorthanded after forwards Michael Cameron, Reed Lebster and Eric Faith suffered injuries against the Huskies last weekend.

Kyle Grabowski can be reached at kgrabowski@gazettenet.com. Follow him on Twitter @kylegrbwsk.

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