Nov. 21, 2013
Notre Dame, Ind. - The Irish hit the road for the final time in the first half of the 2013-14 season this weekend, Nov. 22-23, as they travel to Lowell, Mass., to face the UMass.-Lowell River Hawks in a two-game Hockey East series. On Friday night, the two teams battle at the Tsongas Center at UMass.-Lowell in a 7:00 p.m. game. Saturday's tilt starts at 4:00 p.m. and will be televised live on the New England Sports Network (NESN) with Tom Caron and Don "Toot" Cahoon describing the action. NESN is available on cable and satellite systems so check your listings for the channel numbers.
This series will be the third this season that will have Notre Dame playing a ranked opponent. The Irish enter the week with an 8-3-1 overall record and are 2-1-1 in Hockey East. They are ranked sixth in both the USA Today/U.S. Hockey Magazine poll and the USCHO.com rankings. The River Hawks are 8-4-0 on the year and 2-1-0 in conference play. They are ranked 11th in the USA Today poll and 13th by USCHO.com.
UMass.-Lowell is the defending Hockey East regular-season and tournament champion after going 28-11-2 last season. The River Hawks advanced to the Frozen Four where they lost in the semi-finals to Yale, dropping a 3-2 overtime decision. They come into this weekend having won three in a row and seven of their last eight games.
UMass.-Lowell is a new team to Notre Dame hockey fans. Here's a look at the Hockey East school with a brief hockey history.
The University of Massachusetts Lowell was established in 1894 as the Lowell Normal School, a teaching college and the Lowell Textile School, founded in 1895 to train technicians and managers for the textile industry. The two schools became Lowell State College and Lowell Technological Institute over the years and merged in 1975 to become the University of Lowell. In 1991, the campus became part of the University of Massachusetts system and was renamed the University of Massachusetts Lowell.
Located 25 miles northwest of Boston on 150 acres located on both sides of the Merrimack River, UMass.-Lowell is the second largest public institution in the state of Massachusetts, trailing only UMass.-Amherst. The University offers more than 120 degree courses and has an enrollment of just under 17,000 students.
The River Hawks (formerly the Chiefs) hockey program began in 1967-68 and was a Division II power, winning national titles in 1979, 1981 and 1982. They made the move to Division I in 1983-84 and are original members of Hockey East, having played every season since the league began play in the 1984-85 season. All of UMass.-Lowell's other athletic teams played in Division II until this past summer when they moved to the Division I level and now compete in America East.
The 2012-13 season was the most successful season for the River Hawks on ice as they advanced to the Frozen Four after winning the Hockey East regular season and tournament titles while going 28-11-2. Head Coach Norm Bazin, a 1994 UML alum, was named the Bob Kullen Hockey East and Spencer Penrose national coach of the year for guiding UMass.-Lowell. In this his third season, Bazin owns a 60-28-3 record. Bazin served as an assistant at his alma mater from 1996-2000 before going to Colorado College as an assistant from 2000 to 2008. He spent three seasons at Hamilton College as the head coach before taking over at UMass.-Lowell in 2011. He is just the sixth coach in the program's history.
The River Hawks play their games at the Paul E. Tsongas Center (named for former U.S. Senator Paul Tsongas, who was a native of Lowell, Mass.). The building that was taken over by the University in 2009-10, seats over 6,000 people and was the former home of the American Hockey League's Lowell Devils, the top farm club of the New Jersey Devils.
Former UMass.-Lowell players to play in the NHL include Craig MacTavish, Jon Morris, Dwayne Roloson, Ron Hainsey, Mark Kumpel, Dean Jenkins and Ben Holmstrom.
IRISH VERSUS THE RIVER HAWKS
This is the first time that a Notre Dame team has played a team from UMass.-Lowell in any sport.
LOOKING AT LOWELL
The River Hawks entered the season as the preseason No. 1 team in the country after their outstanding 2012-13 season. They returned 21 letter winners from last season, including top scorers Scott Wilson (16g, 22a) and Joseph Pendenza (15g, 23a) along with goaltender Connor Hellebucyk. The season got off to a slow start as UMass.-Lowell dropped three of its first four games with losses to Sacred Heart and two to Quinnipiac. Since that start, the River Hawks have quickly righted the ship, winning seven of their last eight games on the way to their 8-4-0 record. They are scoring 2.75 goals per game while giving up 2.00 per contest. Lowell features a balanced scoring attack with nine players having two or more goals with sophomore Adam Chapie and junior Scott Wilson sharing the scoring lead with nine points each. Hellebucyk is 4-3-0 in goal with a 1.89 goals-against average and a .938 save percentage. Senior Doug Carr is 4-1-0 with a 1.98 goals against and a .930 save percentage.
Irish head coach Jeff Jackson expects quite a challenge from the River Hawks this weekend.
"I've only seen them on film but people that I have talked to say that they are reminiscent of my old Lake State teams," says Jackson.
"That means they are strong and physical in the defensive zone. They are difficult to play in the offensive zone because they cycle the puck well. They are like a half-court team that plays solid defense. They are hard to play against. Don't forget that they were the preseason No. 1 team in the country. I expect it to be a real challenge, especially because they have a real good goaltender."
The Irish will travel to UMass.-Lowell this weekend short a few bodies due to injuries. Missing from the lineup are four forwards - Vince Hinostroza, Steven Fogarty, Thomas DiPauli and Mike Voran along with defenseman Eric Johnson.
Not quite the situation you want to be in when playing a team ranked No. 11/No. 13 in the country.
"We are traveling everyone that is healthy. That means 20 players will be on the trip," says Jackson.
Being short players will cause some changes for the Irish head coach.
"We won't be able to play three lines like we did last Saturday. There are no TV timeouts on Friday night, so there won't be any time to get a breather," says Jackson.
"I thought we played really smart last Saturday night (against Merrimack). We didn't take a lot of penalties. We can't put ourselves in positions to stress ourselves out physically. We have to play smart, we have to minimize unnecessary penalties and we have to be ultra-smart with the puck so that we aren't chasing all night long.
With the injuries, the Irish will make some changes on their fourth line with defenseman Ben Ostlie moving up to right wing while Joe Aiken will see time at center with freshman Ali Thomas at left wing. At least this week, they have had a chance to skate together in practice.
"Ben Ostlie has had a week to practice at forward. He played some forward when he was a bantam," says Jackson.
"Ali Thomas is fine. He scored a big goal for us last weekend and we just have to see if Joey Aiken can handle the pace. That's the biggest question. Joe made the team for exactly the situation that we are in here. He's worked hard, he's been a great kid."
A DREAM COME TRUE
Taking the ice for the Irish for the first time this weekend will be junior Joe Aiken. The Whitefish Bay, Wis., native arrived at Notre Dame much differently that most of his teammates. A two-time all-Conference selection at Whitefish Bay High School, Aiken came to Notre Dame to attend college. But, he also had a dream of someday playing college hockey. He tried out for the Irish as a walk on in his freshman year and again his sophomore year but didn't make it.
First he played interhall hockey at the Compton Family Ice Arena. Then, with the opening of the new building, Notre Dame was able to field a men's club team. So he played for that squad in 2012-13 and was second on the team in scoring with 13 goals and 14 assists for 27 points last season.
And, he continued to work toward his dream.
"He came for our skill sessions in the fall as a freshman and wasn't ready. He came back again the next year and he was bigger and stronger. It looked like he had worked out to develop his body," said Jackson.
"This year, we invited him to come back in the summer and work hockey camp, to work with our strength coach Tony Rolinski and see if he fit in with our guys. When he tried out in the fall, he did okay with the pace and he earned his chance with the team. He tried out a couple times and then he made it. He's a bit of a Rudy story."
Last Friday, versus Merrimack, the Irish lost two players to injury. On Saturday, Aiken found out he was going to dress for the game that night.
"I didn't get out there at all, but it really was a dream come true for me. I always dreamed of playing college hockey," explains Aiken.
"It was a long road to get here. I put in a lot of work in the room and in the weight room. I had to stay disciplined and remember what my goals were. There are no guarantees but I had the confidence that if I worked hard enough, I could make it.
Along the way, he has drawn the admiration of his teammates.
"I give him a lot of credit," says team captain Jeff Costello.
"He comes to the rink everyday to work. He's only gotten better since he started to train with us in the summer. He's getting more comfortable which allows him to make plays that he wouldn't have tried. It's an interesting situation that we are in now, but he definitely deserves to be wearing an Irish jersey."
Aiken looks forward to getting his chance this weekend.
"I just have to stay focused on doing my job and be ready to go if I get asked to go in."
Jackson adds, "Our guys respect him, they see him out there working hard everyday. He's smart and picks things up. He just never played at a high enough level to compete at that level. He's learned to play at that pace in practice."
HOCKEY EAST HAPPENINGS
Senior forward Derek Arnold had the hot hand for UMass.-Lowell last week, scoring three goals in the River Hawks three wins. He scored twice in Thursday's 4-0 win at Penn State ... River Hawk senior goaltender Doug Carr stopped 54 shots (.947 sv%) in wins over Princeton and Penn State ... Boston College forward Johnny Gaudreau has a five-game goal-scoring streak, the longest of his career ... he also leads Hockey East in scoring with 10 goals and 10 assists for 20 points ... Boston University's 7-0 loss at Maine on Nov. 15 was its most lopsided loss since an 8-1 loss at Providence on Feb. 17, 1995 ... on the other hand, the 7-0 win for the Black Bears was their most lopsided win since defeating St. Lawrence, 10-1, on Nov. 28, 2009 ... the shutout was the second for Maine in the last three games ... the University of Massachusetts was the first Hockey East team to earn a point from Boston College as the Minutemen tied the Eagles, 2-2, on Nov. 15 at Conte Forum ... they are now 1-0-1 in their last to trips to Chestnut Hill after dropping 13 straight games there ... Merrimack is the second-most penalized team in Hockey East as the Warriors average 15.6 penalty minutes per game ... they are still searching for their first win against a non-Atlantic Hockey school ... no need for fans to worry about the New Hampshire Wildcats ... after getting off to a 1-5-1 start, Dick Umile's squad has quietly run off five straight wins, outscoring opponents by a 24-4 margins in those games ... the last time the Wildcats won five straight came in the 2008-09 season ... Northeastern's freshman class has scored 11 goals and added 34 assists this season and is third nationally in scoring behind Boston College and Minnesota's freshmen classes ... freshman Mike Szmatula's nine-game point streak (the longest in the nation this season) was snapped on Nov. 15 in the 3-0 loss to New Hampshire ... Notre Dame's 2-2 tie with Merrimack on Nov. 16 was the first-ever tie game at the Compton Family Ice Arena ... the building opened in Oct. of 2011 ... Providence College's sweep last weekend at Vermont was the first for the Friars in Burlington in five tries ... PC now has a five-game winning streak ... senior center Derek Army played in his 121st consecutive game at Providence ... he has not missed a game in his career at PC ... Vermont has not given up a power-play goal at Gutterson Field House in four games this season ... the Catamounts are a perfect 19-for-19 on the penalty kill at home.