UMass-Lowell on a roll as tournament nears

by Bob Snow /
LOWELL, Mass. -- With four regular season games left until the Hockey East playoffs -- and four weeks until the 16-team NCAA tournament is announced -- pencil in Massachusetts-Lowell as one of those 16 for the first time since 1996 when Dwayne Roloson patrolled the River Hawks pipes. 

At 20-9-0 overall, 15-8-0 in league play, and tied for second with Michigan in the decisive Pairwise power rankings behind Boston College, Lowell is also a scant one point behind BC in the Hockey East standings, ahead of Boston University and Maine. 

All good for No. 6 in the nation, the program's highest rank this deep into any season in team history.

The River Hawks were 5-25-4 last season -- the worst showing in program history.

The major reasons for this drastic about-face?

"Coach Bazin came in," junior captain Riley Wetmore said, "and knew what a good team identity was from when he played here in the '90s, and he wanted to bring that back to Lowell: the fast-paced game, more puck possession with more offense and more urgency. When we do that, we can play with any team. It was tough to tell from the beginning where this would go back in September with 19 underclassmen and how they would buy into the new system."


Boston College coach Jerry York crossed paths with Duke basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski last weekend when the Blue Devils were in Boston to take on the Eagles on the hard court.


They exchanged congrats on reaching the 900-win milestone in their respective coaching careers.

Boston College beat Merrimack, 4-2, before 7,390 fans at Kelley Rink, Friday night for York's 900th Division I win across 40 years and three teams: Clarkson, Bowling Green and BC.

A follow-up win Saturday night at Merrimack brings York's countdown to 23 to break the all-time record of 924 held by Ron Mason of Michigan State fame; he is projected to break that record sometime next season.

York won 125 games in seven years at Clarkson (1972-79), captured 342 wins in 15 years at Bowling Green (1979-94) and has 433 wins in 18 seasons behind his alma mater's bench (1994-present).

That includes four national championships -- one at Bowling Green in 1984, and three at BC in 2001, 2008 and 2010.

Here are a few milestone wins along York's storied career:

First win: Nov. 10, 1972
Clarkson 13, University of Quebec 0

No. 100: Jan. 24, 1978
Clarkson 10, St. Lawrence 3

No. 300: Nov. 7, 1986
Bowling Green 5, Ohio State 2

National championship win: March 24, 1984
BC beats Duluth in the fourth OT, 5-4, the longest championship game in NCAA history in Lake Placid

No. 500: Nov. 30, 1996
Boston College 6, St. Lawrence 4

National championship win: April 7, 2001
Boston College 3, North Dakota 2 in Albany, N.Y., in overtime

No. 800: March 29, 2008
Boston College 5, Minnesota 2, at the NCAA Northeast Regional Tournament in Worcester, Mass.

National championship win: April 12, 2008
Boston College 4, Notre Dame 1, at the NCAA Tournament in Denver, Colo.

National championship win: April, 10, 2010
Boston College 5, Wisconsin 0, at the NCAA Tournament, Detroit, Mich.

No. 900: Feb. 17, 2012
Boston College 4, Merrimack 2.

-- Bob Snow
No question where it all has gone.

"Buying in" is an understatement of what Bazin's leadership in the historic city 45 miles north of Boston has produced.

"I'm impressed with these guys," the articulate and mild-mannered Bazin said. "You can sink in a hurry, but I feel we are in the mix."

His mix of predominantly younger players blending with upper-class leadership and lights-out goaltending has produced so far with four balanced lines.  

"When I came in," he said, "we picked up three or four guys and all have played key roles. It's important to have three or four lines that contribute in this competitive league. Freshmen Zack Kamress and Jake Suter on defense have played significant roles and Stephen Buco up front. Several other freshmen have played key roles like (Scott) Wilson and (Derek) Wallin.

"And the upperclassmen have led leadership-wise like (Michael) Budd and (Matt) Ferreira; he's had a pretty darn good two-way game. And you can only say so much about the Wetmore kid -- he's a terrific leader.

"There's a focus on all of us playing in the moment, and we need to continue that to have any success."

Wilson, the only NHL draft pick on the roster (seventh round by the Penguins in 2011), and Doug Carr in goal have led the supporting cast. 

Wilson leads the team in scoring with 31 points and is a candidate for the league's rookie of the year honors.

"Oh my goodness," Wetmore said, raving about Wilson, "thanks to coach for putting him with me. He's unbelievable, and easy to see why Pittsburgh drafted him. He's the real deal. He might not be one of our biggest guys, but he's one of our biggest hitters."

Carr, a sophomore and semifinalist for the Walter Brown Award for the best American-born college hockey player in New England, is one of Lowell's big guys for the River Hawks to go deep in March.

"We didn't know about goaltending coming in," Wetmore said. "We didn't have it last year, but Doug Carr has been unbelievable this year. His confidence is up there and he's a great leader off the ice."

"We've got good heads on our shoulders from coach down," Carr said. "A goalie can't put up these numbers and team wins without a full team effort."

Into last weekend, those numbers added up to a 2.00 goals-against average, an NCAA-leading winning percentage of .783 with 19 wins, tied for third in save percentage, fourth in goals against average and tied for fifth in shutouts.

That team effort has been very focused on a just a few things.

"Keep the balance up front," Carr said. "That's the style we want to play: aggressive and tenacious in the offensive zone. The other team can't score if they don't have the puck. That's where we go work to reduce the pressure on the D and the goalie."

Wilson, Wetmore, Derek Arnold, Ferreira, David Vallorani, Chad Ruhwedel, Joe Pendenza, Wallin, Josh Holmstrom, and Joe Buco have led that charge with double-digit scoring in that order.

Ruhwedel has 23 points from the blue line.

Two weeks of the regular season remain for a top-10 team in the nation in offense and defense that plays in the plush confines of the Tsongas Center, where the school's all-time attendance records will be broken.

"Our losses have become great teaching points," Wetmore said. "I love the guys and camaraderie."'s Top 10

1. Ferris State 22-8-4
2. Boston College 21-10-1
3. Michigan 20-10-4
4. Minnesota-Duluth 20-7-5
5. Boston University 18-11-5
6. UMass-Lowell 20-9-5
7. Minnesota 21-11-1
8. Union 19-6-7
9. Denver 18-10-4
10. Maine 18-10-3
Carr chipped in with his summary comments: "We've put ourselves in a good spot so far. Can't get too far ahead of things -- that's when things can go bad. We'll keep it simple period by period and game by game."

"We had a good start and we're looking forward to completing it that way in a good stretch run," Bazin added.

A run that could stretch into late March -- even April.

On Campus Clips: The league standings of the first four teams into this weekend include:

Hockey East: Boston College, Massachusetts-Lowell, Boston University, Maine
Atlantic Hockey: Air Force, RIT, Bentley/Mercyhurst/Niagara tied for third
CCHA: Ferris State (next week's feature), Michigan, Western Michigan, Michigan State
ECACHL: Union, Cornell, Colgate, Clarkson
WCHA: Minnesota, Minnesota-Duluth, Denver, Colorado College/Nebraska-Omaha, North Dakota tied for fourth.

(The season ends this weekend for the ECACHL, CCHA, and Atlantic Hockey.)