After Hiccup, Lowell Defense Continues Strong Play
by Scott McLaughlin/
LOWELL, Mass. In looking for ways to explain UMass-Lowell's turnaround this year, it's easy to start with the offense. After scoring just 2.44 goals per game last season, the River Hawks entered this weekend at the top of Hockey East with 3.88 goals per game and 35.3 shots per game.
But perhaps even more important than Lowell's newfound lamp-lighting ability is its defense and goaltending. The River Hawks ranked dead last in the conference last year with a horrific 4.00 goals against average. This year? Hello top tier of Hockey East. After shutting out Massachusetts 4-0 on Saturday night, the River Hawks are now allowing just 2.80 goals per game, a mark bested only by Merrimack and Boston College.
Saturday's game was a defensive exhibition. Lowell held the Minutemen to 16 shots for the game, including just two in the first period. The River Hawks had everything you could look for in a good defense. They forced their opponent to the outside. They cleared out traffic in front of the net and quickly moved rebounds out of dangerous areas. They had active sticks and blocked shots (13 in total).
"I think our team defense is better than it was [earlier in the season]," said Lowell coach Norm Bazin. "I think [assistant coach] Jason Lammers, who works with the defensive corps, is doing an outstanding job on the fine points and keeping their sticks on the ice. I think they're doing a better job staying out of the penalty box, but yet still being aggressive."
The weekend didn't start off as a showcase for Lowell's defense, though. On Friday night, the River Hawks got pasted 5-0 by New Hampshire and gave up a season-high 39 shots. For those who hadn't bought into Lowell's turnaround yet, it provided an easy opportunity to question the team's legitimacy and wonder if the big loss would be the start of a slide.
The River Hawks wanted to make sure they came out Saturday and proved Friday was a fluke. They wanted to prove they really were as good as their impressive three-game winning streak over the likes of Boston University and Maine would indicate.
"I just thought we had so much more urgency than we did last night," Bazin said. "We were embarrassed by our performance last night. I'm glad the guys had enough pride to come back with this type of effort, because it didn't sit well with them."
Although he wasn't tested much Saturday, sophomore netminder Doug Carr stood tall when he was. The Hanover, Mass., native registered his first career shutout to improve to 5-1-0 on the season. This might sound familiar, but after ranking near the bottom of the league in every goaltending category last year, Carr is now second in both goals against average (1.83) and save percentage (.923).
"The way they're playing in front of me right now, they're making it so easy on me," Carr said. "Any time you get a night like tonight and they make it easy on you, you just do your job. I know all those guys are gonna do their job in front of me."
As impressive as Carr has been, Bazin still isn't ready to declare him the outright No. 1 goalie just yet. Freshman Brian Robbins, who was in net for Friday's beatdown, doesn't come close to stacking up against Carr on paper (he's 1-3-0 with a 4.25 GAA and .860 save percentage), but Bazin indicated that he will still see playing time moving forward.
No matter who's in net, the River Hawks will need to keep playing the way they did Saturday. After Friday night's loss, they now know what happens when they don't bring the effort they need.
"Last night was pretty uncharacteristic of us," Carr said. "We really didn't play our game, the Lowell style of hockey that we play. Tonight was a good bounce-back win and a full team effort, front to back."