Preview: UMass-Lowell vs. Yale
by Joe Meloni/Senior Writer
For any of the four teams involved in this year's Frozen Four, a win on Saturday night would clinch a first-ever national championship. In fact, only Yale has ever advanced even this far and not since 1952.
This year's Frozen Four, which being with Massachusetts-Lowell and Yale on Thursday afternoon, marks the first time the national semifinals do not feature at least one of Boston College, Boston University, Denver, Michigan, Minnesota, North Dakota or Wisconsin. These schools, often regarded as college hockey royalty, all saw their seasons end last month.
No. 3 Massachusetts-Lowell (28-10-2) vs. No. 15 Yale (20-12-3)
Details: 4:30 p.m. (ET) Thursday, Consol Energy Center, Pittsburgh
Radio: Dial Global syndication, Sirius/XM Ch. 91, ncaa.com
The first semifinal of the 2013 Frozen Four features two clubs with very different stories illustrating their seasons. UMass-Lowell locked up its NCAA tournament berth in mid-February and carried right on, winning its first Hockey East regular-season and Hockey East tournament championships to clinch a No. 1 seed.
Its opponent, Yale, saw a tough February spent without its No. 1 goaltender and an early ECAC tournament exit push its NCAA tournament fate out of its own hands. The Bulldogs earned the 11th and final at-large bid thanks to Notre Dame. The Fighting Irish's win over Michigan in the CCHA championship game extended Yale's season just long enough to see the Bulldogs knock off Minnesota and North Dakota to punch their ticket to Pittsburgh.
"For us, as a program, one of the things we want to be about is growth," Yale coach Keith Allain said. "And we try to get better each and every day we come to practice. And I thought we played very well against St. Lawrence (in the ECAC quarterfinals). … I thought we hit a bump in the road in Atlantic City. We were back on our game (against Minnesota and North Dakota). So we see Atlantic City as an aberration."
The Bulldogs' aggressive forwards are often their best defensive asset. Led by junior Kenny Agostino and seniors Antoine Laganiere and Andrew Miller, Yale's offense creates scoring chances with quick puck movement and frequent possession. Against North Dakota last weekend, this returned for the Bulldogs. They outshot North Dakota, 25-16, through two periods but trailed, 1-0. The commitment to their style eventually led to a four-goal third period and sent the Bulldogs to the Frozen Four for the first time in 61 years.
A day earlier, senior goaltender Jeff Malcolm kept the Bulldogs alive against a dynamic Minnesota team. The 3-2 overtime win wasn't exactly the return to form Allain wanted with Minnesota playing the aggressor. Still, it shows Yale can win games in different fashions. The matchup with UMass-Lowell could go any number of ways.
"Obviously, they're a great team," Allain said of Lowell. "They won the regular season in Hockey East. They won the league playoffs, too. A couple of things that stand out are the team's defensive play and the pace they play at."
The River Hawks' goaltending and team defense have suffocated opponents of late. In its last 10 games, UML has allowed just 10 goals. Aside from the consistent brilliance of freshman goaltender Connor Hellebuyck, the River Hawks, as a team, keep opponents from generating scoring chances and moving the puck below the face-off circles. Consistent pressure throughout the rink forces UML's opponents to move the puck efficiently to generate offense or move the puck out of its own zone.
All four lines for UML feature strong skaters that force turnovers and create odd-man rushes. A single delayed pass or turnover in any part of the rink can lead to scoring chance for the River Hawks. Despite the focus on constant pressure, the River Hawks have displayed remarkable patience in the postseason. Their forwards rarely put their defensemen in tough spots, choosing when to rush up ice and when to make a safe play.
Bazin credits Hockey East's schedule with teaching his team to choose its spots carefully and capitalize when they do.
"There's different points in the game that we'd like to have more patience than we had (in the Northeast Regional), even," Bazin said. "I think it's going through the process all year long, reverting back to the strong league. When you play (New Hampshire), when you play Maine, when you play Boston College any given weekend, I think you grow a thick skin. You know how hard it is to compete for every single puck, and it really prepared us."
Defeating Wisconsin and New Hampshire to advance to the Frozen Four, the River Hawks' commitment to consistent pressure, tempered with its patience, was on full display. UML forced turnovers and bad shots that it turned into rushes and goals.