March 14, 2008 PRINT Bookmark and Share

Strange Days: BU-Lowell Meet After Quite a Year

by Franklin Foreham/Guest Contributor

If two teams have faced any more strange a past year, it would be hard to find them.

No. 2-seeded Boston University takes on No. 7-seeded Massachusetts-Lowell this weekend, with former BU coach Blaise MacDonald at the helm of the RiverHawks. BU needs a sweep to help secure an NCAA bid, but it's one that seemed light years away just a month ago. If you think that's bad — Lowell didn't know if it would be here because it wasn't even sure it would exist.

"Seven months ago we almost didn't have a team," said MacDonald. "Now we have three sophomore captains and one junior captain. Leadership is critical for any team to be successful at this level. Our two captains — Mark Roebothan and Ben Holmstrom — have been outstanding. Jeremy Dehner and Barry Goers have been great as well. They all have different leadership capabilities and skills that play off each other very well. In my 22 years of coaching this has been a real seamless year in terms of no issues, the locker room has been great."

MacDonald was also arrested on a DUI charge, and could've been fired. The team was under scrutiny from its governing bodies, where an option on the table was to fold the program.

Lowell came through and despite having the "typical" ups and downs of a season, the RiverHawks will take it considering what may have been.

"Our team has been a little bit up and down as of late in terms of the results, but not so
much in terms of our effort," MacDonald said. "We've been very pleased with how the team has performed coming down the stretch. We went through an eight or nine game stretch where our goaltending save percentage was down around 86-percent. (Goalie) Carter Hutton has played very, very well recently and has solidified that position."

Goalie is a big reason why the Terriers were on the verge of disaster earlier in the season, and why they are on the verge of the NCAAs now. It's been a complete reversal.

The Terriers were bad out-of-conference, under .500 in the conference, and going nowhere but an unfamiliar downward hole. If ever there are times when BU is struggling, it's usually the Beanpot that gets it going. But even the Beanpot couldn't save BU. There was even the unfortunate episode of Bryan McGuirk being stripped of his captaincy.

Lo and behold, BU proved there was still time to turn it around. The goaltending that had been so shaky, turned it around. McGuirk turned it around. BU has lost one game since the Beanpot. It's coming off a combined 8-0 thrashing of Providence last week, which secured a No. 2 seed.

"Things really fell right for us," said BU coach Jack Parker. "We were winning and teams ahead of us weren't winning, so we kept climbing over people. ... We've come back from the dead, so to speak, and hopefully we take advantage of that in the second season."

Goalie Karson Gillespie was highly touted coming in, but didn't reach those heights while John Curry took charge. He was playing well early this season until he got hurt and missed 17 games. Enter Brett Bennett, a youngster with decent credentials coming in, but he struggled mightily early in the season.

But Bennett kept improving, and Gillespie came back stronger than ever. Suddenly, Parker likes his goaltending rotation, and it has allowed everyone to relax.

"When you make a mistake and it doesn't wind up in the net, it doesn't look as bad, and the guy doesn't feel as bad that he made the mistake," Parker said.

"Another thing that happened was that the defense started to play better in front of thim. At Christmas time, we changed our d-zone coverage back to the way we used to play. It really helped us out as far as being more tenacious in our zone and not leaving out goalies hung out to dry as often."

When McGuirk was stripped of the captaincy — and two others were suspended — it allowed others to fill the void. And no one has done a better job of that than senior Peter MacArthur.

"That was really the turnaround of the team, because those guys could have come back moping around and instead they came back and just kept playing harder and harder and harder," Parker said. "One of the guys was [senior Bryan] Ewing, who has played terrific and ended up being the top point-getter in the league.

"The leadership that McGuirk displayed even after the 'C' was taken off his shirt was terrific, so right before Beanpot time I decided to put the 'C' back on because he had earned it back. The kids appreciated that because they appreciated how hard he worked under trying circumstances. He faced the adversity pretty well. There's an old saying: Action, consequences. They accepted their consequences and went about their business. Certainly McGuirk earned his 'C' back and he's been a great leader, and so have the other three guys. All four of them down the stretch here have really helped us out."

MacDonald doesn't have quite that amount of leadership to fall back on, but his youngsters have come a long way quickly. One of the most pleasant surprises has been the emergence of Kory Falite, who has 16 goals.

"Early on he struggled with consistency, but then developed a real consistent work habit," MacDonald said. "He's a real threat. He has a goal scorer's mentality. It starts there. He worked very hard over the summer to develop his skill set to allow him to score those goals."

Lowell has nothing to lose this weekend, which makes it dangerous.

"We need to be just fast and loose, almost reckless in our approach," MacDonald said. "But yet have that underbelly of confidence that we all need to do what we're capable to doing. We don't need guys playing like [Alexander] Ovechkin, because we don't have anyone capable of doing that. Play to your capabilities and you'll be fine."

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