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MEN'S HOCKEY: Rivalry Heats Up For The Garden

Asst. Sports Editor

Published: Thursday, March 21, 2013

Updated: Thursday, March 21, 2013 01:03

Yup

Graham Beck / Heights Editor

As the regular season drew to a close, head coach Jerry York predicted that the regular season would come down to the last few games, and that it did. At the end of play, just two points separated the top four teams. 

In the end, it was UMass Lowell that came away with the regular season title, leaving three other teams, Boston College, Boston University, and Providence College, all biting at the bit without a banner. This weekend gives all of those teams, a clean slate and another opportunity to claim a different type of Hockey East title: tournament champion.

Last weekend saw the beginning of tournament play, with each team matched up with another from the top eight conference finishers. UMass Lowell took down Maine in two games with 4-2 and 2-1 (OT) wins. BC rolled over Vermont with 4-2 and 4-1 wins. Associate head coach Mike Cavanaugh was very happy with his team’s performance last weekend.

“You’re always trying to end one team’s season,” he said. “One team is going to go home and not going to go the national tournament, so you have to take their sticks away. It’s always a hard fought series and we were happy to get by UVM and obviously excited to be playing in the Hockey East championships.”

BU put up a similarly strong performance over Merrimack, winning 3-0 and 5-3. 

Providence, the fourth seed heading into the weekend, was the only team that required a tie breaker game to send them to the semifinals, as UNH fought their way to a 4-1 win in the second game of the series, only to be beaten 3-2 the next day, earning Providence the final spot in this weekend’s play.

On Friday night, top seeded UMass Lowell will take on fourth seed Providence in pursuit of a coveted spot in the championship game. The teams have met three other times throughout the season, and Lowell has taken two out of three matchups, but a 3-0 shutout win by Providence in their second to last matchup of the regular season shows that the Friars have a chance at handling the River Hawks. 

Key for the Friars will be their freshman standout goalie Jon Gillies, whose 93-percent save percentage has earned Providence all of its 17 wins this season while their backup senior Russ Stein did not provide a single win.

On the other end of the ice, however, will be another outstanding freshman goalie, Connor Hellebuyck, whose save percentage tallies one more point than Gillies’s at 94 percent, but whose record is one game back from Gillies’s with 16 wins.

With two such strong performers in net and the heightened aggression of playoff hockey, each chance that either team gets will prove extremely important in what is bound to be a low scoring game.

Later that evening, the second semifinal matchup will take place, this time between BU and BC. This fourth meeting of the season between the rivals sees BC with a slight edge over BU, as they have taken two out of three games in the season’s series. Yet this advantage is lessened slightly by the all-time record that BC has against BC in in the Hockey East playoffs, which is a mere 3-8.

Both teams have seen ups and downs during the season. BU endured a big slump during January and February, with a 5-8-2 record during the two months that showed a promising BU team that started the season more strongly experiencing a late season lull. 

BC did not fare much better during those months, as they had only a 6-6-2 record, but since then both teams have seen upturns that allowed them to finish toward the top of the conference in one of the closest seasons that Hockey East has seen in quite some time.

BU especially has seen an increase in momentum heading into the postseason, but Cavanaugh does not see that as an added advantage for the Terriers.

They always seem to be playing well when they play us,” he said. “I know they’ve won four in a row and have been rolling well as a team, but when they play Boston College they could have lost four in a row and they’d still play their best game.”

With such an exciting end to the regular season, both teams will be hoping to make an impression in the tournament, but this weekend holds a specific set of challenges in the absence of York, who had his third surgery of the year on his right eye on Monday after missing the second game of the Vermont series.

Associate coach Greg Brown commented that everyone was hoping for a quick recovery and that as of Tuesday he wasn’t experiencing much pain, but York will not take place in tournament action this weekend. He hopes to be back in action sometime next week.

Because of complications with York’s eye earlier this season, Cavanaugh and Brown are not completely alien to running the team. 

“When we get the news it was really surprising on Saturday because Greg, myself, and Jerry all had a team meeting and we all went and worked out afterwards. Jerry customarily goes home before the game and comes back at 5 o’clock, and when we got the call at three that he was in the hospital, it was a little surprising,” Cavanaugh said. “If we had not gone through it earlier in the year, it would have been a lot more to handle.”

The previous experience came in January, but did not have the same weight as these final few Hockey East games and as the team hopes to build momentum moving into the NCAA tournament, so this weekend will still be a test.

With a win on Friday night will come a trip to the final on Saturday, and all teams will be out and ready to compete. BC was 2-1 against UMass Lowell during the regular season, taking commanding victories in the first two meetings before dropping the third. Against Providence, Eagles are 1-1-1, with their only win coming in overtime. BU was 2-0-1 against Providence and 0-3 against UMass Lowell.

After such a competitive regular season, all four of these teams will be eager to claim their share of a Hockey East title. With all previous records wiped away, two wins will crown a champion. 

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