Men’s Preview: #19 UVM @ #7 UMass-Lowell (2x)

Oh, hey, number next to “UVM”. Yup. We’re ranked.

That said, Coach Sneddon knows better than to let that get to his and his team’s heads. Especially with a foe that’s this good.

It wasn’t too long ago that UMass-Lowell was just as bad as UMass-Amherst. Five years ago, the River Hawks went 5-25-4 and fired head coach Blaise MacDonald after the season. What Norm Bazin has done with that program is unbelievable, turning them from a subpar team that could occasionally punch above their weight (current Merrimack is probably the best comparison) into a powerhouse with 5 straight 20-win seasons, and are a lock for a sixth.

This year’s Lowell team has started 4-2-2, with two impressive draws against the current national #1 (Minnesota-Duluth) to start the season. Both defeats came against opponents UVM has also battled, a 4-3 home loss to Clarkson and a 5-1 spanking at the hands of Omaha.

It wouldn’t be a UMass-Lowell team without excellent goaltending. Connor Hellebuyck and Kevin Boyle were both above average to elite goaltenders in recent years, and it seems like Bazin has found another gem in New York Rangers draft pick Tyler Wall. The freshman out of the Greater Ontario Junior Hockey League’s Leamington Flyers has been fantastic so far this season, posting a .927 save percentage. Behind him, sophomores Sean Cleary and Cristoffer Hernberg battle for the #2, but it wouldn’t surprise me to see back-to-back starts by Wall. (They also do have freshman and Anaheim Ducks prospect Garrett Metcalf, who has yet to play.)

In front of Wall, Lowell’s defense brings plenty of experience to the table, sporting just a single freshman this year. That freshman, however, has been one of the top-scoring defenders in the country in Mattias Göransson (8 points). Seniors Dylan Zink and Michael Kapla (5 points each) look better after seeing a dip in production their junior years, and the rest of the group is solid as well. Göransson has been crucial to Lowell’s 4th-ranked power play (operating at a 25% clip). Staying out of the box will be critical this weekend. That said, the defense has been a bit shaky so far.

Up front, Lowell’s attack is led by the one-two punch of senior Joe Gambardella (Touchey Feeley MVP so far in the Fantasy College Hockey season) and junior CJ Smith. So far this season, Gambardella sits tied for fifth on the country’s scoring list with Brock Boeser, and has played much tougher competition than the Fighting Hawk (seriously, what kind of top-tier player/team doesn’t look good against the likes of RPI and Canisius?). Slowing these two down is the key to stopping Lowell’s offense, as only one other player has more than five points (John Edwardh).

This is a huge weekend for the Cats. Many have questioned whether or not this team is for real (especially with such a high shooting percentage). We’re about to find out: can this team beat top-level competition?

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