Last Sunday, the NCAA held its Selection Show for men’s ice hockey and sent Cornell to the Northeast Region. Ranked ninth nationally, the Red was given the third seed in its region and assigned to battle the University of Massachusetts-Lowell in Manchester, New Hampshire.
Lowell was the Hockey East regular season and tournament champion. The team enters this game with momentum, and it is a trendy pick to make the Frozen Four from Cornell’s region. Let’s analyze the game and see what the Red has to do to spring the upset on the favored River Hawks.
Cornell’s offense had a good day against Union in Lake Placid, but struggled against Harvard. Those struggles can largely be chalked up to the excellent play of Harvard goalie Merrick Madsen, and the Red can be confident that they might find the going a bit easier this weekend. However, Lowell’s forwards are unquestionably a notch above the Red’s. The River Hawk top line of C.J. Smith, Joe Gambardella and John Edwardh is one of the best in the country, and Cornell will have its hands full. Lowell is also a deeper team than some realize; their third and fourth lines can score, too.
Cornell’s defense is the strength of the team. Senior blueliner Patrick McCarron was named to the All-ECAC Tournament team in Lake Placid, and he anchors this group that will need to stop that high-scoring Lowell offense. The Red defensive unit can also look forward to playing on the normal-sized ice sheet, as opposed to the bigger international surface that Cornell had to deal with at Lake Placid. Lowell’s defense is also talented, but in a different area. Their defensive pairings contribute significantly to the team’s offensive production. Cornell will need to watch for defensemen creating scoring chances from the point, especially when Lowell is on the power play.
Cornell’s senior Mitch Gillam is a seasoned ECAC netminder, but this will be his first taste of NCAA Tournament action. Gillam will need to be on his game for Cornell to have a shot at beating the River Hawks. UMass Lowell’s Tyler Wall boasts an excellent last name for a goalie. He is a freshman, so this will also be his first experience at the NCAA Tournament. Wall has put up solid numbers this season, but he may not be used to Cornell’s strategy of trying to get pucks to the slot and finding rebounds.
Cornell is a solid penalty-killing team with a below-average power play. Lowell’s special teams are statistically superior to Cornell’s in both categories, especially on the power play. Lowell’s 27.1 power play percentage is one of the top figures in the country, and a full ten percentage points ahead of the Red.
Lowell has been on fire lately, especially with its run to the Hockey East Championship. The River Hawks have won 11 of their last 12 games. Cornell recorded a huge win over Union after coming back to beat Clarkson, but fell to Harvard in the ECAC Championship.
UMass Lowell’s Norm Bazin is in his sixth season coaching the River Hawks and has proven to be one of the better coaches in college hockey. That said, Cornell coach Mike Schafer ’86 is one of the best coaches in the country. Bazin has led his team to the Frozen Four more recently, but Schafer has three times as much experience behind his team’s bench.
This is a neutral site game, but UMass-Lowell may feel at home. Their Lowell campus is just a thirty-minute drive from Manchester, N.H. Cornell travels well, especially on the east coast, but Lowell should have more supporters in the rink. The River Hawks average a higher attendance at home than Cornell does at Lynah, and their rink is much closer to Manchester. Both pep bands will be present to add to the NCAA Tournament atmosphere.
Lowell won four categories, compared to Cornell’s two and one tie. This goes hand-in-hand with Lowell’s status as favorites to win this game. Furthermore, nine out of 10 of College Hockey News’s pundits picked Lowell to come out on top. That said, Cornell’s path to an upset is clear.
The Red needs to shut down the River Hawk offense by forcing Lowell to drive wide and winning puck battles along the boards. Then, Cornell needs to find a few goals by being opportunistic around the Lowell net. The Red will certainly be tested and will need to play its “A” game to advance to the regional final versus Minnesota or Notre Dame.