No. 7 UMass-Lowell will have a difficult assignment when it faces No. 1 Boston College for a home-and-home set beginning Friday night at Conte Forum.
One of the biggest challenges will be shutting down the line of junior left wing Johnny Gaudreau, senior center Bill Arnold, and senior right wing Kevin Hayes, who have combined for 155 points in 31 games, an average of five points per game.
BC (24-4-3, 15-1-1 Hockey East) hasn’t lost since a 5-4 defeat at the hands of Holy Cross Nov. 29. The next game, coach Jerry York put Gaudreau, Arnold, and Hayes together. Since then the Eagles are 16-0-1.
The River Hawks (20-7-3, 10-4-2), who are starting to get back players lost to injury, have a run of their own in progress. The team is undefeated in its last six (5-0-1).
One forward who has emerged is freshman Evan Campbell, who was named conference rookie of the week. After scoring one goal in his first 16 games, Campbell has five goals in his last six contests.
“I think we’re playing pretty good hockey as a team right now,’’ said Campbell. “We’ve got a big weekend coming up so we need to keep that going into this weekend.’’
Beating BC won’t be an easy feat.
“Obviously, they’re ranked No. 1 right now in the nation,’’ said Campbell. “They’re one of the best teams with the winning streak they’ve got going on. We just have to go into the game with the same mind-set we go into every game — playing a full 60 minutes, and I think we’ll do just fine shutting down that top line. We’ll take each game at a time.’’
Campbell said the River Hawks haven’t run into a team on the type of roll the Eagles are on.
“The line that BC’s got going on is one of the best lines in the nation and it’s going to be a big test for us to shut them down, but I think we have the strength at defense and goal and even at forward to shut them down,’’ he said.
One of the reasons the River Hawks have been playing so well lately is because they are committed to a team game for three periods.
“Even though the last game we gave up a 2-0 lead [to UMass], it was the way we responded late in the third period to get it back,’’ said Campbell, who scored the first two goals before defenseman Joe Houk scored the winner with one-10th of a second remaining. “I think we were doing that the last couple of games.’’
Although Campbell wasn’t part of Lowell’s NCAA Frozen Four run last season, he said he can feel the high expectations in the locker room for this spring.
“This is the seniors’ last year to push for a national championship,’’ he said. “We want to do it for those seniors, to give them a shot at a national title.’’
No. 12 Providence has four games remaining in the regular season, three of which are on the road. For a team that has been struggling to score, being out of town isn’t necessarily a negative.
In their last five outings, the Friars (15-9-6, 7-7-2 Hockey East) have scored a total of five goals and allowed 16.
The Friars have a home-and-home series against UMass this weekend and finish with two at Maine.
Neither the Mullins Center nor Alfond Arena are easy places to play but getting out of Dodge might be just what the doctor ordered for the Friars.
“I think it will force us to play more detailed hockey,’’ said coach Nate Leaman. “For whatever reason, we’ve struggled at home in the second half. Maybe we try to do too much. When you play on the road, it really forces you to be focused. You’re away from a lot of distractions. I’m looking forward to that.
“When you’re not scoring, some of these small mistakes really get amplified. If we can sharpen up those areas of the game, when we do start scoring, you can be an improved team coming out of these funks.’’
Leaman thinks the offense is close to breaking through.
“We’re battling it a little bit,’’ he said. “The results haven’t been there but behind the scenes, I really like a lot of the things we’ve been doing. We’re getting chances, I like the chances we’re getting but we need to finish our chances.
“In this five-game segment, we were 0-4-1 but we had the most shots of any five-game segment [203, an average of 40.6] and the most grade-A opportunities. It’s about finishing our chances. I’d like to see us have a little bit more poise on some of our chances but I think it’s because the guys are squeezing it a little bit. We know eventually it will come for us. We’re going to the right areas and I like our work ethic. I think it will come around.’’
Getting the point
No. 9 Northeastern (17-10-3, 9-6-1) will face No. 17 Maine (15-10-3, 9-5-2) for two games at Matthews Arena. The Huskies, alone in fifth place with 19 points, are just 1 point behind the Black Bears and New Hampshire, and 3 points behind second-place Lowell. Look for Huskies junior goaltender Clay Witt to make his 12th straight start. Witt leads the nation in save percentage at .943.Nancy Marrapese-Burrell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @Elle1027.