Back when the Hockey East schedule was announced, this weekend’s series between UMass Lowell and Maine may not have seemed particularly noteworthy. But when the Black Bears roll into Tsongas Arena Friday night, it will be a matchup of the first- and second-place teams.
UMass Lowell (6-2-2, 3-0-1) has looked impressive at times early this season, particularly on a trip to Duluth when the River Hawks split a weekend series with two-time defending national champion Minnesota Duluth, taking the first game, 3-2, before dropping the second, 2-1.
“That’s the best weekend series we’ve had against them since I’ve been here,” said coach Norm Bazin, who has faced the Bulldogs three times in his nine years at Lowell. “We beat them the first night, after they raised the banner, but I thought our best game was the next night. We were down, 1-0, then tied it up with about eight minutes to go, before they answered back for the win.”
While some teams were forced to scramble last offseason to replace departed goaltenders, the River Hawks have benefitted from the return of Tyler Wall. The senior from Ontario was named the conference’s Defensive Player of the Week for the second straight time, and three of the last four weeks, after UMass Lowell went on the road and swept Vermont. Wall stopped 70 of 74 shots, matching his career high with 40 saves in Friday’s win.
“I think he’s one of the top players in Hockey East, and he’s our most consistent player,” said Bazin. “It’s nice to see a player come back for his senior year and work toward getting his degree.”
Their weekend opponent also has a veteran returning between the pipes. Junior Jeremy Swayman, a fourth-round draft pick of the Bruins in 2017, is 5-1-1, allowing just 2.12 goals per game with a save percentage of .942 for Maine.
The Black Bears took 3 out of 4 points against Boston University last weekend, with freshman Ben Poisson scoring his first goal and recording his first assist to be named the conference’s Rookie of the Week.
A first for Carvel
UMass moved up to No. 2 in the national rankings after a sweep of Northeastern in a home-and-home series last weekend. The 6-3 win at Matthews Arena Friday night was another item checked off a list for the Minutemen. For all of the success UMass had last season, including wins at Boston College and BU, Greg Carvel had yet to win at Northeastern in his four seasons as coach.
It looked like that streak would continue as the Huskies jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the first period, but UMass (6-1, 2-1) scored the next five goals.
“We came in with a good mind-set,” said Carvel. “Guys were playing good, fast hockey. They scored a goal off a turnover and set us back, but give the guys credit for playing smart hockey.
“The three-goal lead, we started to protect the lead and allowed Northeastern to get the third goal but then we settled down. I’m proud of our guys.”
Junior John Leonard scored four goals over the weekend to be named the conference’s Co-Player of the Week (along with New Hampshire’s Angus Crookshank), and is tied for second in the nation with seven goals.
The Minutemen will be back in action Sunday when they travel to UNH (4-2-1, 2-1). Northeastern (4-3-1, 1-2), which dropped to 13th in the polls, will face Merrimack (2-6, 1-2) in a home-and-home series beginning Friday in North Andover.
Providence (4-3-1, 2-2) and BU (2-2-3, 1-1-2) will play a home-and-home series this weekend, as will BC (3-4, 1-2) and UConn (2-3-1, 1-1).
Breaking the ice
The Ivies are back in action. Harvard won its opener, 7-3, over Dartmouth last weekend, and will host Princeton Friday and No. 15 Quinnipiac Saturday. Sophomore defenseman Jack Rathbone scored twice, while Nick Abruzzese, John Farinacci, and Henry Thrun all scored their first collegiate goals.
The Northeastern women maintained their No. 4 ranking and improved to 7-1 after sweeping BU (5-3-1) last weekend. Goalie Aerin Frankel made 42 saves over the weekend to be named the conference’s Player of the Week, while sophomore forward Alina Mueller took Player of the Month honors with four goals and 11 assists . . . Boston College’s Hannah Bilka was named national Rookie of the Month. She leads the conference with 10 goals, and is tied or leads the nation in points (14), goals (10), power-play goals (4), power-play points (5), game-winning goals (3), shorthanded goals (1), and hat tricks (1) for the fifth-ranked Eagles (9-0-1).
Follow Andrew Mahoney on Twitter @GlobeMahoney.