NCAA Frozen Four Semifinal Preview: Yale vs. UMass Lowell

Thurs., April 11 • 4:30 p.m. ET ESPN2

BY THE NUMBERS

Overall
Conference
Home
Away
Neutral
Yale
20-12-3
12-9-1 (3rd)
10-3-0
7-7-1
3-2-1
UML
28-10-2
16-9-2 (1st)
11-5-1
13-5-1
4-0-0
Goals/Gm.
GA/Gm.
PP Pct.
PK Pct.
PIM/Gm.
Yale
2.86 (26th)
2.69 (27th)
21.1 (T-10th)
83.5 (26th)
13.3 (39th)
UML
3.02 (21st)
2.00 (3rd)
16.6 (32nd)
85.7 (10th)
11.8 (20th)

HOW THEY GOT HERE

YALE: West Regional fourth seed
Yale 3, Minnesota 2 (ot)
Yale 4, North Dakota 1

UMASS LOWELL: Northeast Regional first seed
UMass Lowell 6, Wisconsin 1
UMass Lowell 2, New Hampshire 0

UP FRONT

Without the contributions of first-liners Kenny Agostino, Jesse Root, and Andrew Miller, the Bulldogs are most likely spending this weekend in New Haven. The trio combined for four goals, three assists, a plus/minus rating of plus-7, and 22 of Yale’s 65 shots on goals in the wins against Minnesota and North Dakota in the Midwest Regional in Grand Rapids. Agostino, a junior who has 17-23—40 in 35 games this season, may be the least-heralded offensive threat in the country. The third line of Josh Balch, Stu Wilson, and Anthony Day played a key role in beating North Dakota and Wilson, in particular, has been valuable contributor down the stretch with six points in his last seven games; he scored 11 points in Yale’s first 28 games.

What’s remarkable about the River Hawks’ offense is its consistency. Divide their season in whichever manner you prefer—by month or into quarters, for example—and you’ll find UMass Lowell pretty much averages around three goals a game any way you slice it. With that in mind, it should come as no surprise that the River Hawks’ forwards are similarly steady. Since starting its 24-3-1 run with a Dec. 8 win vs. Northeastern, none of UML’s top five scorers (forwards Scott Wilson, Joseph Pendeza, Derek Arnold, Riley Wetmore, and Josh Holmstrom) have gone more than four consecutive games without a point. Another interesting statistic: the River Hawks have scored 53 of their 121 goals in the third period.

ON THE BLUE LINE

The Bulldogs boast a nice blend of size and skill on defense. The size is provided by senior Colin Dueck, junior Gus Young, and freshmen Rob O’Gara and Max Witek. That quartet has combined for a relatively meager three goals and 23 points, but all are 6-foot-1 or better and weigh north of 200 pounds. Sophomore Tommy Fallen leads Yale’s rearguards in points with seven goals and 16 assists, including four goals and 11 assists on the power play. His defensive partner, Ryan Obuchowski, an ECAC Hockey all-rookie team selection, has 12 points and leads the team with a plus/minus rating of plus-12.

Junior Chad Ruhwedel, who paces UMass Lowell defensemen in scoring with 7-16—23 and is one of three River Hawk blueliners sharing the team lead in plus/minus rating at plus-17, was an all-Hockey East first team honoree. He and classmate Joe Houk are the veterans on a defensive unit that includes a pair of freshmen in Greg Amlong and Christian Folin and sophomores Zack Kamrass and Jake Suter. Folin has had a terrific rookie season—in addition to sharing the UML plus/minus lead with Ruhwedel and Houk, the Gothenburg, Sweden, native has added six goals and 15 assists.

BETWEEN THE PIPES

Yale’s postseason hopes appeared to take a hit in February when senior Jeff Malcolm was sidelined for five games with a leg injury. In his absence, the Bulldogs were 0-5 and outscored by a 19-6 margin. When Malcolm returned to the fold at Princeton on Feb. 23, Yale surged, winning seven of nine—the lone blemishes were shutouts losses to Union and Quinnipiac, respectively, in the ECAC semifinals and third-place game in Atlantic City, N.J., last month. During that span, Malcolm has a 2.09 goals against average and a .912 save percentage.

You’d be hard pressed to find a player who’s had a better year than UMass Lowell’s Connor Hellebuyck. The Commerce, Mich., product split time with returning starter Doug Carr for a good chunk of the season before wresting the job from the incumbent in mid-February. Hellebuyck, who enters the Frozen Four with a 20-2-0 record, tops the nation in goals against average (1.31) and save percentage (.953) and shares the NCAA lead in shutouts (six). In six postseason starts, he’s 6-0 with a 0.83 GAA and a .972 save percentage and has made 28 or more saves in each of his last four starts.

SPECIAL TEAMS

If Yale doesn’t score a power-play goal, it doesn’t win. OK, so it’s not that simple, but it certainly seems that way. The Bulldogs are 17-5-1 when scoring at least one power-play goal and 3-7-2 when they don’t. Yale’s penalty kill has perked up over the last quarter of the season—though the Bulldogs have allowed at least one power-play goal in 22 of 35 games this season, they boast a 95.7 percent (22 of 23) kill rate in their last seven games.

The River Hawks have had a great penalty kill and a mediocre power play. Over the last month, those tendencies have become even more extreme. Dating back to its March 1 win vs. Merrimack, UMass Lowell has vanquished 90.2 percent (46 of 51) of its opponents’ power plays but has converted on just six of its 43 man-advantage opportunities for a 13.9 percent success rate.

BEHIND THE BENCH

Keith Allain is probably best known for his prickly demeanor—witness his no-show at the press conference following Yale’s loss to Quinnipiac in the ECAC Hockey third-place game in Atlantic City last month—the guy can coach. Just seven seasons into his tenure at his alma mater, Allain is the most successful coach in the program’s history. Over the last five years, Yale has qualified for four NCAA Tournaments, won two ECAC Hockey regular-season titles and two league playoff crowns, and averaged nearly 22 wins per season.

In the season prior to Norm Bazin becoming head coach, UMass Lowell won just five games, ranking fourth to last nationally in scoring defense and second to last in penalty killing. This season, the River Hawks won 28 games and ranked third and tenth, respectively, in the NCAA in those categories. Systems play a part in good team defense and penalty killing, but those are also “want-to” areas of the game. Based on the improvement under Bazin, it’s obvious the players have bought what Bazin’s selling.

HOW WE SEE IT

Neither the Bulldogs nor UMass Lowell are great first-period teams, but the River Hawks have squeezed the life out of opponents in the second and third periods. Yale’s chances of success improve greatly if it gets the first lead or at the very least controls the tempo like it did in the first two periods of the win against Minnesota and the victory over North Dakota. The strength-on-strength battle of Yale’s power play vs. UMass Lowell’s penalty kill is crucial to the Bulldogs’ success; not only does it give Yale a better chance of cracking Hellebuyck and UML’s stout defense, but it also neutralizes the River Hawks’ superior depth. That said, the River Hawks’ depth and Hellebuyck’s goaltending will prove to be too much for Yale.

THE PICK: UMass Lowell 4, Yale 1

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