#3 Yale University vs. #2 University of Massachusetts-Lowell
TV: Streaming on ESPN3/Watch ESPN at 7:30 PM EDT
This year’s meeting between Yale and UMass-Lowell is a rematch of the 2013 Frozen Four semi-finals, which is also the last time the two teams met in either the NCAA Tournament or regular season. The game could potentially be the lowest scoring of all tournament matchups as the nation’s two stingiest defenses go head-to-head.
After a one-year absence, UMass-Lowell returns to the NCAA Tournament, making their seventh overall DI appearance. The team has also made NCAA Tournaments at the DII level prior to becoming a member of Hockey East. The River Hawks posted a thrilling 2-1 triple-overtime win over Providence College before falling to Northeastern in the Hockey East Tournament championship game last weekend.
The biggest key to UMass-Lowell’s success this season has been the stellar play of senior goaltender Kevin Boyle. The Hockey East Co-Player of the Year currently sports a 23-9-5 record that includes seven shutouts. His 1.77 goals-against average and .935 save percentage both rank in the top five nationally. Most recently, Boyle was named a finalist for the Mike Richter Award.
Junior Dylan Zink is among the anchors on the River Hawks excellent blueline. The Madison, WI native leads the team in scoring by a defenseman with 23 points (10 goals, 13 assists) in 37 games.
UMass-Lowell possesses an outstanding, tight-checking group up front. Among those leading the charge is junior center and Len Ceglarski Award recipient, Joe Gambardella. The Staten Island, NY native currently leads the River Hawks with 27 assists and is tied for second on the team with 35 points in 38 games. He also leads UMass-Lowell with a +18 rating. One area where Gambardella has excelled, especially in the postseason, has been on faceoffs as he has won nearly 50 percent of his draws.
The status of junior Evan Campbell (EDM) is unknown. Campbell, the River Hawks’ lone NHL prospect, has been out of the lineup due to injury since Feb. 15th. He has played well in his 28 games to date, amassing 12 points (five goals, seven assists).
Yale will be making their second consecutive and eighth overall NCAA Tournament appearance. The well-rested Bulldogs were stunningly swept by Dartmouth in the ECAC Tournament quarterfinals on Mar. 11-12. Earlier, the team claimed a share of the Ivy League title.
Yale possesses the nation’s top defense that has allowed a miniscule 54 total goals and has allowed an average of just 1.74 goals per game through 31 games.
The man behind those numbers is junior goaltending sensation Alex Lyon. The Baudette, MN native currently sports a 19-7-4 record that includes five shutouts. He leads the nation in both goals-against average (1.59) and save percentage (.938). Lyon, the recipient of the Ken Dryden Award as the ECAC’s top goaltender, is one of only two netminders that have been named a finalist for both the Hobey Baker and Mike Richter Awards.
Lyon has gotten excellent support from the tight-checking defensive corps in front of him. Anchoring the group is senior stalwart Rob O’Gara (BOS). The Nesconset, NY native currently co-leads all Bulldogs defensemen with 12 points (four goals, eight assists) in 29 games. Most recently, O’Gara was named the ECAC Defensive Defenseman of the Year.
Among the Bulldogs top snipers up front is junior John Hayden (CHI). The Greenwich, CT native is one of the most improved NHL-drafted forwards coming out of the ECAC this season. Hayden currently leads Yale with 16 goals and ranks third on the team with 23 points in 31 games.
Follow DJ Powers on Twitter via @DJPowersHF