Commonwealth Classic On Tap @ Tsongas Center

Lowell, MA – The Commonwealth of Massachusetts University system’s two NCAA Men’s Division I Ice Hockey programs face-off at Tsongas Center Arena in Lowell on Sunday afternoon. A blizzard is burying the state in upwards of two feet of snow. As of writing, the game still has a 1:00 pm puck drop. 

The two schools are atop the Hockey East standings, with UMass-Lowell (11-4-1 HEA, 14-5-3 overall) in first place by four points over Massachusetts-Amherst (9-4-2 HEA,12-8-2 overall). The Minutemen are #9 overall, while the River Hawks are ranked # 14. 

The University of Massachusetts-Amherst Minutemen celebrate a goal against the Merrimack Warriors during a December 8, 2021 win at Lawler Rink in North Andover, Ma.

The Minutemen have won five of the last six meetings, mixed in with a 4-4 O.T. 1-0 shoot-out loss. The previous four games were one-goal differences, including the O.T. game. This one should be no different.

The River Hawks beat # 15 Northeastern Huskies on Friday 2-1 at Matthews Arena. Coming into that game, each team was riding a two-game losing streak. The River Hawks righted their ship on the strength of goals from two first-year students, Stefan Owens notching his first NCAA goal, and Matt Crasa, who picked up his third of the year. Senior Owen Savory backed the River Hawks, and his 26 save performance in the net out-dueled the Huskies T.J. Semptimphelter

The Minutemen, meanwhile, come into Sunday’s tilt riding a two-game losing streak of their own. The Minutemen lost back-to-back home games this week at the Mullins Center. A 2-1 loss to # 17 Providence on Friday followed a 6-4 loss to Boston University on Tuesday. The Minutemen hadn’t lost two straight Hockey East games in Amherst since 2019-20 when they dropped games to Boston College and New Hampshire, but those sandwiched a road sweep at Vermont. Massachusetts last lost consecutive Hockey East games at the confines of home in 2017-18 when they lost a pair to Maine and one to Boston U. 

The Minutemen have lost back-to-back games twice this season. Opening weekend at home, they dropped two to Minnesota St., and earlier in January, they fell twice to Michigan in Ann Arbor. Poor starts have been the most significant factor in all of the double whammies for the Minutemen this season. 

“We have to take a look at ourselves in the mirror,” said senior co-captain Colin Felix on the Minutemen’s losing streak. “We got to find a way to get some points on Sunday…We got to find a way to find two points, that’s what it comes down to. We got to win.”

“It all comes down to our start too, and our compete level,” added freshman defenseman, Scott Morrow. “Those two things haven’t been good enough for our team, and we know that. We’re looking forward to an opportunity on Sunday to redeem ourselves there.”

UMass-Lowell River Hawks forward Andre Lee in action earlier this season at Tsongas Arena.

The River Hawks may be without Andre Lee and his team-leading 11 goals. The 6′-4″ Swede missed Friday’s game against N.U. with an undisclosed injury. 

“No idea, you’re going to have to ask the training staff,” said Lowell coach Norm Bazin when asked about Lee’s availability for Sunday. “You play with who you have and we’ve done that all year.”

Once again, this will be a solid match-up of top-notch goaltenders. The Minutemen will probably go with graduate student Matt Murray, the stalwart of the Massachusetts crease this season. Murray is tied for eleventh best in the country in the College Hockey News power-rankings for goalies. He carries a 2.31 Goals Against Average and a .925 Save Percentage while earning three shutouts. Murray has started all 22 of the Minutemen’s games. 

University of Massachusetts-Amherst goalie Matt Murray prepares to make a save during a 2021-22 season game at the Mullins Center in Amherst, Ma.

The River Hawks have a bit of a two-headed monster in goal. They have rotated between Savory and sophomore Henry Welsch. Savory is ranked third in the CHN rankings while sporting a 13-2-2 record, a 1.55 GAA, and a .948 S.V. %. Savory has four shutouts thus far. Welsch doesn’t carry the requisite minutes needed to qualify for the CHN rankings but is impressive with 2.77 GAA and .878 SV% in five starts this year. 

UMass-Lowell River Hawks goalie Owen Savory in action against University of Massachusetts-Amherst on December 3, 2021 at Tsongas Center. A 4-4 O.T. UML 1-0 Shoot-out win.

“I think he’s one of the premier goalies in the country,” said Bazin of Savory. 

“They really root for each other; Savory’s had a few more starts, and (Henry) Welsch is right there rooting him on,” added Bazin of the luxury of having two quality keepers. “That says a lot about the type of person Welsch is. Obviously, Savory’s taken the ball a little.”

It is unclear if Savory will get the nod over Welsch on Sunday after being hit by Northeastern’s Matt Choupani during the second period and crashed into by Jordan Harris in the final minutes of play during the Lowell win on Friday at Matthews. 

Tickets are still available at the Tsongas Center box office

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