Hockey Notebook

The Boston College hockey team saw their chances for home ice in the Hockey East playoffs as well as an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament greatly diminish last weekend, going 0-1-1 in a crucial home-and-home series against UMass-Lowell.

•On Friday night, the Riverhawks came into Conte and blew out the Eagles, 6-0. BC bounced back on Saturday with a 4-4 tie, coming back from a late 4-2 deficit. But earning just one point on the weekend disappointed Ben Smith and the Eagles, who knew more was needed against one of their principal rivals for home ice.

"We're happy to get the tie, because [being down 4-2] was a gut-check – we really needed something out of the series, and we played a lot harder in the 3rd," said Smith. "But we really wanted the 2. We have to play a lot better."

"Hockey is a lot of little battles, and we didn't win as many as they did," said Smith. "They beat us to almost every puck. If you look at the game on Friday, we were actually in it up until the end. But they won all the battles."

Coach Jerry York was encouraged by his team's 3rd period effort on Saturday, but disappointed by a continued lack of solid fundamental hockey.

"We dealt with something similar to what our basketball team went through when they lost to Harvard. Those guys had the wherewithal to take a look at their mistakes and get better… we need to be able to do that, too," said York.

"We lost a lot of loose puck battles [on Friday]," he continued. "That's what we addressed [in the 3rd period] on Saturday. Hopefully, just like Coach Skinner's team, we'll be able to bounce back and get our season going again… we need to get better in all phases of the game. We need to eliminate sloppiness – we need to eliminate any signs of ‘shinny hockey'."

•The players held a team meeting on Sunday night following the Lowell series, hoping to get everyone on the same page with just six games remaining in the regular season. "[The meeting] was all about just making sure everyone was onboard," said Smith. "We wanted to refocus, and make sure everyone's ready to practice hard this week. I've noticed that when we practice really hard during the week, our results are pretty good over the weekend, but when guys are a little too loose in practice we don't do as well."

With three weekends to go, time is running out for the Eagles (13-10-5) to make a patented late-season run.

"Obviously, we're all disappointed and frustrated," said York. "But at this juncture, it's simple; we just have to go play very well."

When asked if he thought the team perhaps bought into the mentality of making a late season run, York said it's the "nature of the beast to go harder now that you can see the finish line," but he does not think his team been held back by its own reputation.

"We have enough talent and character kids on this team to make a run here, and that's what we're focused on," he said.

•One of this season's storylines has been the apparent sophomore slump of John Muse. Muse, who shone in BC's run to a national championship last year, has comparatively struggled between the pipes in 2009; his save percentage is .898 and his goals against average is 2.92. Both of those stats place him 14th out of 16 in Hockey East.

"He's working hard on getting back to where we know he can be," said York. "Working on his angles, his quickness – anything to make him a better goaltender."

York said that he knows his goaltender is mentally tough, which goes a long way toward being able to bounce back from rough performances.

•BC now enters another home-and-home series with critical Hockey East points on the line, taking on 4th-place UNH. BC travels to the Whittemore Center on Friday night before hosting the Wildcats on Saturday.

The last time BC played UNH, the Eagles racked up a batty 8-6 win on November 15. Jimmy Hayes scored a hat trick to help the Eagles roar back from a 3-0 2nd period deficit. UNH and BC are both traditionally offensive juggernauts, and UNH's open style is likely to be a better matchup for the Eagles than some other teams in Hockey East that rely on the neutral zone trap.

"UNH plays quick," said Smith. "They transition fast. They really like to go on offense. It'll be a challenge for us to keep up with their pace… but it allows us to be a little more creative. We enjoy that."

Still, York doesn't feel that the 8-6 game is a proper preview of this weekend's series.

"That game was so long ago – the climate is completely different now," he said. "Home ice is on the table now if we get hot in the last few games. These games are going to be tough."

York also downplayed the importance of UNH's more open, offensive playing style.

"You have to be able to face all styles. Look at the Red Wings. They face different opponents every game, but they're still the same Red Wings. They play their way," he said.

•The Wildcats are 3 points ahead of the Eagles for the final home ice spot, with 24 points to BC's 21. In between the two teams is 5th place UMass-Lowell, who face a tough two game trip at Vermont this weekend.

UNH's offensive focal point is sophomore James vanRiemsdyk, who sits 3rd in Hockey East in assists and 5th in overall scoring with a line of 10-21—31. vanRiemsdyk, who represented the United States at the 2009 IIHF World Junior tournament, is a draft pick of the Philadelphia Flyers.

Another sophomore, Mike Sislo, leads the team with 16 goals, while solid senior defenseman Kevin Kapstad anchors the point with a line of 1-18—19 and a team leading +12 plus-minus.

Junior net minder Brian Foster has stabilized the situation between the pipes for UNH, which was in flux during Foster's bout with injuries earlier in the season; while freshman Matt DiGirolamo struggled, Foster has been solid, accumulating a 13-7-4 record with a .914 save percentage and 2.51 GAA.

•The hockey team was not immune to the basketball fever that swept the Heights last weekend, as many of the Eagles made it to Conte to support their fellow BC athletes against Duke.

"We're lucky we didn't have anyone get hurt on Sunday," laughed York. "We had 6 or 7 of our guys charge the court after the game."

York, an avid supporter of the entire BC athletics program, was out recruiting on Sunday, but he was able to make it home in time for the end of the game.

"It's a great win for those guys, and they really deserve it," he said.

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