Series Preview: Men’s Hockey vs. Merrimack / UMass Lowell
With the college hockey season in full swing, No. 7 Penn State Nittany Lions (9-2) will see two Hockey East matchups against Merrimack College (2-7-1) on Nov. 29 and against No. 15 UMass Lowell (7-3-4) on Nov. 30. It’s not often the Nittany Lions play two different teams in a weekend split, but both are away games in close vicinity. This will be Penn State’s second road series of the year, while Merrimack will continue with the second game of a three-game homestand. As for UMass Lowell, the River Hawks will be solid matchup for Penn State, as they currently hold first place in Hockey East. Penn State is coming off of a series split against the No. 11 Ohio State Buckeyes and will look to keep momentum rolling in Massachusetts this weekend.
The Merrimack Warriors will be the first matchup of the weekend. It looks to be a rebuilding year for Warriors, as the main featured players are freshman. Being one of the smaller Division I schools makes recruiting more difficult, but this freshman class is living up to the hype.
Declan Carlile is leading the team in points with eight, and fellow freshman Zach Uens has played a major role with seven points and 11 blocked shots. Even the goalie competition between Jere Huhtamaa and Troy Kobryn features two first-year players. However, senior leadership has also been found through Tyler Irvine. The forward leads the team with four goals, providing essential mentorship for all the young skaters.
Overall, Merrimack has not been too impressive, as the Warriors rank 46th in the country with an average of 2.20 goals per contest. This a sneaky team that will give Penn State a solid fight but will need to stir up a serious upset in order to pull out a win.
As for the UMass Lowell River Hawks, they missed their second straight NCAA tournament last year and are still trying to find an identity. Head coach Norm Bazin has stressed the importance of senior goaltender Tyler Wall, who, throughout his previous three seasons, has posted a 2.37 goals against average and a .910 save percentage. For a four-year starter, those numbers are impressive, and it’s clear why he was drafted in the sixth round of the 2016 NHL draft by the New York Rangers.
However, the River Hawks did lose their last game to UConn in a surprising upset, which UConn head coach Mike Cavanuagh attributed to the team’s ability to block the Wall’s vision and consistently deflect shots on net. UMass Lowell is still in first place in the very competitive Hockey East and will give Penn State some trouble as the River Hawks look revamped.
Led by freshman Matt Brown with 16 points and freshman Carl Berglund with six goals and 13 points, the River Hawks offense has been carried by youth, but the team’s strength truly lies within the defense, as the River Hawks rank sixth in the nation for allowing only 1.93 goals per game. This is correlated to the leadership of Wall, who, to reiterate the above, is the heart of this team.
Penn State is on a roll and just split two one-goal games with No. 11 Ohio State in a tough home series. The Nittany Lions will now look ahead to these matchups as the favorites over both Merrimack and UMass Lowell. Penn State has the edge both in terms of aggressiveness and leadership, as the Nittany Lions are led by senior captain Brandon Biro and assistant captain Nate Sucese, who have 12 and 18 points, respectively. The team ranks No. 3 in the nation in scoring offense, putting the puck in the net 4.73 times per game.
All things considered, Penn State should easily triumph over Merrimack, but the UMass Lowell game will be a bit more of a battle, as the Nittany Lions’ top offense faces off against the stout River Hawks defense.
Prediction: Penn State sweeps 2-0
Game 1: Penn State 7, Merrimack 2
Game 2: Penn State 3, UMass Lowell 2
Matt Noah is a freshman majoring in journalism. To contact him, email email@example.com.