By Bob Ellis
Special to The Eagle-Tribune
---- — MANCHESTER, N.H. — The UMass Lowell Hockey team is looking to get greedy.
With two trophies under their belt, they would like a third; the biggest prize of all, a national championship.
“I’d like to have as much amnesia as I can and put the last few weeks behind me,” says UMass Lowell Hockey Coach Norm Bazin. “This is about winning two hockey games to get to Pittsburgh and that’s what we’re focused on today.”
The journey to Pittsburgh and college hockey’s Frozen Four begins in Manchester, New Hampshire at the 2013 NCAA Division I Men’s Hockey Northeast Regional Tournament Friday and Saturday.
Top seed UMass Lowell (26-10-2) faces number four seed Wisconsin (22-12-7) Friday afternoon at 4:30 p.m. at the Verizon Wireless Arena in Manchester.
Second seed New Hampshire (19-11-7), the region’s host school, battles third seed Denver (20-13-5) in the second regional semifinal at 8 p.m.
Friday’s winners will meet in the Northeast Regional final Saturday at 6:30 p.m.
For the River Hawks it is their second trip to the NCAA tournament in as many years and the first time they have gone in consecutive seasons since the program moved to Division I for the 1983-84 season.
It is their fifth tournament appearance as a Division I program and their tenth tournament all time. Three times, including last year, the team has been one win away from the Frozen Four.
In both 1994 and 1996, UMass Lowell defeated Michigan State in the tournament’s first game before exiting the second night. A year ago, the River Hawks ended Miami University’s season, 4-3 in overtime, in the opener before their own season came to an end at the hands of Union, 3-1.
UMass Lowell and Wisconsin met in the 1988 NCAA tournament. The Badgers prevailed in that two game-total goals series, 11-5 (7-1, 4-4.) The two teams have met only once, the following season, since then.
The matchup is a meeting of the two hottest teams in the country during the second half of the season. UMass Lowell is 22-3-1 since December 8, a streak that took the River hawks from eighth place in Hockey East to regular season champion. Wisconsin, after a 1-7-2 start, went 21-5-5 from November 30 and carried the Badgers to the WCHA Tournament title.
“The team that wins is the team that can make an important play at a crucial time,” says Bazin. ““It will be a fun game; it will be a challenging game.”
The focus, said Bazin, is simple fundamentals.
“You’ve got to get to pucks first, both defensively and offensively,” says Bazin. “You’ve got to be hungry, win one-on-one battles. All of those are things that we do well.”
Wisconsin is making its 24th appearance in the NCAA tournament, but its first since 2010 when Boston College defeated the Badgers. Wisconsin does have six National Champions in its trophy case.
Bazin feels last year’s experience in the tournament was a valuable one.
“Every time you get the opportunity to play in big tournaments you take something from it.” says Bazin. “You learn from losses and you learn from wins and you’re better for it. We will be focused, we will be calm. That’s important; if you can play loose, you can play good hockey.”
If the trip to the TD Garden was any indication, the River Hawks should be playing in front of a large contingent from River Hawk nation.
“It’s exciting, it’s exhilarating and more importantly, for our guys, it gives them an edge,” says Bazin. “Our third periods have been very, very good, and it’s not a coincidence.”
UMass Lowell and Wisconsin have only met nine times, The River Hawks earning only one win and a tie. They have not faced one another since the 1988-89 season.
The River Hawks appear to have peaked at the proper time. The team is ranked third in the nation in the USCHO.com Men’s Division I Hockey Poll. Wisconsin sits in the number eight spot. Both teams have collected conference trophies, both appear to have peaked at the proper time.
“These can be difficult games,” says Bazin. “It’s which team can stay focused. It’s about playing the whole game.”
NCAA Div. 1 Hockey Tourney schedule Today Yale at Minnesota 2:00 PM Wisconsin at UMass Lowell 4:30 PM Niagara at North Dakota 5:30 PM Denver at New Hampshire 8:00 PM Tomorrow St. Cloud St. at Notre Dame 1:30 PM Minnesota St. at Miami (OH) 5:00 PM Canisius at Quinnipiac 5:30 PM Union NY at Boston College 9:00 PM