Denver Hockey Weekend Preview: Merrimack & UMass-Lowell

The Pioneers will close out 2018 with two tough, fast-paced non-conference games on the east coast

Even though Christmas was last week, the #7 Denver Pioneers maybe got what they wanted a little earlier than expected.  After going through a vicious stretch of top-ranked NCAA opponents, the Pioneers showed they can skate with any team in the country and win.  Wins against Duluth, Providence, and North Dakota are making the case for this season to be more than just a rebuilding year for DU.

Head coach David Carle understands how difficult the first half of the Pioneers schedule has been, but he doesn’t want the team to “take their foot off the gas pedal.”

This weekend, the Pioneers will be on the road when they play at Merrimack and UMass-Lowell.  Unfortunately, they will be without two key pieces of their team.  Defenseman Ian Mitchell is representing Team Canada in the World Junior Tournament, as is do-it-all equipment manager Nick Meldrum for Team USA.

In two tournament games so far, Ian Mitchell has two assists and owns a +4 rating.  Team Canada is 2-0 beating Denmark and Switzerland.

Merrimack Warriors

The Merrimack Warriors are in a rebuilding season under first-year head coach Scott Borek.  They have lost seven of their last ten games and are just 4-12-1 this season.  The problem most of the season has been falling behind early for the Warriors and it’s tough to play your game when you’re climbing uphill.

Merrimack is averaging two goals and 26 shots per game.  Opponents are out-shooting the Warriors in the 1st period heavily and tend to give up a lot on special teams as well.

Players to watch are forward Tyler Irvine and Chase Gresock, as well as defenseman Johnathan Kovacevic.  The trio lead the Warriors in points, but the goaltending is another story.  Both Pantano and Vogler have GAA’s of over 3 and save percentages under .900.

Don’t forget that the Warriors came to Denver around this time last year and beat then-#2 Denver at Magness Arena. Sure, the Warriors are struggling this year but that should be no excuse for the Pioneers to take them lightly. Anything can happen in nonconference matchups.

UMass-Lowell River Hawks

The UMass-Lowell River Hawks have been a mixed bag this season struggling to find consistency.  It’s no cakewalk playing in the Hockey East conference, but the River Hawks have found ways to win.

It’s quite unfortunate for junior goaltender Tyler Wall to be 5-5-1 this season despite a GAA of 2.05 and a save percentage of .925.  With a handful of one-goal losses, it could be easy to underestimate the River Hawks in their own building.

UMass-Lowell also has a trio of forwards that lead the team in scoring.  Forwards Ryan Lohin, Kenny Hausinger, and Charlie Levesque all have over ten points and pose a threat to DU.

Prediction – Pioneers sweep the weekend

It will be tough losing a player on the back end like Mitchell who eats minutes for breakfast, but as long as the Pioneers play their game they should come away with a pair of W’s.  Denver has had some issues with non-conference opponents, but David Carle should have the team focused on the plan.  I don’t think the Pioneers are quite a national favorite this season, but they are building a reputation of a team nobody wants to play.

Twitter Follow – @MerrimackMIH & @RiverHawkHockey

Where to Watch/Listen

Friday – 5:00pm MT, NESN, ESPN DENVER 1600

Saturday – 6:07pm MT, RiverHawks.tv, ESPN DENVER 1600