Net Gain: Wall, Hernberg on Roll
LOWELL -- At some point, Norm Bazin will have an important decision to make before a pivotal game.
UML hockey notebook
Play Tyler Wall in net. Or go with Christoffer Hernberg.
“Time will tell,” Bazin said.
Right now, the UML hockey coach is riding both goaltenders during a 9-0-1 stretch which has elevated the River Hawks to 10th in the national polls and into second place in Hockey East.
Last Friday, Wall shut out Boston College at home, 3-0. The next night, despite the fact that Wall has been one of the hottest goalies in the country, Bazin went with Hernberg, who responded by blanking second-ranked UMass, 2-0.
“It’s really a luxury that you don’t always have as a coach,” Bazin said of having two star goalies at his disposal.
Wall is a junior from Leamington, Ontario. He backboned UML to within a goal of the Frozen Four as a freshman, but struggled last season. Rebounding in a major way this winter, Wall is fourth in the nation in goals against average (1.77) and save percentage (.933).
“Last year obviously we battled through some adversity,” Wall said, “but you become stronger as a person. The biggest thing I’ve tried to improve is the mental approach to my game.”
Wall has posted four shutouts.
Hernberg, a senior from Espoo, Finland, has three shutouts to go along with a 2.36 goals against average and .914 save percentage.
“They’re keeping the puck to the outside,” said Hernberg, crediting his teammates. “We still have a lot of hockey left. I knew we had it in is.”
Wall and Hernberg get along well off the ice and both say they don’t worry about playing time. They try to control what they can by practicing hard and being ready when their number Is called.
“Both goalies have been exceptional, but the team is playing really well in front of them,” Bazin said. “I like both goaltenders.”
The back-to-back shutouts on the same weekend were the first time UML has accomplished that feat since Connor Hellebuyck blanked Notre Dame and New Hampshire in the 2014 Hockey East playoffs.
On Nov. 24, 2001, Cam McCormick and Jimi St. John combined to shut out Army. In their next game, four days later, McCormick blanked Union. The 2001-02 season saw the River Hawks post eight shutouts, a program record.
PREPPING FOR PROVIDENCE: UML has qualified for the Hockey East playoffs, but the task doesn’t get any easier this weekend.
The River Hawks will host Providence on Friday (7:15 p.m.), then play at Providence on Saturday (7 p.m.) on Saturday.
The Friars (16-9-5, 9-7-2) are fourth in Hockey East and among the most talented teams in the league.
Providence is tied for sixth in the country, allowing just 2.00 goals per game thanks, in large part, to goaltender Hayden Hawkey, who has played the second most minutes of any Division 1 goaltender and whose six shutouts are the second most in the nation.
Junior Ryan Lohin continues to lead UML in scoring (11-12-23), with sophomore Connor Sodergren of Tewksbury (4-14-18) second.
“I know they’re a good team. They’ve always been a very physical team,” Bazin said. “Yeah, it’s a tough task. No one cares what you did last weekend.”
LOOSE PUCKS: UML recognized the 87th birthday of the grandmother of sophomore defenseman Anthony Baxter during last Friday’s game -- he scored his second goal of the season the next night. ... Freshman defenseman Chase Blackmun had two points in his first 18 games, but he’s scored six in his last five games. ... UML has already tied last year’s win total of 17 with seven regular-season games left. ... UML is trying to lead Hockey East in attendance for the fourth straight year. The River Hawks narrowly lead UMass (4,985 average vs. 4,816), but UML has played to 83 percent capacity compared to UMass’ 57.5 capacity.
“There’s good sports fans in Lowell. We really enjoy their support,” Bazin said. ... Senior forward Ryan Dmowski leads the nation with six game-winning goals.
Follow Barry Scanlon on Twitter@BarryScanlonSun