By Shawn Hutcheon
LOWELL -- The UMass Lowell hockey team has played a dozen games -- one-third of its schedule -- and boasts an 8-4-0 record.
The River Hawks began the season ranked No. 1 in the nation but quickly lost that lofty perch after inexplicably losing their opener to Sacred Heart University (now 2-8-0).
Now the 13th-ranked River Hawks will welcome No. 6 Notre Dame (8-3-1) to the Tsongas Center for a pair of games this Friday and Saturday.
Saturday's game will be preceded by UML Hall of Fame induction ceremonies featuring former hockey coach Bill Riley.
As its record indicates, UMass Lowell has rebounded nicely since that head-scratching loss to Sacred Heart, but they are still a long way from No. 1.
Let's look at three areas of the game where the River Hawks need to improve and three areas where they are enjoying success.
The three things the River Hawks need to improve upon are the power play, scoring and playing better at home.
1. UML's power play has scored on 12 of 62 man advantages for a 19.4 percent success rate, which ranks fifth in Hockey East. The power play needs to begin burying the puck on a more consistent basis when given the opportunity.
2. While 19 River Hawks have registered at least one point on the season, no one has emerged as the "go-to" guy when the team is in need of a timely goal. Leading scorers Adam Chapie and Scott Wilson have just nine points in 12 games.
3. UML's home record (2-3-0) is less than stellar. The River Hawks have scored 14 goals and given up 14. They need to begin dominating opponents much like they did last season on home ice.
The successes? A current hot streak, strong goaltending and winning on the road.
1. UML has won seven of its last eight games. In doing so, the River Hawks have outscored opponents 23-10. They are becoming one of the top shut-down teams in the country.
2. Last season, goaltender Connor Hellebuyck was all-everything after posting one of the best seasons in the history of college hockey. The sophomore started this season a little slowly but has regained his game and ranks third overall in Hockey East save percentage (.938) and goals-against average (1.89).
3. While coach Norm Bazin's squad has struggled at home, they have posted a 6-1-0 record away from home and are one of the NCAA's top-rated road clubs.
A lot of questions about this team may be answered this weekend, when a highly-ranked Fighting Irish team lands at the Tsongas Center.