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River Hawks downplay early success

By Used with permission from the Boston Globe. By Jim McCabe, Globe Staff

As they worked in the weight room and prepared for the start of the 2001-02 season, members of the University of Massachusetts at Lowell's hockey team had one burning motivational thought.

''They kept thinking they'd get the chance to beat BC in their home opener. That was the inspiration to our group,'' said UMass-Lowell rookie head coach Blaise MacDonald.

That the River Hawks had lost 15 consecutive games to the Eagles and hadn't won at Conte Forum since Nov. 1, 1996, seemed to matter little to MacDonald's players. With stunning domination, they rolled to a 7-2 win at Boston College last Friday night, outshooting the Eagles, 36-21, and scoring a pair of shorthanded goals within 20 seconds late in the second period.

It would stand to reason the River Hawks would have plenty to celebrate, particularly after they rolled past Connecticut, 6-0, the next night to run their record to 3-0. And even more so when they were ranked 13th in the weekly USA Today/American Hockey Magazine's national poll.

''I told them, `That's why the good Lord puts eyes in the front of your head and not the back,''' said MacDonald, a Billerica native who is thrilled to be back home after coaching the last five years at Niagara University. ''We've got to look forward, not behind us.''

In other words, the River Hawks should focus on tomorrow night's game with visiting Providence (1-2). The Friars opened the season with losses to Michigan and Nebraska-Omaha in the Maverick Stampede at Omaha before coasting past Sacred Heart, 8-1. But MacDonald reminded his team PC earned the nod as preseason favorite in Hockey East.

MacDonald won't let his team bask in the glow of beating BC, though he said he does hope the win provides ''an experience that we can draw on. After all, it beats the alternative.''

And as far as being ranked in the top 15?

''It doesn't mean anything, really,'' said MacDonald. ''The kids have to know that.''

The 3-0 start fulfills one of MacDonald's preseason wishes.

''We felt a good start was critical for the team because we're losing three key players to the French national team in January,'' said the coach, referring to senior forward Yorick Treille (1-2-3), sophomore forward Laurent Meunier (1-3-4), and freshman defenseman Baptiste Amar (1-2-3), all of whom are Olympic-bound come the first of the year.

''We just don't have a lot of depth,'' said MacDonald.

True. But they do have a 3-0 start, their first since 1993-94. UMass-Lowell made the NCAA tournament that year, which could be considered a good omen. Except for the fact MacDonald is preaching looking forward - just not that far forward.