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Postmortem: House money and final grades

March 21, 2008

No matter how this season shook out, as long as Lowell made the playoffs, it was all gravy.

We’re sure the team doesn’t look at it that way, and we’re sure that we probably shouldn’t either, but there was nothing that wasn’t 100 percent positive about the last five and a half months.

Let’s take into account the fact that Lowell may not have even had a program at the beginning of this season thanks to that inimitable bag of cat turd Stephen Tocco. The resulting loss of current players (Jason Bergeron) and future players (Doug Clarkson, Evan Zych) wasn’t necessarily surprising so much as it was disappointing. The program, after all, ended up in better shape than it was in when this whole witch hunt started. Add to that certain events involving coach Blaise MacDonald (which we won’t harp on about, unlike the Lowell Sun) and even a serious medical problem for another incoming recruit, Matt Ferreira, things were looking bleak for Lowell this season. Hockey East coaches picking Lowell to finish ninth and out of the playoffs for the second year in a row should have received a “third man in” penalty.

But then some weird things started happening. First, Lowell easily beats the University of New Brunswick Varsity Reds in an exhibition game. No big deal normally, but it turns out that the V-Reds just happen to be the inarguably best team in CIS, and they beat UNH. That game gave us our first look at a few players like Maury Edwards, Jason DeLuca and Scott Campbell, all of whom jumped out impressively in their first game in a Lowell sweater.

As Lowell progressed through October (2-0-1) and early November (0-2-3), it became apparent that this team simply needed to put everything together. They would play well offensively one night, at BU in a 7-4 loss for example, and have appalling defense, or conversely, they would play well defensively and not put the puck in the net, as with the 2-1 loss at Northeastern. But the elements were there for a successful, strong team.

Whatever clicked around Nov. 20 helped Lowell transform into a very, very strong and cohesive unit. First, they swept Merrimack (normally no feat there, but Merrimack had handed Lowell its lunch in a 3-1 loss earlier in the month) with a 3-0 and 6-2 win, and after a 3-2 loss at UNH, it won its next five games in impressive fashion, including notching a 6-0 beating of previously unbeatable Maine. Lowell was rolling headed into break, and was ranked in the national polls as high as No. 13. All this from a team full of freshmen and sophomores that was nearly cast into nonexistence.

However, nothing gold could stay. Injuries, which had plagued Lowell all season, began to catch up with Lowell out of break, as the River Hawks saw their win streak snapped by Providence in overtime and went on to split that and the following weekend. A sweep by the visiting No. 19 Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs only made matters worse. Lowell began playing its worst hockey at a very bad time, and Hockey East did not stand idly by.

Lowell finished the last eight games of the regular season at 2-6, but showed its strength and resiliency throughout, losing by more than one goal just twice. The margin of error was slim, but the errors persisted.

Headed into a playoff series with a white-hot BU team, against whom the River Hawks had already suffered a pair of heartbreaking losses, Lowell was given little chance, but forced a third game and, in fact, led in all three. Did we mention, by the way, that there was only one senior on the team?

Along the way, Lowell certainly had its highlights. Beating Maine twice in one season was an unexpected and wonderful surprise, as was beating Boston College at Conte Forum. There was Mike Potacco‘s hat trick against Northeastern in an exciting 5-4 overtime win. There was the return to the lineup of Paul Worthington and Steve Capraro.

In addition, the freshmen were, for the most part, outstanding. Campbell may not have put up a ton of points, but he was the catalyst on the so-called “CPR” line that saw both Mark Roebothan and Potacco turn into goal-scoring threats, and he won draws like a madman in every zone. Edwards proved that not only was his junior reputation for goalscoring well-earned (what a bomb he possesses), but he was also a shockingly gifted defenseman. DeLuca and Ryan Blair, a pair of walk-ons, ended up being fantastic surprises. DeLuca’s energy jumpstarted whichever line he was put on, and Blair’s shutdown defense earned him a +/- rating that climbed as high as +11. Even Patrick Cey, who quietly went about the business of being a solid third liner, netted 11 points.

They couldn’t have done that, though, without the leadership and guidance of Lowell’s remarkable sophomore class, which features three captains. Ben Holmstrom established himself not only as a leader in the locker room, but also on the ice as he and all-of-a-sudden goalscoring wunderkind Kory Falite | who’s now the premier sniper in Hockey East | hooked up for a combined line of 25-34-59. Wow. Even Jonathan Maniff, who struggled at times, netted 10 goals. The second-year blue liners like Jeremy Dehner, Barry Goers, and Nick Schaus also performed at incredibly high levels all season long.

The junior forwards (Roebothan, Potacco and Nick Monroe) also excelled in their roles. Roebothan and Potacco combined for 24 goals, and each exactly doubled his previous year’s goal total. Monroe, meanwhile, was often a key member of the fourth line and can grind it out with the best of them.

We also saved the best story for last: Carter Hutton and Nevin Hamilton. Without them, many of these games would have been total disasters. A 40-save night here, a 35-save night there, and Lowell goes from eight wins last season to 16 this year despite graduating six pretty crucial players.

In the face of abject adversity, Lowell not only withstood all that was thrown at them, but the young River Hawks excelled in spite of it. Now that everyone has critical playoff experience and knows exactly what it takes to succeed in this league, we fear for Hockey East. The last thing it needs is an improved Kory Falite, Ben Holmstrom, Mark Roebothan, Carter Hutton, Jeremy Dehner, or Maury Edwards. It might be a long summer, but with the way things are looking on the banks of the Merrimack River, we couldn’t be more excited.

River Hawk Report Card
It’s a well-known fact that Lowell, over the past few years, has the best team classroom-wise in Hockey East. All those 3.0-and-up averages are great for the kids, as they are for the program. But here’s a report card they may not be used to: one for on-ice performance. (Two things to note: all grading is done solely by us and are for fun only. Also, players are listed numerically by position, and had to have played in 12 games (33 percent of the schedule) to receive a grade).

Mark Roebothan (14-9-23): B
As we said, this was a very solid year for Roebothan, who doubled his goalscoring total of seven in 2005-06 to 14 this year. We’d like to see more total points from him next year, but that will come with the improvement of his linemates.

Kory Falite (18-14-32): A-
Falite is the best sniper to lace ’em up for Lowell since the salad days of Ben Walter. Any time a goalie made a mistake and Falite was near the net, that little red light came on. The level of confidence this kid instills whenever he’s got the puck in the offensive zone is remarkable. He’s a force to be reckoned with next year. Why the minus? Too many lazy penalties.

Nick Monroe (0-0-0): C
Good at what he does, but you need more out of a fourth line guy than no points and a -4. Provides outstanding energy and can help shift a game’s momentum with one shift.

Scott Campbell (7-11-18): B
Struggled early, but once he was grouped with Roebothan and Potacco, he was very good. His dominance at the faceoff dot may have been a gift and a curse, because now we expect him to win every one. This was a strong rookie campaign and we’re excited to see how he builds on it next year.

Chris Auger (4-10-14): D+
This might have been the quietest double-digit point total Lowell’s seen in years. When Auger worked hard, he was outstanding. When he didn’t, he was noticeably bad (worse than being invisible). We like Auger and we would love to see him apply himself every night, but four goals from the team’s only draft choice? That’s tough to be happy with.

Frank Stegnar (1-4-5): D-
To be quite honest, we expect more out of Stegnar. His play was the opposite of what a big man should provide on the third or fourth line, and he regularly got physically dominated by smaller players. If Stegnar doesn’t get mean over the summer, he might not see the ice again for Lowell.

Patrick Cey (5-6-11): C+
Cey played his game well, and his goal against BU in the playoffs was awesome, but we think he only exhibited flashes of his potential. We like what we saw, we just want to see more of it.

Mike Potacco (10-12-22): B
Since we gave Roebothan and Campbell B’s, its hard not to give one to Potacco too. He completed the trio that reigned supreme on Lowell for a little while before he got hurt and missed six games. His presence was missed greatly for those three weeks, and his CPR linemates seemed lost without him. With his speed, we think he can do great things next year (like score 15-17).

Todd Bartelson (1-0-1): C-
We were shocked to read this kid played 23 games this year. He can do some nice things, but we get the feeling he’s just skating around out there without a clue sometimes. His skill package is nice, but he needs to put it all together more consistently.

Ben Holmstrom (7-20-27): B+
Holmstrom was a great triggerman for Falite and played great hockey in the latter half of the season, but he’s got more touch around the net than the seven goals he scored indicate. We’d like to see more from Ben, but this was a very good season. His leadership qualities, by the way, are unquestionable.

Paul Worthington (3-4-7): Incomplete
Were we able to give Worthington a complete grade, it would be pretty high. It’s a great story, and moreover once he got his legs properly under him upon his return, he was an outstanding complement to Holmstrom and Falite on the top line. We cannot wait to see him play a full season next year.

Jonathan Maniff (10-5-15): C
We understand that 10 goals is a lot, but he didn’t have any after Feb. 1 and he was largely uninterested in playing anywhere outside the opposing goaltender’s immediate proximity (not that we dislike what he does there). He can do some great things with the puck, but it’s all within a small fraction of the rink. He needs to either start scoring more or improve his all-around game.

Ian Schaser (2-1-3): C-
Any time your production goes down in a similar amount of games from year-to-year, that’s a bad thing. Schaser didn’t get much time and didn’t do much with it. He has good energy but there’s a reason he’s not playing every night. Good role player.

Jason DeLuca (3-5-8): C+
For a walk-on, DeLuca had a fine season. He wasn’t counted on to do much, even by the coaching staff, but he went beyond that expectation. Eight points from a walk-on freshman third liner is solid contribution.

Jeremy Dehner (1-15-16): A-
Dehner emerged as the best one-on-one shutdown defenseman in the league last year. He was pretty much unbeatable man-to-man and he’s a do-it-all player. We like 16 points and we like that we literally never worry when he’s on the ice, but we don’t like the drop in goal production. Dehner is easily one of our favorite River Hawks to watch.

Steve Capraro (0-1-1): Incomplete
Capraro was a solid fill-in at forward and his defense was okay too, but he didn’t look physically ready to be back for the BU series. We still expect big things from him next year.

Kelly Sullivan (1-2-3): C
Sullivan played the best hockey of his career down the stretch this year and helped Lowell lock up its playoff spot. He was still prone to getting beat when playing man coverage, but we really liked his work ethic and positioning.

Nick Schaus (0-6-6): B
Schaus, alongside Dehner, went about his business ably. His business was cleaning out forwards, and business was shockingly good. He may not have always made the smartest plays, but he instilled fear in opponents when they came over the blue line, and Dehner was often there to clean up any messes. Perfectly good season, but too many bonehead penalties.

Barry Goers (4-20-24): B-
Probably the best all-around defenseman Lowell’s had in a while, Goers brought his offensive game to another level this year. Any time you’re third leading scorer on a team from the blueline, you’re doing something right. We’re still not sure, though, how he managed to be -11 in Hockey East, and -3 overall. Not that it was especially bad, but we’d like to see him step up his defensive game next year.

Maury Edwards (8-11-19): B+
This was a big, big rookie season for Edwards. Eight goals is a TON, though having seen his laser of a point shot all year, we see why he got all of them. His defense was very competent for a freshman. He’ll improve, certainly, but this was a great start.

Ryan Blair (1-9-10): B-
We were impressed by this walk-on, as we were by DeLuca, but Blair’s season was unbelievable. He was basically a late throw-in after Zych opted not to come, but he was another guy you rarely worried about back there, and we’re comfortable with that theme. If he can improve his game a bit and start using his big frame more, he can be a dominant defenseman. Probably the surprise of the year.

Tommy Powers (0-0-0): C-/D+
Almost squeaked by on an incomplete, but he played one too game too many at forward as a last-healthy-body fill-in. It’s not to say he was bad, but he wasn’t anything you could call good. He was a serviceable roster filler, especially given that he was playing out of position.

Nevin Hamilton (8-6-2; 2.56, .911): B
He may not have played flashy hockey, nor did he instill the utmost confidence, but he won half of Lowell’s games this year and posted very respectable numbers. He kind of started to disappear down the stretch, but for a while he was as good a goalie as Lowell’s had since Pete Vetri.

Carter Hutton (7-11-2; 2.48, .909): B
Hutton typically played well, but often didn’t get the run support Hamilton did. He is, however, the first Lowell goalie in years that’s capable of actually stealing games. Both he and Hamilton will be excellent goalies for Lowell next season.

Jon Dryjowicz-Burek (1-0-0; 0.90, .960): Incomplete
We only saw him against Bentley and in mop-up duty against BC, but we think he can be best described as adequate. He was a good third-string goalie, and that was all he needed to be.

Alright, seriously, that’ll actually do it for this season’s blog postings. Thanks for reading.

Final blog stats:
52,328 words over:
67 posts (781.9 per).
11 weeks (4757.1 per).
167 pages, single-spaced.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. P MCINNIS permalink
    March 23, 2008 11:19 pm

    great job – I enjoyed reading your blog this year – As a season ticket holder, you gave me a lot of information

  2. Monty permalink
    March 23, 2008 11:20 pm

    Great job on this blog and a great job on the grades. I can’t really argue with any…

  3. Jeremy permalink
    April 2, 2008 6:45 pm

    You do a really good job with the blog. I’d visit two or three times a week during the season, almost always to new updates.

    Hope to see it back again next year.

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