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2008-09 season preview: The Season of Heightened Expectations

October 9, 2008

(We apologize, by the way, for not getting this banged out earlier. Been busy and all that.)

Last season was pretty great, all things considered, but it’s not really something we should be happy with.

The team pushed BU to three games in the Hockey East quarterfinals and won a playoff game for the first time in what felt like 100 years, and sure there were a lot of outstanding individual performances. But that just wasn’t good enough, really. At the time we said that because of all the injuries and how a lot of bad breaks went Lowell’s way, Lowell was essentially playing with “house money.”

In retrospect, that was foolish. There was a certain amount of underperformance last year that we recognize now, winnable games when Lowell simply didn’t show up. We’d just shrug and say, “Oh well. Injuries,” or “Oh well. Young team.” While it may have been an injury-stricken, largely inexperienced team, we were willing to give the ‘Hawks a pass because, heck, the Hockey East coaches picked them to finish ninth! The nerve! But they made the playoffs at the end of the year and put a scare into BU, so what did we care?

The fact was, Lowell could have beaten any team in Hockey East on any night and blew far too many two-goal leads for our liking. There would be nights where Lowell could blow UNH’s doors off, for example, and nights when they got punked out by Merrimack. In fact, after a very impressive first half of the year, Lowell finished the regular season 2-6 in its last eight games. We’ve not forgotten that this was a team that was ranked as high as 13th in the country in the first half of last season. We’ve also not forgotten it completely blew its shot at home ice in February.

This year, it’s going to be more difficult to be forgiving for two reasons. First, everyone (for the most part) is healthy. One suspects, and hopes, that there won’t be too many nights where Lowell throws the nearest healthy defenseman it can find on a forward line because there is literally no one else to play up front. Second, because everyone’s a year older and college hockey players make their biggest leaps between sophomore and junior year, we expect bigger things from the largest class Lowell has.

Take Kory Falite, the heir apparent to Ben Walter’s title of UML’s premier Sniper (note capital S). Kid was a second-team All-Hockey East selection and led the league in goals. He had 18 goals and 32 points last year as a sophomore. Interestingly, Walter also had 18 goals as a sophomore, though he picked up a few more assists. As a junior, Wally had 26 goals and was a Hobey Baker candidate. While that’s a lot to expect from Falite, it shouldn’t be outside the realm of possibility. Judging by that goal he scored in the exhibition game, he should be ready to kill it this season. Falite has 28 career goals, and we would be disappointed to see him finish the season with anything less than 50.

Before you start thinking, “Are these guys crazy?” consider this: Falite, along with linemate Ben Holmstrom, saw his production explode upon Paul Worthington’s return on Feb. 15. In the 11 games after that, Falite was pointless in just two, racking up seven goals and 12 points. Imagine a whole season of that. It’s the same thing with Holmstrom, too. Benny only had two goals before Christmas break last year, and five after it. Three of those came after Worthington’s return. If he can keep that pace going the whole season, Lowell’s offense will be in much better shape than it was last year.

Then there’s a full season of the CPR line, which was dominant at times last year, and in fact, Lowell’s top scoring threat. Really, it’s a line that does everything well. Mike Potacco’s speed is a huge weapon, as is Roebothan’s ability and will to go to the slot and stay there. But Scott Campbell is the straw that stirs that particular drink. His ability to win faceoffs is unmatched on the ‘Hawks and maybe in Hockey East. If you have a draw you need to win, you send Campbell every time. Puck possession, it may shock you to find out, is pretty important, and Campbell provides it almost effortlessly. In one 10-game stretch last year, the CPR line combined for 16 goals and 18 assists, and Lowell went 8-2. It’d be nice to have that production again.

The unknown quantity up front, of course, is the contribution of the newcomers. David Vallorani already made a quick impression with his No. 1 star performance in the exhibition game with a goal and an assist. He looked great out there with Patrick Cey, from whom we expect bigger things this year, and UMass transfer (we’ll try to like him anyway) Sammy D’Agostino. Then there’s Matt Ferreira, the highly-touted kid that would have been here last year had it not been for a serious health issue. He looked good at times in the exhbition game, and invisible at others (we recognize and regret that we’re basing our opinion of him for the purposes of this column on one game, and that a blowout). That’s another kid we want to see make a good contribution.

Lowell’s real strength this year, though, is at the blueline. All the regulars you knew last year — Jeremy Dehner, Barry Goers, Nick Schaus, Maury Edwards, and Ryan Blair — are back, and reportedly better. Dehner is maybe the best all-around defenseman in Hockey East (16 points in 31 games and rock-solid, no-worries play in his own zone), Goers is an excellent puck-rusher who is also steady at the back. Schaus, we learned, still hits like a truck, and … was that SCORING we saw in the exhbition? If he feels like he wants to improve on his zero goals and six points from last year, Lowell would be happy to have it. We also learned from the exhibition that Edwards can still bomb it and Blair is still a big, strong presence.

What we don’t know is how healthy Steve Capraro is, and how these new kids are going to work out. If Cappy’s good to go and in game-shape, we like Lowell’s entire defense top to bottom with no questions asked. If he isn’t, we aren’t worried if one of the Tims (freshmen Tim Corcoran and Tim Carr) has to eat a few minutes a night. Both were perfectly servicable against St. Francis Xavier and will certainly improve with experience.

The net’s where we worry. Carter Hutton and Nevin Hamilton were outstanding at times last year, and reaaaaaaaaal iffy at others. This team needs consistent goaltending, and we’re not talking John Curry numbers. We’re talking John Muse numbers. A .920 save percentage behind that defense isn’t too much to ask for, nor is a 2.20 goals-against. If Lowell gets anything close to that, they’re looking at an NCAA bid.

Hell, the goal should be an NCAA bid. The team’s good enough, and Hockey East is in a down year. There’s no reason this team shouldn’t at least challenge all season, and by that we mean win a playoff series, get to the Garden, and probably win one there too. We mean, name four teams in Hockey East better than Lowell.

It’s not easy, and that’s a feeling we could get used to.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Monty permalink
    October 10, 2008 1:46 pm

    Great job. Can’t wait for this season to finally start tomorrow night.

  2. Anonymous permalink
    October 13, 2008 3:30 pm

    Hockey East is in a down year? Tell that to the WCHA.

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