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Postmortem: Butchers not surgeons, and final grades

March 26, 2009

It was a hell of a wild run at the end there, but we’ve got to keep something in mind: this WASN’T Lowell’s “go” year.

Actually, that probably should have been fairly evident to anyone that watched the team over the course of the season. It was still fairly immature at times and while there were the dizzying highs (beating UNH 8-3, taking five points from BC, the playoff run), there was also a lot of terrifying lows (the results of the non-conference schedule, December, the Northeastern weekend). This was, for all intents and purposes, a very young team. Three seniors, an absolute ton of juniors, more than a few sophomores and two or three freshmen. That’s still a lot of immaturity, and it struck us before the season even began that this might not yet be a team that knows how to win.

The first two weeks of the season did nothing to assuage our fears. Despite convincingly carrying play in all three non-conference games to open the season, Lowell went 1-2-0 against Colgate and Michigan State twice. Given what we know now, this is, of course, unacceptable. But as with last year, this was probably just a team that needed to put it together a bit, and they were given that opportunity against Providence and Quinnipiac. They turned in two epic beatings and looked to have everything on track, even two periods into the game against then-No. 3 BU before Carter Hutton got hurt and TJ Massie crumbled under the pressure. That loss cost Lowell the next game against Vermont as well.

But Lowell got back on track again, winning five of their next six from Nov. 14 to 29.

Then it became December and Lowell had its worst month in the last two years. The ‘Hawks scored eight goals in six games from the beginning of December to mid-January, and lost all of those contests. This was the skid that cost Lowell home ice in Hockey East and an NCAA tournament bid. It was, especially in light of how well the latter half of October and all of November had gone, completely unacceptable, especially because poor Hutton was standing on his head most nights and getting absolutely zero run support.

Lowell’s improbable (at the time, at lesat) 4-3 overtime win at Boston College on Jan. 17 seemed to spark something though. The team went on an incredible run after that, losing only four times in the remaining 14 games, all of which were against Hockey East opponents, and eight of which were on the road.

Then of course came the playoffs, which are so fresh in our minds. The stunning overtime win at Vermont gave way to the 4-2 drubbing the next night, which in turn gave way to another stunning win over Northeastern in the Hockey East semifinals. For the reasons of preserving our own sanity, however, we will not detail the 1-0 loss to BU in the championship game. That way madness lay.

All year, Lowell handled its opponents extremely well, for the most part. This despite often being the less-skilled team in a given contest. But there is room in this world for surgeons and butchers both, and Lowell, while falling into the latter category, was one of the best at what it did in Hockey East. Apart from BU, really, no one played their game as well as Lowell on a nightly basis. There were, of course, lapses and breakdowns and hang-ups, but again, this is still a fairly inexperienced team that (though were are loath to use the term) “didn’t know how to win” fully. As they acquired that skill, and what a useful skill it is, we saw the things of which Lowell was capable. No one-goal lead was ever safe again (ask Vermont or Northeastern about that). No penalty kill was unbreakable, no power play unstoppable.

Once Lowell saw that it could not only beat skill teams, but dominate them on will alone, there was never the trepidation that reared its head so often in and around the break. The River Hawks knew what to do and how to do it, and that was bad news for the rest of the league. Had Lowell had that killer instinct, the know-how to not only go for but get the killshot, it could have won just about every game it had this year. Only a handful would have been truly out of reach.

At the beginning of the year, we set forth what we thought were very realistic goals for the River Hawks. First was compete for home ice. Done. Second was win a playoff series. Got it. Third was maaaaaybe win at the Garden. Taken care of. This was despite some strange setbacks. Some of last year’s best players didn’t repeat their performances. Some players got injured, as they do. Some were extremely on-again-off-again.

But in the face of those setbacks, others rose to the challenge. One freshman stepped up with a contribution we had hoped for but certainly not expected. One junior had by far his best season in a Lowell sweater. One sophomore made a whole league sit up and take notice. Both goalies, despite some shaky times, proved colossal down the stretch.

That’s one thing we’ve noticed about this team since the current juniors were freshmen is that the final few weeks of the season is fairly indicative of how the team will do the next year. Two years ago, despite not making the playoffs, the ‘Hawks finished the year 5-2-2, and really used that momentum positively for the 2007-08 campaign. Last year, they swept Northeastern, gave Maine the first two competitive games in years at Alfond Arena and put a scare into BU in the playoffs before pluck and determination gave way to overwhelming skill and experience. This year, the ‘Hawks lost just five of their final 17 games(!), knocked two top-7 teams out of the Hockey East playoffs and took No. 2 BU to the absolute limit in the title game (and even then… ugh forget it).

We pity Hockey East next year. Lowell is going to be a giant.

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).

Forwards
Matt Ferreira (29 games, 5-2-7): C+
This kid showed a lot of promise but never really seemed to cobble everything together with any amount of consistency. In a lot of ways, he reminded us of Pat Cey from last year (insofar as the potential he showed was tantalizing but ultimately never fully presented itself), only with a higher ceiling. He also didn’t have a point after Jan. 30. He scored some important goals this year, but let’s have a few more next year, eh?

Mark Roebothan (33, 7-12-19): B+
He may not have contributed to the offense as much as he did last year (his goal production dropped 50 percent), but this was probably Robo’s best year at Lowell. For proof, one need look no further than the five games he missed with an injury; Lowell went 0-5-0. He was a great leader and could do whatever was needed in all three zones. If you had a team full of heady players like Roebothan, you’d do alright for yourself every time.

David Vallorani (38, 9-18-27): A
Best Lowell freshman in years, with all due respect to Maury Edwards. His puck distribution is top-quality, and he’s maybe one of the best at it in Hockey East already. It’s rare for a freshman, particularly one of Vallorani’s size, to go so readily to the contested areas of the ice, get his hands dirty and still make a gorgeous pass. If he continues on this arc, he’ll be one of the best players in Hockey East by the time he’s a senior. (It occurs to us that we used the word “best” a lot here. We like having the ability to do that.)

Kory Falite (31, 14-8-22): C-
We don’t care how many goals he scored, this was a massively disappointing year for Falite. Any time Hockey East’s leading goalscorer is a healthy scratch for something like 15 percent of the season, it’s because he’s just not putting in the effort he needs to help his team compete. If Lowell had the motivated Kory Falite for an entire season, it makes the NCAA tournament easily. He’s that kind of game-changer when he’s on. He just wasn’t on anywhere near often enough. We almost went D+ here.

Sammy D’Agostino (22, 3-1-4): B-
The energy this kid brought was unreal. It especially seemed like he helped Kory Falite refocus himself and even if that’s all he did, we’d have been just fine with D’Agostino’s contribution. But he did a little more than that, and that’s a nice bonus.

Nick Monroe (38, 3-7-10): A-
A career offensive year and probably his best defensively as well. Monroe showed a TON of promise once he got moved off the pivot, actually scoring what looked like goalscorer’s goals and creating good chances. He continued to be one of the best PK guys in the country as well. A better season could not have been asked for out of this senior.

Scott Campbell (38, 14-16-30): B+
“Man,” you might be saying to yourself, “you didn’t even give the team’s leading scorer an A?” No, and here’s why: his putting up 30 points is nice, but you’ve got to consider that five of those came in one game against RIT and 10 more of those in the the five games leading up to the Hockey East title game. Campbell’s ability to completely take over a game is unique on this team, but he didn’t do it often enough for our tastes. If he can play every night like he did in the final six games of the season, he’s an NHL-caliber player and a Hobey Baker candidate. Soup was a juggernaut when he wanted to be. He does everything well, and he’s Lowell’s most complete player, but we’d love to see him do this every night.

Chris Auger (14, 2-1-3): C+
It was hard to have expectations for the kid when he spent half the season with a bum shoulder, but the motivated Chris Auger was a big step up from last year’s iteration, who often seemed disinterested. Auger’s best games in a Lowell sweater, interestingly, came in games where he didn’t get on the scoresheet. In those games he had a positive influence on the offense and the team itself. Lowell won far more often than not when Juice was in the lineup. Oh, and did we mention he scored perhaps the most important River Hawk goal in 15 years? He did that too.

Patrick Cey (36, 6-6-12): C+
This is what we wrote about Cey this time last year: “Cey played his game well … but we think he only exhibited flashes of his potential. We like what we saw, we just want to see more of it.” We stick by that.

Mike Potacco (38, 8-12-20): B-
Another guy whose goal production dropped off this year, which was disappointing. He still used his speed to great effect and he is a consummate professional along the boards and on the penalty kill, but a little more in the offense department was definitely needed, especially when Mark Roebothan got hurt. Didn’t happen, and while he still had a good season, it could’ve been a great one.

Mike Scheu (10, 4-1-5): Incomplete
Too bad about the injuries and the number of games played, because we really like what Scheu brought to the table. Good hard shot, good work ethic, Vermont killer. These things are all positives. Absolutely. You knew he was going to be a good one when, on his first college shift, he drew a penalty and had a primary assist. That’ll play. We are very anxious to see him for an entire season next year.

Ben Holmstrom (38, 6-15-21): B
Another guy from whom we’d have liked more points (say, 30?), but the dropoff in production was a bit understandable considering how old linemate Kory Falite often took nights off. Big Ben is still a great leader and still popped in some important goals, but next year needs to be HIS year. We won’t accept anything less than a dominant 2009-10 campaign.

Paul Worthington (38, 5-13-18): C-
Worthington is one of the most maddeningly inconsistent players in the lineup. When he’s good, he’s very good. And when he’s not, it’s noticably bad. The kid, to his credit, is a monster in the playoffs. He has eight career points in seven postseason games, and 29 points in 70 regular season games. If someone can just convince him that every night is an elimination game, he will be unstoppable.

Jonathan Maniff (18, 1-6-7): F
He went from 10 goals last year to one this year. A dropoff of 90 percent. TOTALLY unacceptable. He rarely made good decisions with the puck and probably only cracked the lineup in the event of extreme injuries. He’s got talent but he’s just so frustrating to watch.

Jason DeLuca (5, 0-0-0): Incomplete
A victim of Lowell’s depth at forward and injuries. Raise your hand if you can remember any of the games in which DeLuca played. It’s not a knock on him, but.. y’know. Too bad, too. He had a decent freshman yar.

Michael Budd (30, 5-5-10): B-
We didn’t know what to expect from Budd coming in. He’s got good size and he goes to the net well. Both of those are strong positives and Lowell probably needs more guys that fit that bill. Another freshman from whom we want to see more of the good stuff he showed us in brief flashes.

Defensemen
Jeremy Dehner (3-23-26): B
It was a bit of an off year for Dehner in terms of his defensive role, but he stepped up the offense huge to compensate, and we can live with that. If he gets back to it next year and keeps the offense, he’s a Hockey East first-teamer. No question.

Steve Capraro (36, 0-0-0): C+
Okay, so he didn’t have any points, but do you remember a time when Capraro put himself or the team in a bad position? Didn’t think so. Granted, he missed two fantastic opportunities to score his first career goal (one on a breakaway at Providence, the other against Maine in the 6-0 game), but what can ya do? He’s a fine defensive defenseman.

Tim Corcoran (3, 0-0-0): Incomplete
Yeah, he was just fine in the three games, and made a couple of real heads-up plays. If Lowell wasn’t so deep at defense, we’d have been fine with him getting more ice time.

Nick Schaus (38, 5-17-22): A+
Probably the best River Hawk of the year. His history of playing strong defense and hitting the absolute crap out of anyone foolish enough to put their head down in his general area continued, plus he was INSANELY active in the offense. That goal against BC in overtime was gorgeous. We might be wrong, but we believe the jump from 0-6-6 to 5-17-22 was the best offensive improvement for any Lowell player.

Barry Goers (38, 0-9-9): C
A bit of a drop from last year pointswise, which in the grand scheme of things is fine. His role on the power play changed, so it’s at least acceptable. The problem was that he seemed to take a step back on defense as well, and we’re sure he’d tell you the same thing. If the worst thing that happens to Barry Goers in his career at Lowell is that he falls from “good No. 3 defenseman” to “fantastic No. 4 defenseman,” that’s cool with us. It’s pretty much a lateral move.

Maury Edwards (38, 11-18-29): A+
You can’t ask for a better season out of an offensive defenseman. It’s really that simple.

Ryan Blair (37, 1-11-12): B+
How was this kid a walk-on? Seriously, how? He’s very good at what he does as a defensive defenseman, he can chip on offense a bit and his goal against Northeastern was massive. We’d like to see him shoot a little more, and there were a couple games where he showed signs that he could have a huge impact on offense (the second game against Northeastern at Tsongas, for example). We’re big Ryan Blair fans.

Goaltenders
Nevin Hamilton (19 (10-7-1), 2.15/.925): B+
Another fine season for Hamilton, who is, if nothing else, the No. 1b/2 goalie in Hockey East. He kept Lowell in a few games they maybe shouldn’t have been in and he had some off nights as well, but overall you can’t argue with results.

Carter Hutton (19 (9-8-1), 2.06/.916): B+
Here’s what we wrote about Hutton last year: “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.” We stick by that.

TJ Massie (2 (1-1-0), 3.76/.875): Incomplete
We’re glad he only got the incomplete because it would have been unfair to judge him on the two games he appeared in, especially considering the disparity in the quality of those performances. He simply was not ready for the college game. At all. He shouldn’t have been allowed to play against BU. Though it was mostly the coaches’ fault, that was just embarrassing for him.


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

Final blog stats:
94,438 words over:
111 posts (850.8 per)
22 weeks (4,292.6 per)
230 pages, single-spaced.

(Really wish we could’ve gotten up to a round 100k.)

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Monty permalink
    March 26, 2009 7:56 pm

    Great job as usual. This was a great read, and I’m already looking forward to the preseason previews coming out.

  2. Anonymous permalink
    March 26, 2009 10:55 pm

    Great job on the blog again this year – There is nowhere else we can get this much fine information – Have a great summer – GOOOO R”Hawks in 08-09

  3. Anonymous permalink
    March 31, 2009 11:16 pm

    Thanks for another great year of the ‘hawks hockey blog. I come here at least 3-4 times a week during the season for pre and post game analysis…and of course some good quality Two Minutes of Hate when it’s needed.

    –jrobes01

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