Season Preview: Liftoff
Hours away from the start of the 2016-2017 season, the River Hawks find themselves in uncharted waters. For the first time in the Norm Bazin era, Lowell’s biggest question mark is between the pipes. While there has always been uncertainty in how a new goalie will perform, be it a freshman like Connor Hellebuyck or a transfer in the case of Kevin Boyle, this season the question isn’t how but who?
During the sacrificial offering provided by the University of Prince Edward Island during this past Sunday’s exhibition, three of the four goalies on the roster were given a period each to sit in the net and cover up the occasional errant puck. It’s hard to decipher if UPEI was that offensively inept, if the returning intact, fourth-ranked River Hawk defense was that dominant or if UPEI was just completely tanked after their night in Thunderdome against Boston University. We imagine it’s a combination of all three, but the end result was that the Lowell goalies got less work from that game then they get from your average Wednesday night practice.
Surprising to us was the choice of goalies to dress for the game. Sophomores Sean Cleary and Christoffer Hernberg were joined by freshman Tyler Wall in the rotation, while the odd man out was freshman Garrett Metcalf. While Hernberg saw action against Arizona State last year, neither Cleary nor Hernberg have been particularly impressive in any action that we’ve seen to date. Coach Bazin stated to the Lowell Sun that no goalie has risen above the pack after a few practices, which concerns us. Lowell’s top five defense and defensive system insulate the goalie to a certain degree, but the fact that neither freshman has been able to stand above the two pedestrian sophomores doesn’t fill us with confidence.
Moving out from the net, Lowell’s defense will again be the strongest unit on the ice. Headed by seniors Michael Kapla and Dylan Zink, River Hawk blue line returns all six starters from a year ago. With the aforementioned questions in goal, Lowell will have to lean on their defense even more this season. Incoming freshman Mattias Goransson has a huge frame (6’3″, 205) and looked good on the ice during the exhibition game. We wouldn’t be surprised to see him in the starting lineup Friday night, most likely in place of fellow Swede Niklas Folin.
The second area to watch for the River Hawks this season will be up front. Lowell wasn’t decimated by graduation and pro defections like some other Hockey East teams, but the losses of AJ White, Adam Chapie and Ryan McGrath are significant. Lowell does return their top two scorers in CJ Smith and Joe Gambardella, as well as talented sophomores Nick Master and Ryan Dmowski. The elephant in the room is the health and status of senior Evan Campbell. Plagued by injury last season, the River Hawks need Campbell to bounce back for a strong senior campaign if they hope to make noise in March. Campbell was not on the ice for the exhibition game last Sunday and his availability as the season begins is unknown.
Taking a wide look at Hockey East this season, it’s BU’s title to lose. Dave Quinn spent the off season collecting so many blue chip recruits his pokedex exploded. With the level of talent the Terriers have on their roster it would be a monumental failure if BU fails to win both the league and the cup this season. Here’s a look at Hockey East as we see it hashing out:
- Boston University
***A Country Mile***
- Notre Dame
- Boston College
Notre Dame gets the nod at number two because of Cal Petersen. There are a lot of new goaltenders this season, a few bad returning goaltenders, but only Notre Dame and Northeastern are returning proven starters, and not having an unknown commodity in goal is pretty big deal.
Northeastern is fresh off their miracle run that left a bitter taste in all Lowell fan’s mouths last March. They’re now completely Roy free, which is great news for the Huskies between the pipes but less so up front. Aside from Kevin Roy, only Mike McMurtry and Colton Saucerman stand out as significant losses for NU. If Ryan Ruck can continue to play like he did the second half of last season, we might be underselling Northeastern in the four slot.
The good news for Providence is that Jake Wallman is healthy. The bad news is that the Friars lost a staggering amount of firepower from last season. 59.2% of their points and 57.2% of their goals, to be exact. Much heralded Hayden Hawkey takes over in net for Nate Leahman’s club, and that’s a name we can get behind.
Boston College hemorrhaged defections during the off season. We think it’ll be shaky skating for Jerry York and Co. for the first half of the season, however BC never fails to figure it out by tournament time. The only question is how big of a hole will they have dug themselves by then?
Merrimack is, well, Merrimack. They’ll be neigh impossible to beat at Lawler Arena, no doubt due to some dubious dark magic, but they’ll struggle to get points on the road against even decent teams.
The Ice Bus. UConn will pick up some surprising wins, as they are wont to do, but will suffer inexplicable losses to bottom-of-the-table teams. Tage Thompson will feast on the power play, but will go up in smoke like an Amherst futon when it’s five on five. Lastly, UConn will inflate its attendance numbers with math so engineered it would make Hollywood accountants blush.
The University of New Hampshire. Yeah, we mean they’re a thing that exists. They’ll be on the bottom half of the league. Umile will wear mock turtlenecks. It is known.
Vermont. We’re thankful that we waited so long to write the season preview, if only because the latest Vermont hazing scandal just broke last night. While we applaud the Catamounts for not including the use of genitalia this time, we’re left to ponder what is it about Burlington Vermont that provokes its athletes to humiliate each other under the guise of team building? This has to be it for Kevin Sneddon, right? 14 seasons at the helm, a sub .500 winning percentage and now a hazing scandal? Woof.
Maine. Speaking of coaches that should be Googling “how do I file for unemployment benefits”, Red Gendron should have the hottest seat in the league right now. However, for reasons past our understanding, the brain trust in Orono gave Gendron a two year extension this past February. Much deserved. We would have pegged Maine for last, except..
Amherst. Where going .530 with no hardware and no NCAA bids is a huge upgrade. Amherst has hitched its emaciated horses to former St. Lawrence coach Greg Carvel in a desperate attempt to compete for 10th place in Hockey East. Fans of the Amherst program, speaking in anonymity for rightful fear of ridicule, point to Carvel’s success as a recruiter as one of the reasons for excitement. The problem at Amherst has never been about getting talent in the door. By whatever mind control experiments are practiced in the unhallowed bowels of the Mullins Center, the Minutemen have always been able to get talented kids to come to Amherst. The wheels fall off once the players get to Amherst and understand the depths of futility that they’ve signed up for. We welcome Coach Carvel to Hockey East, and look forward to another five years of Alumni Cups.