Last year’s woulda-coulda-shoulda season (if only the three French players hadn’t left for the Olympics… if only the NCAA selection criteria had eliminated the “last 16 games” category one year earlier… if only there had been a 16-team tournament) gives way to a new season. In this one, however, the 11 River Hawks who’d been in their final year of eligibility have been replaced by a league-high 14 freshmen. (Only sister school UMass-Amherst matches that number of recruits.)
Without question, the most important new faces are between the pipes. Chris Davidson returns from a year in juniors for his sophomore season and is joined by freshmen Paul Mammola and Dominic Smart. However talented the trio may (or may not) be, they still have the sum total of zero minutes in college hockey game experience.
“If you talk to any coach with three virtually new goaltenders, that’s a significant unknown and a concern,” says coach Blaise MacDonald. “But what I like is that with all three of them you don’t have to worry about their work ethic, their preparation, their focus and determination. So we’ll just have to see how it runs its course in terms of ability to stop the puck when it counts. But Chris Davidson is clearly the number one goalie right now.”
On the blue line, the River Hawks must replace Chris Gustafson and Josh Allison, but still return a lot of depth and have added four freshmen.
“We have five guys back from last year so that’s pretty good in terms of experience,” says MacDonald. “Baptiste Amar is in very good condition along with Jerramie Domish. I expect both of them to really be able to make an impact. Darryl Green has put on weight and dropped body fat, which is a good thing. He’s gotten stronger. He looks great. Josh Reed is very steady and he’s probably going to have his best season this year. Peter Tormey was in and out a little bit, but he’s going to be in there battling as well.
“Of the freshmen, Matt Collar may be slightly ahead of the rest, but it’s very, very close. They all look good. We have nine defensemen that can all play.”
Up front, the clear leader is Ed McGrane (22-15–37), who finally earned the recognition he deserves last year, earning a berth on the All-Hockey East second team. He tied BC’s Tony Voce with a league-leading five shorthanded goals.
MacDonald has to hope that he can replace the losses of Yorick Treille and Laurent Meunier more smoothly than when the two left last year with Amar for the Olympics. The River Hawks struggled in their absence; the maturation of returning players and eight newcomers will need to fill the void the two left behind.
“I think we’ll see everybody make a five-to-ten percent increase in their production,” says MacDonald. “Guys like Steve Slonina will really put up some good numbers. I think Anders Strome will build on what he did last year (14-9–23). I look for Niklas Storm to put up some good numbers.
“The obvious is Eddie McGrane. He’s clearly the go-to guy.
“[As for the freshmen], Andrew Martin and Ben Walter clearly can play. They’ll be very good players this year and in the future.”
The River Hawks will be hard-pressed to reprise last year’s performance, but will be an interesting squad to watch. MacDonald’s teams at Niagara emphasized speed and skill and, in his first full recruiting class, he appears to have emphasized those factors over size, which has been a Lowell trait in recent years.
“Obviously, we’re not as strong because we have 14 freshmen,” he says. “But in terms of our conditioning, we’re really in peak shape. We’re a much quicker team than we were last year and I think our skill level is better. There’s much more competition. Right now we have five lines and eight or nine defensemen who can absolutely play.
“We want to utilize our assets and decoy our liabilities, so we’re going to employ and implement systems that allow us to pressure pucks and use our speed and quickness and really try to get after it. We’ll take some calculated risks along the way, knowing that it will make us a better team come January, February and March.”