What a difference a year makes. Instead of emerging from an offseason that threatened the existence of the program and decimated the depth to the point where games with no healthy scratches became the norm, Massachusetts-Lowell opens this season healthy in all respects and with a legitimate shot at playoff home ice. Virtually the entire roster returns, bolstered by some freshmen who could help get the River Hawks over the hump.
“Everybody knows where we want to go and what it’s going to take to get there,” coach Blaise MacDonald says. “There were no moral victories last year. We weren’t happy just pushing BU to a third game in the playoffs. Our guys were PO-ed when we lost and we’re using that as motivation this year.”
Up front, Kory Falite, an All-Hockey East selection, led the River Hawks with 18 goals and 32 points. Ben Holmstrom, Mark Roebothan and Mike Potacco also topped 20 points. Two sophomores could be ready for breakout years: Scott Campbell, who scored 18 points, and Paul Worthington, who missed most of last season with a concussion before coming back to score three goals and four assists in the final 11 games.
Matt Ferreira was expected to be last year’s top recruit until he was diagnosed with a brain tumor. He has recovered, reportedly looks great, and could be the feel-good story of this campaign.
“We’re going to roll out 12 forwards every night that can be productive offensively,” MacDonald says. “We’re going to have to have a collective effort. We don’t have any Tony Hrkacs that are going to score a million goals. It will be a shared responsibility and I think we have a lot of guys up to the challenge.
“I think we can also get more productivity out of our defensemen and we have done that each and every year.”
MacDonald is a proponent of defensemen who don’t treat the puck like a hot potato and has recruited accordingly. He now has a blueline corps that arguably ranks as the team’s strongest position. Maury Edwards earned a berth on last year’s Hockey East All-Rookie team and if Barry Goers and Jeremy Dehner played for one of the perennial powers, they’d attract league-wide attention.
“They’re the straw that stirs the drink, without question,” MacDonald says. “Those guys are point producers. They can push the puck up ice, transition it well, and compete very well defensively.”
Nick Schaus and 6-4, 210-pound Ryan Blair round out the returning defensive nucleus along with Steve Capraro, who had a strong freshman season but missed most of last year to injury.
Carter Hutton and Nevin Hamilton have provided very good goaltending but now as juniors will be expected to raise that performance to the next level.
“I think our goaltending is going to be the best it’s been since my first year at Lowell,” MacDonald says. “Is that going to be good enough in this league? I don’t know. Everybody’s really darn good.
“If we can increase our save percentage by two percent, get up to 92.8, that’s going to be the difference in six or seven games for us winning. I think we have the capability to do it.”