The ending for the 2008-09 season for the Massachusetts-Lowell River Hawks was, to say the least, bittersweet.
After advancing to the Hockey East Championship game for the first time since 1994 and only the second time in school history, Blaise MacDonald’s club dropped a heartbreaking — if not controversial — 1-0 decision to the ultimate national champion, Boston University.
For those of you who may not remember, we’ll refresh your memory. Lowell trailed Northeastern in the final minute of play in the semifinals only to score a 6-on-4 extra attacker goal when the Huskies were whistled for too many men on the ice. Lowell scored the eventual overtime winner to set up the date with BU.
In the title tilt, the Terriers held a 1-0 lead but it appeared the River Hawks evened the game. There was no goal signal on the ice from either referee and they decided to use instant replay to see if the puck entered the net before the whistle had blown.
Long story short, the instant replay officials didn’t have audio to listen to and decided to make an educated guess on when the whistle blew. Their guess was wrong. And the River Hawks have lamented that since the day.
That’s the bad news.
The good news is the bad news is the past. The better news is that Lowell returns possibly the most talented team in the county having lost just three role players to graduation.
All of the team’s top seven scorers are back, led by junior Scott Campbell up front, defenseman Maury Edwards on the blue line and an impressive tandem of Carter Hutton and Nevin Hamilton in net.
“We’re more excited [this season] that most,” said MacDonald. “Bringing back a large group of players, you can really do a lot of planning and get your arms around your team when you have a lot of veterans coming back. We certainly have good quality and quantity of experience back in all positions.”
The River Hawks were picked second in the preseason coaches’ poll, the highest ever in Hockey East’s 26-year history. Should the prognosticators be correct, it would be only the fourth time in school history and first time since 1996 that Lowell has finished second. The River Hawks have never won a regular-season or postseason title.
With the high ranking, though, comes expectations. And possibly the biggest test for the River Hawks will be living up to expectations. Lowell was once the hunter, underdogs in most key matchups against perennial league powers. Now as the favorites, the River Hawks become the hunted, targets squarely on their collective backs.
MacDonald, though, underplays the role reversal.
“For our team and for college athletes in this league, I don’t think there’s one team that doesn’t set greater expectations on themselves individually as a team than anyone outside of the team could ever set,” said MacDonald. “It’s not like all of a sudden you have a target on your back because teams would take you lightly in the past.”
Coachspeak? Possibly. Make that likely. But at this point MacDonald and his team are well aware of what it takes to be a champion. Heck, they were a controversial non-goal, a bounce of the puck, whatever you want to call it, away a year ago and that’s something this club must plan to build upon.
“We had really good experiences that were tangible, that you can draw upon,” said MacDonald. “That gives you a sense of certainty as you move forward.”