UMass-Lowell missed the NCAA tournament last season for the first time in four years. The River Hawks came close, however, reaching the Hockey East championship game only to fall short of a third straight league title, one which would have kept their season going.
All of which begs the question, can the River Hawks pick their play up just the tiniest notch to once again be league champs and a significant player in the national tournament?
“We expect to be one of the top teams in Hockey East,” coach Norm Bazin said. “We expect to be in that select four that compete for [and secure] home ice.
“But there are 12 teams in Hockey East and the difference between the top and bottom is so minuscule that I don’t make predictions. I just want us to play to our standard, which is an aggressive puck-working style.”
A look at the talent that Lowell brings back points to a team that can challenge for titles both on the league and national stages.
Only three players were lost to graduation, and while two of them were blue-line stalwarts Zack Kamrass and Jake Suter, that’s far less attrition than that of most, if not every, other Hockey East team.
“From one year to the next, you’re never quite sure how the chemistry develops,” Bazin said. “So you have to wait and see how it does develop. These guys have to keep progressing with their game and keep improving, so we’ll wait and see what that brings.”
21-12-6, 11-7-4 (fourth) in Hockey East. Lost to Boston University in the Hockey East championship.
Names to know
C.J. Smith led the scoring as a freshman, but seven returning players topped 20 points and another seven broke double digits. So depth should be a major strength.
1. Can goaltender Kevin Boyle backstop the Hawks to the promised land? He doesn’t have to be (and can’t be) Connor Hellebuyck, but Boyle had some struggles down the stretch and needs to take his game to the next level.
2. With the top six scorers returning, including defensemen Dylan Zink and Michael Kapla, can the River Hawks power play go from good to great?
3. Will the “whole is greater than the sum of its parts” model of team chemistry once again make Lowell among the toughest opponents night in and night out?
Jim Connelly (second place): The River Hawks return the most offense in the nation and are adding some talented freshmen. The one question you might have is goaltending, but senior Boyle should be motivated to go out on top.
David H. Hendrickson (third place): Lowell will challenge for another Hockey East regular season crown, reach the title game in the league tournament and have a realistic shot at the Frozen Four.