Season Preview: UMass Lowell River Hawks

Image result for umass lowell hockey

Photo courtesy of the University of Massachusetts Lowell,

2015-2016 Results

Overall: 25-10-5

Hockey East: 12-6-4

Playoffs: Lost to Northeastern in the Hockey East Championship, lost to Quinnipiac in the NCAA East Regional Final

The fifth season of Norm Bazin’s tenure was more of the same for the UMass Lowell River Hawks. The impressive run continued as Lowell posted its fifth twenty-win season under Bazin and grabbed its fourth NCAA berth. The River Hawks started strong (10-1-4, including the inaugural Friendship Four championship in Belfast), dealt with a brief hiccup of a sweep at the hands of Connecticut, and then rebounded to finish 11-5-1. They made a run at the hardware in March, but ultimately came up just shy of a Hockey East Championship and a Frozen Four appearance. Despite these disappointing results, there are a lot of eye-popping numbers. The River Hawks were 12-6-4 in conference and 13-4-1 out of conference. They were 14-2-3 at home and 11-8-1 elsewhere. Most impressive, though, is that six of the team’s ten losses were by just one goal. They also suffered three 2-goal losses, two of which were one-goal games until the closing minutes. They did not lose a game by three goals or more until Quinnipiac handled them 4-1 in the NCAAs. Over the course of a 40 game season, you could realistically point to just one or two of those games and claim that the River Hawks were outplayed.  This wasn’t just one of the best teams in the nation; this was one of the most consistent teams in the nation.

Since Bazin arrived in Lowell, the River Hawks have been known for a possession-focused, shot-suppressing style that has made them an elite program. The team posted another top CF% this season, at 52.8% overall, good for 15th in the nation. Lowell was terrific defensively, allowing 1.88 goals per game, 2nd in the conference only to Providence. They also featured an extremely disciplined crew (8.3 penalty minutes per game overall, best in the conference) and an excellent penalty kill (84.9%, 3rd in the conference). The offense, however, left something to be desired, scoring only 3.02 goals per game (7th in Hockey East) and converting on just 19.1% of power play chances (8th best in Hockey East).

While Lowell was a strong team overall last year, it was Kevin Boyle that made them a real threat for trophies. The Minuteman netminder turned River Hawk transfer left it all on the ice in his final college season, winning Warrior Hockey East Co-Player of the Year with Boston College goaltender Thatcher Demko. Boyle posted a 1.83 GAA and a .934 save percentage over the course of the year, including an absolutely bonkers 1.62 GAA and a .941 save percentage in conference play.

Boyle may be gone this coming season, but Lowell returns a remarkable amount of talent. The River Hawks lose just two of their top nine scorers from a year ago (Adam Chapie at 16-19-35 and AJ White at 11-14-25). They are plugging an impressive 66% of their 121 goals and 71.% of their 336 points right back into the lineup. Leading the way is junior forward CJ Smith, who tied for tenth in Hockey East in scoring after posting 39 points with 17 goals last season. Joe Gambardella also returns after a junior season where he put up 37 points and 27 assists (fourth in Hockey East in assists). Sophomore Nick Master is a promising breakout candidate after a 24-point rookie campaign. Overall, Bazin’s squad returns eleven players who put up 1o points or more last year.

As with any Lowell team, the defense will drive the team’s success. That will especially be the case this year. The team returns its entire defensemen corps  from last season. This group includes senior Dylan Zink, who has proven himself to be a dynamic two-way threat with an impressive slap shot (11 goals, 24 points). It also includes Michael Kapla, the senior captain who chipped in 16 assists (and 20 points) last season. With high assist and point totals and a relative lack of size (just one player above 6’1″ and just one player above 200 pounds), this returning group of defensemen clearly emphasizes puck movement, possession, and transition play over physicality.

Lowell’s incoming class is an excellent one, adding talent at every position and addressing the club’s biggest need (goaltending). Tyler Wall may be exactly what the team is missing. The true freshman will bring a big body to the Lowell net at 6′ 3″ and 215 pounds. He posted a measly 1.49 GAA and a .940 save percentage in 31 games with the Leamington Fylers of the Greater Ontario Junior Hockey League (GOJHL) and was drafted in the 6th round by the New York Rangers this past summer. He will compete for ice time with sophomore Sean Cleary and fellow freshman Garrett Metcalf. Metcalf also brings size to the goaltending crew, standing at 6′ 4″ and 190 pounds. Despite being drafted by the Anaheim Ducks in the 6th round of the 2015 NHL draft, Metcalf posted less than stellar numbers in the USHL last season: a 3.19 GAA and a .907 save percentage in 27 games with the Madison Capitals and a 3.26 GAA with a .883 save percentage in 9 games with the Waterloo Black Hawks. Wall should have the edge here early on.

Offensively, the big addition for Lowell this year is Ryan Lohin, a 6′ 1″, 190 pound, seventh round draft pick of the Tampa Bay Lightning this past summer. Lohin scored 23 goals (57 points) in 62 USHL games last season, split between Madison Capitals and Waterloo Black Hawks. He’s been described as a two-way center with good offensive skills, specifically in the passing department. He should be in the starting lineup on day one.

Finally, Lowell welcomes the Swedish Mattias Göransson to campus. Göransson will add a bit of size to the blue line for the River Hawks (6′ 3″, 205 pounds), but also managed to put up 34 assists (41 points total) in 58 games for the Tri-City Storm of the USHL last season. The two-way defenseman has drawn comparisons to former River Hawk blueliner Christian Folin and should be expected to grab playing time right away, even with the loaded Lowell defense.

The River Hawks round out their incoming class with forwards Kenny Hausinger, Colin O’Neill, Nick Marin, Guillaume Leclerc, and former Northeastern commit James Winkler. They also add a Massachusetts transfer, forward Keith Burchett.

Lowell returns an impressive amount of scoring and as well as its entire blue line. The River Hawks augment this already stellar club with impressive talent on both ends (Lohin and Goransson in particular). Goaltending is a question mark, but with Wall, Metcalf, and one of the best coaches in the country in Norm Bazin, Lowell finds itself in an excellent spot. This team will once again win 20 games, finish in the top four of the conference, make the national tournament, and threaten for every major trophy.