Preseason Top 16: #8 UMass-Lowell
*quick note: if you read nothing else in this preview please read the season prediction paragraphs. Thanks.
UMass-Lowell completed one of the most surprising single season turnarounds in college hockey history, going from finishing last in Hockey East with just 10 points in 2011 to finishing 2nd with 35 points last season.
It was the best of times….
Lowell made a surprising run to the NCAA tournament, but the seeds were laid early as they began the Hockey East season 7-3, rattling off five wins in a row including a sweep over New Hampshire and a win over eventual national champion Boston College
It was the worst of times…
Lowell didn't have any extended losing streaks, so it has to be their season ending loss to Union. Lowell didn't get into the game until there were 15 minutes left, but they couldn't find a tying goal and their season ended one game short of the Frozen Four.
The Coach - Norm Bazin (UMass-Lowell '94)
This will be Bazin's second year as Lowell's head coach, and he already has a record, leading the school to the biggest first year turnaround in college hockey history. Previously Bazin played four years at the school, then served as an assistant coach before a stint as an assistant at Colorado College and as the head coach at Hamilton College.
Notable Current NHL Alumni
Players to watch
It starts in net, as goalie Doug Carr saw his save percentage improve roughly 30 points from his Freshman year to his Sophomore year, posting a .928 mark last year. As is so often the case the real Carr is probably somewhere in the middle, but there is no doubt he has a lot of talent and can be one of the best in the country.
Up front the star is Scott Wilson, who scored 16 goals, 12 of them in Hockey East play to rank tied for 8th in the league. He also led all Hockey East rookies in goals per game and points per game. The Ontario native was a 7th round pick in the 2011 NHL Draft and it already looks like the Penguins may have gotten a steal.
Lowell returns more than just Wilson though: 12 of their top 15 scorers from last season are back on campus, and though Wilson is their biggest talent, he led them in neither goals nor assists last year. Riley Wetmore had 39 points (though in one more game than Wilson), and ranked tied for 8th in Hockey East in points per game. Sophomore Derek Arnold had 17 goals, 14 of them in league play, and ranked fourth in the league in that category. It is weird to say that a team with 7 double digit goal scorers didn't have much depth, but that was basically it for Lowell last season, and they ended up fourth in the league in scoring, so with two of those double digit scorers gone some players will definitely have to step up up front.
There are a lot of forwards coming in next season for Lowell, and they have heavily recruited both the USHL and NAHL. AJ White, leading scorer from the Michigan Warriors (NAHL), will be one of those players expected to contribute up front immediately. He will be 21 during his Freshman season, so he physically should be able to handle college hockey.
Probably the biggest name recruit is Michael Fallon. Fallon led the Chicago Steel (USHL) with 48 points last year, 22 of those coming on the power play.
There aren't many defensemen to replace, but 6'3", 210 lb Swede Christian Folin showed off both good size (obviously) but also some offensive skill, with 41 points in 87 games for Austin (NAHL).
Though I don't expect him to play much with Carr in net, Lowell brought in a goalie for depth as well. Connor Hellebuyck was a 5th round pick of the Winnipeg Jets in the 2012 Draft and the NAHL's co goalie of the year with a .930 save percentage for Odessa.
Non conference series to watch:
Going to cheat a bit here because it's not against just one team, but Lowell's first full weekend of hockey will be October 19th and 20th in Colorado where they will play both Denver and Colorado College. Denver figures to be fighting for a top 4 spot in the WCHA whereas I expect CC to be in the hunt for home ice in the playoffs, but that travel combined with the altitude combined with the quality of opponent will be a good test for Lowell.
For this section I am going to turn it into Yahoo! writer, internet superstar, and Lowell fan Ryan Lambert, better known as @twolinepass on twitter. Before he gives you his thoughts though, let me take a second to highlight some great work he's doing: he's blogging all sorts of blogging over at his old stomping grounds, The Two Line Pass, and is writing in an effort to raise money for 826 Boston, a writing and tutoring center for area children. If you would like to (and you would like to), you can donate to the great cause here. As for the prediction:
"Honestly, I know this team is going to be good again this year but just how good is a little hard to guess. Goaltending and offense should be just as good as they were last year, and Bazin has said the defense is deeper and more versatile on paper than it was last year.
The goal, I think, should be to replicate the win total of last season, and maybe not blow so many winnable games; Lowell lost to UConn, Vermont, Northeastern and Providence (3x) last season, which a team that almost made the Frozen Four shouldn't do. It's probably unreasonable to expect to win the season series against Maine, BU and UNH again this year, and so it probably all comes out in the wash."