By Jim Connelly
Few Massachusetts-Lowell fans will forget the season of 2011-12. Entering with low expectations and a new head coach in Norm Bazin, many fans would’ve been satisfied just making the playoffs.
Bazin and his team, though, took things a major step further. The River Hawks finished second in Hockey East, tying the best finish in program history, and returned to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1996.
But as good as the 2011-12 season was, Bazin is realistic to the fact that 2012-13 is a new season and his club will enter with different expectations after last year’s success.
“In terms of maintaining a high standard, we’re looking for excellence on and off the ice from our guys,” Bazin said. “We’re looking to improve on a weekly basis.”
Many will question the reason there is a need for improvement. But all you have to do is remember Lowell’s quarterfinal series with Providence last year. The seventh-seeded Friars walked into Tsongas Arena and frustrated the River Hawks, keeping them from getting anywhere near their offensive net and, eventually, beating Lowell two-games-to-one to deny the River Hawks a chance to win their first-ever Lamoriello Trophy.
The signature of Bazin’s desire to improve can be seen in his recruiting. Despite losing just three seniors to graduation, Bazin brought in eight rookies this year.
Those freshmen will complement a team that features some solid offensive talent, paced by last year’s leading scorer Riley Wetmore and last year’s Hockey East rookie of the year Scott Wilson.
Goaltender Doug Carr, who surprised many by posting numbers that placed him among the nation’s leaders after struggling in the few opportunities he saw as a rookie, will again be leaned on at the start of the season. Carr, though, has a highly-touted freshman to back him up in Connor Hellebuyck, a draft pick of the NHL’s Winnipeg Jets.
“Doug had a good season with us last year,” Bazin said. “The challenge for him will be to have another good season. He’s a fantastic kid, but the proof is in the pudding as far as results. He’ll have competition. [Sophomore] Brian Robbins will have another year under his belt and Connor Hellebuyck is coming in to compete for that spot, too.
“We talked about it, [Doug] and I this summer, that at every level you’re going to get competition. Unless he plays hard he’s going to lose some minutes because of it. But every indication is that Doug knows how hard he has to compete.”
One player to watch is defenseman Dmitry Sinitsyn. Brought in last year at the break, Sinitsyn is highly thought of among scouts and was given the second half of last season to get acclimated to college life.