University of Massachusetts-Lowell season preview

By DJ Powers

The University of Massachusetts-Lowell River Hawks will open their 2005-06 regular season on October 7th when they travel to Starr Rink to face off against host Colgate.

Lowell returns much of last year’s team intact, but they suffered the biggest loss to their lineup in the offseason when leading scorer Ben Walter opted to forego his final year of eligibility to sign with the Boston Bruins. Replacing Walter’s offensive production will be one issue that Lowell will have to contend with this season.

The River Hawks offense was its greatest strength last season and it certainly looks to be again this season, despite the losses of Ben Walter and Chris Fontas. Lowell finished the 2004-05 season with the ninth-ranked offense in the nation that averaged 3.33 goals per game. A trio of superb seniors in Elias Godoy, Andrew Martin and Bobby Robins lead an excellent returning group of forwards. Godoy is the top returning scorer. His tremendous playmaking ability has made him one of the best players coming out of Hockey East. He enjoyed an outstanding junior campaign that earned him an honorable mention to the Hockey East All-Conference team. Godoy finished with 39 points (12 goals, 27 assists). His 27 assists led the team.

The speedy Martin continues to make significant strides in his development as a player and his offensive contributions have been invaluable to the River Hawks. Martin finished last season third on the team in scoring with 32 points (12 goals, 20 assists). This season, Lowell will be relying on even more of his offensive production. Robins, who brings some size and toughness to the team, provided all of that much more last season to the benefit of the River Hawks. He finished the year with 18 points (nine goals, nine assists) in 34 appearances. He led the team with 86 penalty minutes and was second in plus/minus (+13).

One attribute that made the Lowell team offense work so well last season, was the unique qualities that each forward line contributed.

“What we try to do is put pairs of players together that work very well together then add another player to that line that will add another dimension to that line,” said head coach Blaise MacDonald in an offseason interview with Hockey’s Future. “For example, Bobby Robins is a powerful, physical player that is able to create some space out on the ice for players such as Jeremy Hall and Jason) Tejchma. We try to create a unique dimension on each line but we ultimately start with a pair of players that work well together first.“

In addition to all of their returning players, the River Hawks will have three new additions to their forwards in Michael Potacco, Nick Monroe and Mark Roebothan. Potacco is comes to Lowell from St. Michael’s (OPJHL), where he amassed 72 points (38 goals, 34 points) in 49 appearances last season. Potacco, an offensively gifted winger noted for his play around the net, saw some playing time alongside Michigan recruit Andrew Cogliano (EDM) last season. The speedy Monroe comes to Lowell from the New England Junior Huskies (EJHL), where he amassed 41 points (18 goals, 23 assists) in 49 games. Roebothan was a late addition to this season’s incoming freshman class. He was originally scheduled to play with Nanaimo (BCHL) before arriving in Lowell next fall. He arrives this season due to Walter’s departure. Roebothan is noted for his offensive prowess and ability to score timely goals. The St. John’s, Newfoundland native comes to Lowell from the Valley Junior Warriors (EJHL), where he had 72 points (37 goals, 38 assists) last season.

As much as the Lowell offense brings to the team, the one area where MacDonald would like to see more from his forwards is the physical side of the game.

“I’d like to see a little more of a stronger physical dimension from them on the forecheck, such as finishing checks, playing through people and sending the message to the opposition that if you’re going to make a play against us, then you’re going to have to pay a price.”

One of the keys to Lowell’s success last season was the sensational goaltending of Peter Vetri. Vetri, who will be a sophomore this season, backstopped the River Hawks to a torrid 11-0-3 record back in midseason. His stellar freshman performance culminated with the Hockey East Rookie of the Year honor. Vetri finished his rookie campaign with a 13-7-3 record that included two shutouts. His .630 winning percentage ranked 19th in the nation. While Lowell returns Vetri as the starter between the River Hawks pipes, they lost Chris Davidson and John Yaros. Davidson graduated and Yaros left the team. The River Hawks brings in goaltender Vinnie Monaco this season. Monaco comes to Lowell from the New England Junior Huskies (EJHL).

The River Hawks defensive corps returns nearly intact. The lone defenseman that Lowell lost this offseason was Peter Tormey, who graduated. The River Hawks defense will be led by two outstanding defensemen in junior Cleve Kinley and senior Kim Brandvold. Kinley, who has become one of the best two-way defensemen coming out of Hockey East, led all River Hawks defensemen in scoring last season with 29 points (8 goals, 21 assists). The reliable Brandvold has become a stabilizing presence on the River Hawks blue line. The Oslo, Norway native saw action in 28 games last season, posting seven points (one goal, six assists). He also led Lowell in plus/minus (+14). The lone new addition to the River Hawks blue line is Colgate transfer JR Bria. Bria, who comes in as a junior, is a defensive defenseman who brings some fiery intensity to his game.

The Lowell blue line also looks to be very solid this season. However, head coach Blaise MacDonald wants his defensive corps to be much better this season.

“We must improve all areas of our defense, such as puck skills. We’d like to have our defensemen be able to break out of pressure. I’d also like for our defensemen to be able to defend against the rush and playing down low. We just need all of our defensemen to improve. Other than I think we’re in very good shape. We have speed, toughness and skill. But we need to have our defensemen take another step,” said MacDonald. “We are going to strongly demand that all of our defensemen push the offensive side of the puck. We were very young on defense last season, and I think that contributed to the defensemen’s reluctance to get involved offensively.”

(Number of NHL prospects on 2005-06 roster: 0)

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