Hockey East

Post-mortem on the 2015-16 UMass-Lowell River Hawks

Kevin Boyle and Michael Kapla stood strong all season for the River Hawks. (Photo Credit: Jennifer Hoffman/Along the Boards).
Post-mortem on the 2015-16 UMass-Lowell River Hawks
Nick Phelan

It was looking good for Norm Bazin and company in the East Regional after they overcame a 2-1 deficit to force overtime and defeat Yale in Saturday’s semifinals.

In Sunday night’s final, they held a 1-0 lead after the first period over the NCAA tournament’s No. 1 overall seed from Quinnipiac. Dylan Zink was able to blast a shot past dynamic Bobcats goaltender Michael Garteig early in the first period, but that would be all Garteig would allow.

Meanwhile, the Quinnipiac skaters scored four unanswered goals to shut the door on the 2015-16 UMass-Lowell River Hawks.

Poking the Bobcat

The one goal in the first period seemed to only awaken the sleeping dragon that is Quinnipiac. The Bobcats erupted in an eight-minute span in the second period. A beauty of a backhander by Sam Anas would give the favorites a lead that would stick for the balance of the night.

That second period proved the undoing of the River Hawks, as they could not overcome the three goals they allowed in that frame. Quinnipiac added another strike for good measure with 3:54 remaining in regulation.

Meeting expectations

Despite the loss, the 2015-16 season should not go down as a disappointment for the River Hawks and their fans. They managed to finish fourth in the ultracompetitive Hockey East, which was exactly where they were predicted to finish in the league’s preseason poll.

They then made a great playoff run which saw them advance to their fourth straight Hockey East final after defeating Providence in a triple-overtime semifinal thriller. Lowell ultimately lost to Northeastern in the final, but impressed enough people to earn a No. 2 seed in the regional.

Goaltender Kevin Boyle was the story all year, as he was one of the best netminders in college hockey and started all but one of 40 games this season. In those 39 games, the senior went 24-10-5 with a 1.83 goals-against average and a .934 save percentage.

Without Boyle in net in the regional semifinals, Lowell likely would have lost. His 35 saves kept the River Hawks in the game and allowed the heroics of Joe Gambradella late in the third period and then in overtime.

Looking ahead

There are plenty of bright spots for the River Hawks as they move forward into next season. Their two leading scorers in the aforementioned Gambradella and C.J. Smith both are slated to return to the team. In addition, their entire defensive corps is eligible for more college hockey, led by rising seniors Zink and Michael Kapla.

The biggest loss, though, will be in net, as Boyle is slated to graduate in May. Lowell will most likely turn to Christoffer Hernberg, who only has one game of college hockey experience heading into next season.

The veteran defensive corps will be a big help for any young netminder who steps in. But Boyle was a huge part of the River Hawks’ success this season and will be incredibly difficult to replace.

On top of that they lose forward depth with the graduations of Adam Chapie and A.J. White. Their 35 and 25 total points, respectively, from this season will be difficult to replace, even with the return of Gambradella and Smith up front.

With the departure of Boyle and some key offensive depth, it will be difficult for UMass-Lowell to get back to the NCAA tournament, let alone a regional final. However, the returning veterans on the blue line could be a huge boon as the River Hawks look to surprise some teams next season.

Hockey East
Nick Phelan

Nick is the AD of Institutional Research at The College of Saint Rose and an RIT alum. He covers Atlantic Hockey for Along the Boards. Phelan joined the staff in August 2014.

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