Patriots

Hockey: UMass-Lowell regains its bearings

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Hockey: UMass-Lowell regains its bearings

By Mary Paoletti
CSNNE.com

In less than a week, the 2010 Beanpot will overtake Boston's college hockey scene. The stage at the TD Garden will be set for a sold-out show featuring highly anticipated faceoffs between BU, BC, Harvard, and Northeastern.

But there's another team in Massachusetts that, while outside the bright lights of the big city, has found itself under the spotlight on the national scene.

UMass-Lowell.

The No. 16 River Hawks (14-9-2) still sit comfortably after a thirteen-spot drop from their best standing this season. Early on it appeared that the momentum built from UML's run at the Hockey East title last year was going to carry on into 2009-10. They ripped through the first two months of their schedule, defeating 9 of their first 12 opponents, including Colgate, defending national champion Boston University, and current Hockey East leader New Hampshire.

It was as strong a start as coach Blaise MacDonald could have asked for.

"I think this is a good year for us,'' he said. "We do have the physical and mental makeup to be a championship type of team. I think our work habits and talent are of that level. You need to mix in some consistency and some good fortune."

Macdonald's has plenty to work with.

Centers Scott Campbell and David Vallorani, as well as left wing Kory Falite, have led the way for UML's offensive attack. Campbell has played shifts in every single contest this season. His ice time was particularly pleasing to MacDonald in the early going, as he put together an impressive five-game scoring streak (2G, 6A) that spanned two weeks in November. Falite has stepped up as Campbell cooled off. The senior's 23 points (13g, 10a) has already eclipsed last years total of 22 and the winger still has 11 games left to play. Those who might have feared a sophomore slump from Vallorani were heartened by his hat trick against UMass on Dec. 5.

But for all the talent, this squad is not built around superstars. The flashiest feature of UMass-Lowell hockey is probably the state-of-the-art Tsongas Arena. Unlike Beanpot-bound BU and BC, whose rosters have a combined 24 NHL draftees, the River Hawks are a gritty team comprised of interchangeable parts. Nowhere is this better evidenced than in net. UML splits goalie time between seniors Carter Hutton and Nevin Hamilton almost evenly.

"They played well and they're both talented, so they both deserved to play,'' MacDonald has said. "They are both highly respected by their teammates.''

Hutton (8-6-0) and Hamilton (6-3-2) anchor an already formidable defense. Not only do the River Hawks allow the fewest goals by periods (15-19-21-1), they also have the top-rated scoring defense (2.40) in the conference. At one point during the season, senior defenseman Nick Schaus 16 points made him the first blue liner to lead UML in scoring since the program entered the Division One ranks.

Unfortunately, consistency has been hard to come by in the contender-heavy Hockey East.

UML followed its hot streak with a three game stumble against conference foes Providence, Maine, and New Hampshire. Though they rebounded with the win over UMass, the River Hawks haven't been able to string together more than two wins at a time. It seems like part of the problem in each loss is inefficiency on the power play. Another issue has surfaced in the final periods of games, where UML has rested on leads, laying back on a cushion only to see it slip out from under them. Third period penalties havent helped either.

The good news? MacDonald believes his team can adjust.

A four-point gain in conference play last weekend showed that the River Hawks are already working out some kinks. On Friday, UML put a 5-4 victory against Merrimack in the books. Saturdays win, however, had a different feel.

The opponent was No. 14 Boston College. Tsongas Arena held 5,711 fans that night and the excitement was palpable.

Team psychologist Jim Graves beamed as he scanned the crowd. "The atmosphere here is great," he said, "and each year its getting better.

Tension spiked in the third period with the score tied 1-1. When Paul Worthington lit the lamp at 12:57 to put the River Hawks up a goal, Tsongas absolutely erupted.

It was a stark contrast to Blaise MacDonalds postgame.

His squad had just beaten the highest nationally ranked Hockey East team but MacDonald hardly seemed fired up -- at least at first glance.

But there was a fire in his eyes.

"I think we did what good teams do. We find a way to win those games, he said. "It's a tangible experience with a lot on the line. You play a team like Boston College at home here . . . and it's a big game. It was hard fought and we got it done.

If the UMass-Lowell can carry that momentum into tonights match up versus Northeastern (6-10-1), it could net a three-game win streak for the first time since November.

"Its one day at a time, one game at a time, MacDonald said. "I feel good about our team."

Julio Jones presents Johnson Bademosi opportunity to prove he's not niche player

Julio Jones presents Johnson Bademosi opportunity to prove he's not niche player

None of us thought Johnson Bademosi would be starting this past Sunday at MetLife Stadium against the Jets because -- well -- that’s not what we perceive the 27-year-old to be. He’s a special teamer. It’s how he’s made his mark in the NFL dating back to 2012 with Cleveland. So why would that change in mid-October for a team he’s only been with for six weeks? Because Bademosi is -- and has always been -- intent on proving he’s more than a niche player.

“I see myself as a football player,” he said, “and whatever position they put me in, I’m going to try to be the best because that’s how I operate and who I am as a person. Whether that’s as a cornerback, on special teams, if they ask me to play wildcat quarterback. Whatever…”

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Bill Belichick and his staff asked for Bademosi to go on the field and not come off. He played 73 defensive snaps in addition to his usual core four special teams duties. 

“I felt like I played a whole game,” Bademosi joked, before saying, “I love playing football so I’m going to go out there and empty myself.”

He did just that, getting targeted only two times in the 24-17 win over the Jets. It was hoped that Bademosi would return to his normal specialist role, but with Stephon Gilmore still out with a concussion, it now seems more and more likely that the sixth year pro will have to be an ironman again Sunday night in primetime against the Falcons. Historically, the Pats have defended bigger receivers. That means Bademosi may be responsible for one of the most dangerous players in the league, Julio Jones.

“He’s an amazing player," he said. “We all know what he’s capable of. As a defense, we have to be prepared for him.”

The Pats were on Super Bowl Sunday and Jones still made a couple of ridiculous plays with either Logan Ryan or Eric Rowe in coverage with safety help over the top.

“He’s fast. He’s physical. He can jump. He can run. He’s smart. He’s everything you want in a wide receiver,” said Bademosi without blinking an eye. That’s the kind of confidence you want from a player at that position and facing this type of challenge. 

“You gotta believe in yourself,” he said “ I’m confident in my abilities. I work hard and trust my preparation.”

Being an elite athlete certainly helps. Bademosi was a scholarship football player at Stanford -- “some guy named Jim Harbaugh called” -- before ending up in the NFL. But it’s Bademosi’s willingness to go all in in the film room that impressed safety Devin McCourty. 

“…I think, honestly, the most work he did was probably with just himself jumping into the film, watching more stuff to exactly see,” said McCourty Thursday. “You know, when you’re a backup more, you’re kind of trying to see everything because you don’t know what role you might be thrust upon once you’re in the game. But, I think once he knew he was starting, it was kind of like, ‘Alright, let me focus in on this.’ I thought he did an awesome job of just being ready and competing.”

Bademosi will have to compete his ass off Sunday night, even against what has been to this point a physically compromised Jones. Based on what he did several days ago, there’s no reason to believe the Pats cornerback won’t bring everything he has, trying to prove again that he’s more than just a special teams whiz.

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Kenny Agostino looking forward to 'the right opportunity' with the Bruins

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Kenny Agostino looking forward to 'the right opportunity' with the Bruins

BRIGHTON, Mass – It’s been a few different stints with a few different NHL teams for 25-year-old Kenny Agostino, so he knows the drill at this point in his pro hockey career. The Bruins signed Agostino as a free agent on July 1 after he led the AHL in scoring last season, and they gave him a one-way contract as a show of proof that he’d get his chances at the NHL level.

It didn’t happen immediately out of camp as Agostino was felled by a concussion for part of the preseason, but he’ll get his chance now with injuries and ineffectiveness creating an opening for him on the Black and Gold. Agostino should get a look as the left winger on the third line after lighting it up in Providence with two goals and seven points in his first three games with the P-Bruins, and he’s looking forward to seizing another chance at the NHL level after stints with the Flames and Blues. 

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“I’ve been doing this a few years and I like to think I’ve developed my game outside of my offensive ability,” said the 6-foot-1, 200-pound Agostino, who had 24 goals and 83 points for the Chicago Wolves last season. “That’s kind of been my goal to become more of a complete player. I’m excited and looking forward to another opportunity and just want to make the most of it. I’m not looking past tonight.

“I was fortunate as a college guy to get my first pro experience at the NHL level in Calgary, but then you understand how difficult it is to establish yourself. You need a lot of different things. You need the right opportunity and you need to do well with it, so it makes you appreciate how great of an opportunity it is anytime you get to play in this league.”

Certainly, the Bruins are anxious to get a look at Agostino, and probably Peter Cehlarik at some point soon, and the lack of production from some of the NHL incumbents have fast-forwarded that process a little bit. Agostino will replace Ryan Spooner along the half-wall on the first power play unit, and perhaps he can add the kind of scoring touch in the bottom-6 that Matt Beleskey and Frank Vatrano haven’t been able to thus far.

“We know Kenny is going to start in Spooner’s power play spot, he’s done it before and he’s had some success at the lower levels when given that opportunity. Obviously he’ll play left behind [Brad] Marchand and [Jake] DeBrusk, probably on the third line spot,” said Cassidy. “He’s played with [Riley] Nash yesterday [at practice] so there’s a good chance he’ll play with him today.”

The Bruins certainly need a spark after limping out to a 2-3-0 start to the season in the first five games, so perhaps a hungry Agostino can do that while being given a legit chance to show what he can do by the Black and Gold.