Lowell, Mass.-The defending Hockey East regular season and tournament champions are off to a slow start. UMass-Lowell, the preseason favorites yet again this season, is 1-3, staring at a difficult road trip to Michigan and Michigan State this weekend.
The River Hawks had much of the same team returning from their Frozen Four appearance a year ago, but two of the departed players were key losses. Senior forward Riley Wetmore was a leader and a terrific all-around player. Junior Chad Ruhwedel , a puck-moving defenseman, signed with the Buffalo Sabres organization.
UML inexplicably lost to Sacred Heart on opening night, an opponent coming off a two-win season. The next night saw Norm Bazin's team bounce back with a victory over archrival UMass-Amherst.
The River Hawks looked lackadaisical as they were swept in a home-and-home series with Quinnipiac this past weekend. Both games were 3-1 defeats, but UML didn't have the jump or energy that fans and observers are accustomed to seeing.
The rough start is certainly not what Bazin or his team was hoping for, but it is far from the end of the world. UMass-Lowell started 2-5-1 last season before going on a hot streak that lasted much of the second half.
The talent is in place to recover from a slow start. Joseph Pendenza and Scott Wilson will get the offense going. There is a stable of adequate defenders to protect two very solid goaltenders. Sophomore Connor Hellebuyck and senior Doug Carr have just mediocre numbers so far, but both have shown they are capable of being difference makers.
It might take a while for this edition of the UMass-Lowell River Hawks to form their own identity, but once they do, it will be smooth sailing at the Tsongas Arena. With so many accomplishments last season, this year's team is likely focused on peaking in April.
Fear not UMass-Lowell fans. There is no need to hit the panic button yet.
Jeff Cox covers college and junior hockey, NCAA recruiting, NHL Draft prospects and the AHL for SBNation. Follow him on twitter @JeffCoxSBNation.