UML Green on the Blue Line, but Blackmun, Classmates Thriving

February 28, 2019
UML freshman defenseman Seth Barton battles RIT's Jake Hamacher during the season-opening weekend. Barton is one of six freshmen defensemen who have played this season. SUN/JULIA MALAKIE Sun staff photos can be ordered by visiting our SmugMug site.

LOWELL -- Norm Bazin admits it’s not an ideal situation.

“You never want to have that many freshmen defensemen,” the UML hockey coach said, referring to the fact that six of his 10 blue-liners are in their first year of college.

UML hockey notes

After some early bumps in the road, however, the rookie defensemen are shining, helping the River Hawks go 10-2-2 in their last 14 games and into a national ranking at 14th.

Seth Barton has played in 28 of 31 games, while Jon McDonald (27 games) and Chase Blackmun (26 games) have also been regulars. Nolan Sawchuk (17 games) has been a constant in the lineup since healing from double hip surgery.

Dominick Procopio (8) and Cale List (3), who played Saturday vs. Merrimack, have also contributed.

Blackmun, a native of Hudson, Wisc., has been terrific. He was named the Hockey East Rookie of the Week after scoring two goals and two assists against Merrimack last weekend.

“I think he has a tremendous upside,” said Bazin, who has compared Blackmun to two-time UML captain Michael Kapla, who also hails from Wisconsin. “He has the potential to be a number one power play guy. He’s improving, but he has a lot of work to do. We took him as an offensive guy down the line.”

Blackmun has scored 10 points (3 goals, 7 assists) in his last nine games.

As a group, the six have contributed eight goals and 24 assists. McDonald (2-7-9) and Barton (2-6-8) have also shined down the stretch.

In all, UML has 13 freshmen on its roster, the most of any Division 1 program in the nation. Only goaltender Eric Green has yet to see game action.

Bazin credits senior Avni Berisha, junior Mattias Goransson and sophomore Anthony Baxter with mentoring UML’s rookie defensemen.

“As a ‘D’ corp, we’ve been really solid this year,” Baxter said. “The older guys have been leading by example.”

After just one college season, Baxter wasn’t expecting to be a veteran, but Niklas Folin, who would have been a senior, decided to return to Sweden and turn pro.

“Coming into your sophomore year, you’re not expecting to be filling a leadership role. I think they’ve done a great job contributing on offense and defense,” Baxter said of the freshmen.

THREE TO GO: With three games left in the regular season, UML can finish anywhere from first to sixth in Hockey East.

Finishing in the top four and gaining home ice advantage in the opening round of the playoffs is the goal.

The River Hawks face New Hampshire twice this weekend (Friday in Durham, Saturday at home) before ending the regular season March 8 at Vermont. UML dropped to a third-place tie with Northeastern when Providence beat UConn on Tuesday.

Bazin said he doesn’t drive himself crazy looking at all the playoff possibilities.

“You definitely want to control your own destiny. That’s all you can ask,” he said.

UML and UNH haven’t played since Nov. 9 when Lowell rallied late to earn a 2-2 tie.

“We played those guys a long time ago. They’ve been very hot in the second half,” Bazin said.

Liam Blackburn (10-14-24) leads New Hampshire in scoring and sophomore defenseman Max Gildon (5-15-20) is a special talent.

Goalie Mike Robinson (10-9-7, 2.36 GAA) has had a solid season.

LOOSE PUCKS: Junior Kenny Hausinger scored a shorthanded goal Saturday at Merrimack. He almost had a second.

With the game in OT and the River Hawks on the penalty kill, Hausinger got behind the Merrimack defense. He was taken down by defenseman Alex Carle as he got off a shot. Carle was called for slashing.

“It should have been a penalty shot,” Bazin said, “but at the same time you have to respect the officials.” ... Berisha and junior forward Nick Marin were both injured in the first two minutes of Saturday’s game. Bazin did not have an update on their injuries Tuesday. ... Sophomore Charlie Levesque has been snakebit offensively for much of the season, but he netted a goal Friday and Saturday.

“It feels good. It’s nice to be able to contribute,” he said. “We’re staying in the present. We’re not looking too far ahead.”

Follow Barry Scanlon on Twitter@BarryScanlonSun