When the Dual State Huskies were presented with an opportunity recently to partner with UMass-Lowell and change their name to the Dual State River Hawks, to match the college, the decision to accept was a no-brainer.
“The benefit is we have name recognition with UMass-Lowell, especially in the greater Boston area,” River Hawks President Brian Ferraro said. “The main thing is we’re able to work with UMass-Lowell and play at Tsongas Arena. The college players come out and work on skills with our younger players, and the young kids get a kick out of it.
“The older kids get a chance to talk to the college players and see what they’ve gone through to reach that level. They have an opportunity to hear from somebody who knows what they’ve gone through. It’s a great opportunity for our kids to have somebody to look up to.”
It certainly doesn’t hurt that UMass-Lowell posted a 28-11-2 record last year and reached the Frozen Four semifinals before being eliminated by Yale University.
Being able to use a facility like Tsongas Arena is a virtual necessity for the River Hawks considering that the organization added four teams this season.
“We’ve definitely expanded,” Ferraro said. “We were struggling at the younger age levels. Last year, we only had one Mite team, one Squirt team, one Bantam team and a development group. Now, we have two Mite and two Squirt teams and two Bantam teams [in addition to teams at the Midget level].
“By partnering with the UMass-Lowell brand name, we were able to generate some interest and get some coaches who’re very qualified. Some are former college players who came in, and we had them on board around the time the partnership was being consummated.”
Even before the partnership with UMass-Lowell was established, the then-Dual State Huskies proved to be attractive for boys. Exhibit A is a Peewee team.
“Several years ago my oldest son played on a Peewee team that was winless,” Ferraro said. “The kids stuck together and went on to play high school hockey. It would have been easy for the kids to play another sport.
“I think that’s a good statement in terms of they’re staying with it and having an opportunity to play high school hockey. Every one of our boys makes their high school team. That’s phenomenal because we’ve had some down years.”
Not surprisingly, the River Hawks embrace USA Hockey’s American Development Model.
“From our standpoint, it’s about getting kids on the ice, getting more reps and more touches of the puck,” Ferraro said. “That’s more important than playing a game. The more times an elite player touches the puck makes a huge difference. We can put players on the ice and play cross-ice games and do drills where we’re constantly repeating them.
“From constantly doing it over and over has reaffirmed that the ADM is the right way to go. Just watching the players go through the drills and seeing the smiles on their faces is great. We try to make it fun for them.”
Ferraro emphasized that development is paramount with the River Hawks, which, again, is a benefit of the ADM.
“We pride ourselves on trying to develop players,” he said. “We’re putting a huge focus on that now. That’s one of our learning tools.”
Ferraro and other River Hawks coaches and executives also take pride in the fact that alumni haven’t forgotten their roots.
“It’s satisfying to see the kids develop not only into hockey players but also seeing them be successful in terms of carrying that over into their work life and developing into young men,” he said. “It’s nice to see these young men coming back because some have kids of their own.
“They pop into the rink. It’s great to see where they are and what they’re doing.”
The River Hawks play in the Eastern Hockey Federation, which merged with Hockey Northeast. That merger, too, has been a success.
“It’s the level of competition,” explained Ferraro. “You want to be able to go in and play each game where it’s a one- or two-goal game. The merger happened late. But for ensuing seasons, the idea is to get to one- or two-goal games as opposed to a 10-1 game. I would prefer to lose 5-3 instead of win 10-1.
“We want to make sure that playing competitive games is more important than wins and losses. We want to get something out of every game.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.
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