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March 22, 2013 E-MAIL PRINT Bookmark and Share

Lowell's Life of Riley

Captain Wetmore Leads in Many Ways

by Scott McLaughlin/Senior Writer

LOWELL, Mass. — If it was anyone else, Norm Bazin wouldn't have let him play. But Riley Wetmore isn't anyone else. He's the heart and soul of the Massachusetts-Lowell River Hawks, their lone captain for each of the past two seasons. He's the one who helped the River Hawks transition to a new coaching staff and a new era of Lowell hockey. And he's the one who played three postseason games last year with a broken hand, scoring twice against Miami in the first round of the NCAA tournament despite it.

That's why Bazin decided to dress Wetmore for a pair of first-semester games against New Hampshire earlier this year, despite the fact that the senior center had a separated shoulder.

"That just tells you how much I believe in him, that I would have him on my bench even though I know I won't be able to use him very much," Bazin said. "Usually I don't dress somebody who can't give me 100 percent. He's one of the few exceptions I've ever made in my coaching career. He's such a good person and so well respected by his teammates, that I would dress him just to have him on the bench."

Bazin came to Lowell in the spring of 2011 without any preconceived notions of the players he was inheriting. He knew Wetmore had worn an 'A' as a sophomore, and he knew Wetmore was the only returning captain from the 2010-11 team. But Bazin wasn't going to give Wetmore a letter until he knew for sure that Wetmore deserved it.

It didn't take long for Bazin to realize that Wetmore did. He said his first impression of the then-junior was that Wetmore was composed, well-spoken and mature — "off-the-charts mature." When Bazin had his new team vote on captains — more as a gauge than any sort of decisive vote — he wasn't surprised to see that every player listed Wetmore first.

"It was very important for me to figure out if he was a leader people were going to respect," Bazin said. "He was mature, and he was certainly open to change. I can't tell you that I knew 100 percent whether he'd be the perfect leader, but he's turned out to be an exceptional leader. ... He's a great student, a great person, a great teammate, and he leads by example. There's nothing left."

Wetmore led the River Hawks with 39 points last season, as the team won 19 more games than it had the year before. Perhaps even more important than his on-ice production was his off-ice leadership. He became someone both his teammates and coaches could turn to, and he often served as a bridge between the two.

"Riley was pretty vocal even as a sophomore," said Derek Arnold, who has played on a line with Wetmore most of the past two seasons. "We knew he was a guy we could lean on that offseason, and I think the new coaching staff learned that pretty quickly as well. He's just a guy that anyone can talk to, and he loves the program. ... Going into that season, Riley really emerged and stepped up as the guy we were looking to."

Wetmore and the River Hawks faced more challenges early on this season. They got off to a 2-5-1 start, and Wetmore had just two points through those first eight games. Wetmore admitted that it was sometimes challenging to work on fixing his own game while also trying to do his duties as captain and help the team. What he wound up doing was getting to the rink early or staying late to focus on his own game. That way he could stay focused on the team during practice.

A turning point for the struggling River Hawks came after the eighth game, a 3-0 home loss to UNH on a Friday night. They had Saturday night off before traveling to Amherst for a Sunday game against Massachusetts. According to Arnold, Wetmore had some things to say to the team between those two games. Then when Sunday's game rolled around, Wetmore went out and recorded a hat trick, leading Lowell to an 8-2 win.

"I don't think he was ever that worried about his personal success," Arnold said. "It was always more about the team. He was much more frustrated with the team's lack of success as opposed to himself. He'll put the team in front of himself any day of the week."

The River Hawks lost two more games against UNH two weekends later, and it might not be a coincidence that those were the two games Wetmore was battling a separated shoulder and saw limited ice time. They picked up two wins over Northeastern and Harvard before winter break, though, and came out of break looking like a whole new team.

Lowell has lost just three games since then, and Wetmore has recovered from his slow start to lead the team in goals with 15. The River Hawks clinched their first Hockey East regular-season title two Saturdays ago, with Wetmore scoring the game's first goal.

Now they're ready to take on Providence in Friday's semifinals, as they aim for their first Hockey East tournament title. Next week, they'll return to the NCAA tournament and hope to reach their first Frozen Four. And this time, they'll have a healthy Wetmore.

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