The last time the Massachusetts hockey team went toe-to-toe with UMass Lowell, a 4-0 loss at the Tsongas Center, it went without one of its captains on the ice.
Senior forward Danny Hobbs was left out of the lineup due to a groin injury which plagued him early on in the season, scoring only seven points in 11 games while missing three, two of which came on a disastrous road trip where the Minutemen came up winless.
UMass came back home with an unremarkable 4-7-3 record and were sitting at the bottom of the Hockey East standings.
After the road trip, Hobbs made his return to the lineup, and contributed with a key assist in a 4-4 draw with Harvard.
That, however, was only the beginning.
Since his full-time return to the lineup, Hobbs has registered 11 points in an eight-game span, and is in the midst of a six-game scoring streak. During this stretch, the Minutemen are 5-1-2, and find themselves climbing the Hockey East standings.
“I think the team’s success has led to my success,” said Hobbs. “We’ve been winning more and the entire team has been contributing more as a whole.
“I think it’s all tied together. As the team does better players are going to do better and get recognized for scoring points.”
Not only has Hobbs been scoring at will, but he has been lighting the lamp at the most pivotal points in the game.
Hobbs’ most recent outburst came at the expense of Vermont on Jan. 13 when his hat trick lifted UMass over the Catamounts, 4-3, at the Mullins Center.
Hobbs was also key in helping the Minutemen salvage a point in Providence on Jan. 5. With the Friars leading 4-3 in the final minute of regulation, it was Hobbs who delivered the equalizer with 37 seconds left, leading to a 4-4 tie.
“Most often our best players are our best players, and [Hobbs] is among our best players,” said UMass coach Don Cahoon. “Having him in the lineup, healthy and playing well is crucial to getting guys to elevate their game as well.”
Despite the recent success for him and his teammates, Hobbs understands what it feels like to be faced with adversity.
As a 17-year-old, Hobbs appeared to have his dreams right in front of him. The UMass commit was playing for the Ohio Junior Blue Jackets of the United States Hockey League to hone his skills before playing in the college ranks, and was eligible for the 2007 National Hockey League Draft.
Despite a poor season for his club, finishing 12th out of 13 USHL teams, Hobbs made a strong enough showing to get drafted by the New York Rangers in the seventh round.
After staying in Ohio for a final season, one in which he scored 15 goals and earned 31 points, Hobbs was ready to suit up for the Minutemen.
“When I first came in I definitely had big expectations for myself,” said Hobbs. “There is added pressure to [being an NHL prospect] but I tried not to think about it in that way.
As a fourth-liner, Hobbs saw limited ice time and only scored a combined 11 points in his first two seasons.
Despite the struggles, Hobbs continued to work hard and focus on simply getting better.
That hard work paid off as a junior, when he scored an astonishing 12 goals and 16 assists while establishing a prominent role in the UMass lineup, as well as being named an assistant captain.
Hobbs looked to build upon his success as co-captain as a senior. Unfortunately, it did not start the way he had in mind.
“Struggling at the start of the season had a little bit to do with injuries,” said Hobbs. “I wasn’t able to practice for a full week. I would only be on the ice here and there and then have to go play a game which made things tough.”
Hobbs attributes his recent surge to his drive to continuously overcome adversity, while helping lift the Minutemen into the thick of the HEA race as the conference tournament draws near.
“I’ve been getting fortunate with being more productive as of late so it’s something I want to embrace and keep working hard,” said Hobbs. “If you work hard the points will come in bunches and that’s what they’ve been doing lately.”
Although he has a future in the NHL in his sights, Hobbs’ main focus right now is continuing to contribute for UMass, starting with making an impactful presence in his team’s home-and-home series this weekend against the Riverhawks.
“It was a tough game to watch at Lowell [Nov. 19],” said Hobbs. “It seems like they played at a higher level than us and that’s not how UMass hockey plays. If me, T.J. Syner and Michael Marcou do a good job leading the team then it will give us the sense that everyone is ready to go.”
Nick Canelas can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @MDC_Canelas.