Top of the Hill-Newburyport Daily News

March 17, 2011

Newburyport Native Captains UMass Dartmouth

by Dan Guttenplan, Newburyport Daily News

NEWBURYPORT, MA-Newburyport High alumnus Joe Hill was named captain of the UMass Dartmouth hockey team a year ago, but he didn't particularly care for the process. So he approached UMD hockey coach John Rolli and asked him to go back to the drawing board.

Rolli, on the heels of his program's first losing season in 26 seasons, had bypassed the long-standing tradition of leaving the captain voting process to his players. He appointed Hill a captain without seeking a single second opinion, believing his first-line forward was the best choice.

"I had a visit from Joe Hill the next day," Rolli said. "While he was honored to be selected a team captain, he felt the process we had always used was the way to go about it. He asked me to let the players choose. I didn't know if the team would elect him or not. I only knew he was my choice."

Hill was a nearly unanimous selection among his teammates. This season, UMass Dartmouth won the Massachusetts Collegiate Athletic Conference regular-season title and posted its 26th winning season in the last 27 years. The Corsairs (18-7-1) fell to Fitchburg State in the MASCAC semifinal last Thursday. One week earlier, Hill recorded his 100th career point at UMass Dartmouth, netting a game-winning goal in the third period of a win over Framingham State.

"One hundred points was in the back of my mind throughout my career as something to strive for," Hill said. "As I started to get close this season, coach Rolli pulled me aside after a practice and told me to make it happen. The 100th point was a game-winning goal that ultimately clinched the regular-season title."

The fact that Hill's 100th career point had such high stakes was fitting for the 2005 Newburyport High graduate. Hill has been a proven winner all through college. As a freshman, he clinched an Eastern Collegiate Athletic Conference championship for the Corsairs when he broke a 3-3 tie with Nichols College in the third period of the championship game by scoring the game's deciding goal with 16.9 seconds remaining.

"He had a phenomenal career here," Rolli said. "He's mild-mannered, but a fierce competitor. Joe is a man of few words, but when he has something to say, it's something of substance and significance. He was every bit the captain a teammate or a coach could want."

Joe, brother of former NHL draft pick Eddie Hill, had a breakout season as a senior at Newburyport High, playing alongside All-Cape Ann League forwards Tony Matt and J.T. Leary in 2005. Hill's 17 goals and 43 points helped contribute to the highest scoring line on the North Shore that winter.

When Hill did not receive an offer from a Division 1 college, he committed to playing junior hockey for the Valley Junior Warriors. Rolli discovered Hill in his second year of junior hockey. Rolli was already familiar with the Newburyport area. He had already coached Hill's cousin, Shawn Richmond.

"We had one of Joe's relatives (Richmond)," Rolli said. "We were going to use the family connection to try to land him. Joe was a very good junior hockey player, but like every player, he had Division 1 aspirations. When your brother is Eddie Hill, it's a tough act to follow."

When Rolli contacted Hill during the recruiting process, the player's priorities regarding his college of choice changed.

"Ultimately, I went where I was wanted," Hill said. "I couldn't have asked to play for a better program. I'm proud of what I accomplished in four years of college hockey."

Hill was a first-line forward at UMD as a freshman, earning All-Rookie honors in the MASCAC. He retained the starting job all the way through his senior season, with the exception of an injury-plagued junior year, in which he missed the entire first semester due to a back injury.

Extra attention to core strengthening last summer allowed Hill to come back stronger than ever this winter. His 10 goals and 15 assists were secondary to his contribution as the team captain, according to Rolli.

"It worked out really well for him, and really well for UMass Dartmouth," Rolli said. Hill may continue his hockey career after graduating from UMD with a degree in operations management in May. He signed with a European agent yesterday, the same one who represented his brother during his professional career in Europe. "I'll see if I can find an opportunity to play somewhere, whether it's the United States or Europe," Hill said.

In attempting to encapsulate Hill's collegiate career, Rolli points to a moment that took place in UMass Dartmouth's final regular season game this season against Fitchburg State. Hill was on the ice for a final shift with his team leading 3-1. Fitchburg pulled its goalie with 45 seconds remaining. Hill gathered the puck on his team's defensive blueline, and staring at an empty net, drew the lone defenseman blocking his path. He then passed to fellow senior Bill Manning, who scored just his second goal of the season.

"A lot of guys wouldn't make that kind of play," Rolli said. "That's how I'll remember Joe Hill."

The Hill Report Name: Joe Hill Height: 6-0 Weight: 195 Hometown: Newburyport Sport: Hockey Position: Forward School: UMass Dartmouth News: Finished collegiate career with over 100 points