We will never forget the conversations we had at Harvard.
In talking with a handful of Lowell fans in the time before the puck dropped and the River Hawks romped to a laughable 5-0 win in Connor Hellebuyck’s second career start, we all pretty much agreed that while the playoffs were certainly something Lowell could reach with ease, and while it had just beaten Northeastern, this was not a team built to live up to lofty expectations.
The team had by that point pretty well established a clear pattern: Beat the bad teams far more often than not, and get creamed by the good ones. We took solace in the fact that Lowell only had BC once more in the remaining few months of the regular season, and BU three times, but other than that the schedule wasn’t so bad, and certainly was conducive to the team clawing back into the home ice conversation if they got especially hot.
We had no idea, though, that the team would or could get as hot as it did. Lowell went out from that Monday night, when it became the winners of two shutouts in a row, and only lost four more games for the rest of the season, with none of them really amounting to very much save for that last one. That one was a biggie.
Putting aside the season in its entirety, which we’ll get to in the coming week, there are two ways to look at Lowell’s 3-2 overtime loss to Yale University.
The glass-half-full crowd would pontificate that Lowell played arguably its worst game of the season and still only lost by a goal, and that in overtime.
The glass-half-empty types would surmise that this game was a wasted opportunity to make the national championship game, given that even 20 percent more effort could have made the difference.
We don’t subscribe to either theory. To us, the glass is still back at the hotel in Pittsburgh, with the rest of the team who couldn’t be bothered to show up.
The Lowell River Hawks (28-10-2, 16-9-2 HE) vs. the Yale Bulldogs (20-12-3, 12-9-1 Hockey East)
4:30 p.m. Thursday at Consol Energy Center, Pittsburgh, Penn.
Lowell finished first in Hockey East with 34 points from 27 games, and Yale finished third in the ECAC with 27 points from 22 games.
George W. Bush, the worst President in the history of the United States not named Millard Fillmore. Bradford Bishop, former United States Foreign Service officer, wanted for murdering his family of five. Gene Siskel, the albatross that hung around the neck of the more talented, recently departed Roger Ebert.
What do these three men have in common? Aside from being the scourge of everything America stands for, they were all educated — for lack of a more appropriate term — at the Ringo Starr of Ivy League schools, Yale University.
Yale. The house that Eli built (poorly), and a borderline boardinghouse where trust fund babies to commiserate and complain about their Harvard rejection letters.
Thursday, when Yale futilely takes the ice against Lowell in the NCAA Frozen Four semifinals, it will continue to represent its school and infamous alumni in a manner to which the university has grown rather accustomed over the years: as losers who should just be happy that the rest of society acknowledges their existence.
Three things that are makin’ it:
1) Heading to Pittsburgh.
Not that we ever envisioned a life in which we would be actively anticipating a trip to Pittsburgh, especially after what Bret Hart — rather accurately — said about it that one time, but here we are, just about 30 hours before the biggest game anyone has ever seen Lowell play. Can we just go to sleep for exactly that long? Please?
2) Supreme confidence.
We’ve said it again and again during this run, but we’ve gone into pretty much every Lowell game since the home loss to Providence knowing, absolutely and unequivocally, that the River Hawks would walk away victorious. We probably wouldn’t have predicted the ways some of these wins have broken — edging Maine in overtime, laying a devastating beatdown on Wisconsin, etc. — but certainly the feeling walking into each of those games, and we’ve been at all of them, was that these were slam-dunk, no-doubt results. While others sweated out the one-goal results, we sat back and laughed and how cute it was to see Maine and Providence and BU and UNH play at being “in” games late. They were never in those games. Lowell always had them well in hand. So it is with Thursday’s game with Yale.
3) It’s almost here.
Just imagine the joy we are going to take from watching all this play out. Just imagine it.
As we basked in the glorious inevitability of last Friday’s victory over Wisconsin, we couldn’t help fear for the proprietors of the local supermarkets. The stampede-like run on napkins by the local and national media to get the egg off of their faces could only rival the fear one must feel at Pamplona. Wisconsin is hot, so they told us. The hottest team in the country, it was reported. Scorching hot. Atomic. A literal supernova.
Of course Lowell, having run out of cares to give sometime around New Year’s, extinguished the inferno like Glacius vanquishing Cinder with an ultra-combo circa 1995. This, we must confess, struck us as something of a surprise, considering we half-expected to hear reports of Lowell players being being rushed to whatever passes for a hospital burn unit in Manchester throughout the game, considering the intense heat coming off the Badger players.
This laughable myth, that Wisconsin was somehow hotter and therefore a danger to Lowell, was a storyline that journalists across the country were tripping over themselves to write about. Once the River Hawks decimated the Badgers, exhibiting the same ease a child might as he gleefully stomps a sand castle, there was nary an apology to be had. Not a single hat in hand, begging the forgiveness of their readers or viewers for postulating and propagating such an absurd hypothesis. In fact, even after the final horn sounded, there were still several outlets that clung to their foolish desire to overhype Wisconsin, as though it held the antidote.
Three things that would win their bracket:
1) Punching a ticket to Pittsburgh.
It’s almost surreal to say and difficult to believe on some level, except we were in the building for every one of these playoff wins and, as we’ve said many times, the idea that Lowell might lose any of them never really occurred to us. That we got to see it with our own two eyes, though, is something we’ll remember for the rest of our lives. And look, we’re very happy this is happening, but we’re not going to act like Lowell will be one of those bright-eyed young teams that is just happy to have been invited to the dance. We fully believe Lowell can and will obliterate the teams left standing with it. What have we seen to dissuade us?
2) Winning two ways.
We knew for a while now that Lowell was able to play the boa constrictor and slowly choke the life out of its prey with the best teams in college hockey history, but seeing what they did to Wisconsin sated whatever bloodlust we had to see them rip the absolute guts out of a team’s defense and splash around in them like the unrepentant moor Aaron. It hadn’t done that, arguably, since the second game at Amherst, which wasn’t the best competition against which to judge Lowell’s offensive prowess. What that told us, and the rest of the college hockey world, is that if you’re going to try to cheat your defensemen up in the play, you’re going to get your stomach opened up. And good luck unspilling them against this Lowell defense.
3) Feeling good.
Money couldn’t buy the joy we feel as a result of what this team is doing. We’ll be floating for the next week and a half. We’ll only descend to see Lowell trample Yale underfoot.