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Saturday thoughts: And then suddenly, the moment came

January 21, 2012

As far as aesthetics go, the River Hawks’ play tonight falls somewhere between “a small child drop an ice cream cone on the street” and “fiery car crash.”

There wasn’t very much that was pretty or even especially likable about the way Lowell competed for most of the game’s 62:50 tonight, except to say that it won the hockey game and was able to answer the bell each time Northeastern scored.

But the ride to that win, and to those tying goals, was anything but pleasant.

The last time these teams met in Matthews Arena, it was about as evenly-played a contest as one could imagine and a bad decision by Norm Bazin ended up costing the River Hawks a chance at a point. Tonight, the Huskies, clearly humbled by their coach all but calling them losers in the press as a result of Lowell blowing past them with alarming ease at Tsongas Center, brought a far more competitive edge to the game.

In fact, though Lowell has clearly been the better team all season long, it’s very safe to say that Northeastern was the better team tonight. They controlled play for long stretches in ways that Lowell could not, even despite the River Hawks earning myriad power play chances in the first two periods in part due to the Huskies’ compete level being probably dialed up just a bit too high.

And power plays were actually where all of the damage in the first period was done, despite NU having none. The Huskies’ opened the scoring with an ugly shorthanded goal by Braden Pimm (originally called no goal but vindicated by video review), who blocked a Chad Ruhwedel pass attempt at the right side of the Lowell blue line and took off. Ruhwedel seemed to have the play under control but knocked the puck back to Doug Carr, who never completely controlled it and both Pimm and the puck slid into the net, though not in that order. That power play, Lowell’s second, went by the wayside, but the same could not be said of the third, on which Scott Wilson scored his third goal of the weekend and locked up TIIL Rookie of the Week honors (spoiler alert) 4:12 later on a rocket knee-drop one-timer that, if we may return to aesthetics for a moment, put sunsets over the Grand Canyon to shame.

The first period ended 1-1 and both teams probably had to feel pretty good about things. Northeastern had certainly had the better of the chances despite the score being tied and theoretically, a tightening up of the team discipline could allow for more wiggle room and more of a chance to open another lead. Lowell was tied despite not having played especially well in any part of the ice except at the dot, and had responded to what could have been a very disheartening shorthanded goal against by scoring less than five minutes later and leaning on Carr to get them out of the period further unscathed.

As it turned out, though, Northeastern’s intermission gave it a little more jump than the visitors, because Garrett Vermeersch scored 32 seconds in on a Vinny Saponari rebound to once again stake the Huskies to a one-goal lead. It was the result of bad defending by the River Hawks in two spots back-to-back but it counted and the River Hawks looked a bit vulnerable all of a sudden. But where they could have wilted — again, they weren’t playing especially well, at least in terms of driving possession — they instead steeled themselves and put together a few decent minutes that culminated in a nice goal from Colin Wright, his first of the year, off the rebound from a Terrence Wallin shot (and Wilson picked up assist on it). Once again, this was a case of Lowell responding to the pressure applied by an inferior team taking advantage of the fact that Lowell is not very good at home, and once again those were the only goals of the period because Lowell could gain no real sustained pressure and it was defending extraordinarily well.

We’re not sure who, exactly, keeps stats at Northeastern, but they seem to be grossly incompetent. Lowell was only credited with 12 blocked shots in the game, and just five in the second period, which seems like the kind of absurdism Albert Camus would only have written after a three-day opium bender. If Lowell didn’t have at least double that total for the game in actual reality we would be shocked. And that’s in addition to their defense doing a lot of good to dissuade Northeastern from taking the shots it wanted. Those that did eventually filter through to Carr were gobbled up as expected, and he would brook no more pucks getting past him in this one.

And that’s not for lack of effort on the Huskies’ part. The third period was more of what we saw in Vermont last weekend: the vastly inferior home team leaning heavily on the River Hawks — this time bombarding Carr with 13 shots to their seven (four of which came in the space of a frantic five seconds as Chris Rawlings flopped around his crease like an asphyxiating trout) — and generally presenting the very imminent threat of a Foreman-like knockout punch lurking around the corner from every lost defensive zone faceoff, one which would bring the reality of having lost two of three games to the two worst teams in the league crashing hard and heavy down around the River Hawks. But Carr, ever-reliable, was equal to every test and so it was that the game went to overtime, as Northeastern’s announcers laughably called out the River Hawks for “playing for the tie.”

Things in the extra frame were more or less even. Both teams were prodding and poking at the opposing defense and really gaining no purchase in their attempts to establish any kind of possession in the attacking zone. Northeastern managed just one shot in overtime before Mike Budd hoofed a hopeful puck up through the neutral zone. And, in a case of calamitously bad fielding that would make the Cleveland Indians of the film Major League wince, a forward ranged backward to try to bat the puck out of the air as a defenseman ran up to play it. Baseball fundamentals dictate that the guy coming in, in this case the defender, should call off the man in front, but this being hockey, we’re not sure they were familiar with this protocol. They collided, both falling short of the puck, and leaving it bouncing at the feet of Anthony “He’s better than Chad Ruhwedel” Bitetto. It was here that Derek Arnold swooped in and plucked the puck from beneath a perplexed and overmatched Bitetto, broke in alone on Rawlings and iced the game with more or less the same move he used the night before.

The River Hawks won and we got the four points we asked for. It wasn’t pretty and it wasn’t convincing, but all Ws on the schedule look like Picassos at the end of the day.

Now it’s on to Providence in just three days, and we hope this team finds it road legs in that time.

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