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Friday thoughts: Bidding that shot at home ice a fond adieu

February 23, 2008

The dream seems all but over for the River Hawks after last night’s loss to Vermont, their main competition for a home ice spot.

All it took was one terrible giveaway by Carter Hutton for those hopes to be dashed. Hutton, who had gone behind the net to play a puck that he legitimately had no right touching and coughed up the puck to Brayden Irwin. The resulting wraparound was academic, and Vermont took a 3-1 lead.

Up two goals, the Catamounts fell into their vaunted 0-5 forecheck and it worked wonders. Kory Falite‘s second-period goal, his team-leading 14th, was on the counterattack during a Vermont change, and it was the last defensive mistake the Catamounts made. The entire third period was an utterly boring affair in which Vermont managed just four shots and generally took a very laisez-faire approach to the concept of offensive zone possession.

Don’t get us wrong, though. Even in the first two periods, Vermont was merely opportunistic and lucky rather than menacing when it had the puck in the offensive zone. All three of its goals were goofy. Dean Strong‘s tip-in goal came when he wasn’t even looking at the puck being shot. His stick just happened to be in the way of Kyle Medvec‘s point shot. Their second was simply a low, hard centering pass from Viktor Stålberg that hit a River Hawk stick out front. The third, as we said, was Hutton’s egregious giveaway.

Not one goal was in any way impressive, and that was more or less indicative of all of Vermont’s play. The Catamounts were thoroughly outeverythinged by Lowell for the game’s entirety, but allowing goals on three of a team’s first eight shots is bad news in any situation.

Both of Lowell’s goals, by contrast, were the result of hard work and well-earned. Mark Roebothan‘s 13th of the year was thanks to a wonderful piece of hustle by Mike Potacco, who surged out of the box after serving a penalty, dispossessed a UVM defenseman of the puck and fed it back into the slot. Roebothan’s shot was on the mark, and Lowell jumped out to a one-goal lead and appeared to be cruising. But 10 seconds after Strong’s tip-in, Chris Auger took an ill-advised tripping penalty, and Stålberg struck 12 seconds later. So much for that.

Falite pulled Lowell within one at 13:42 of the second, picking up a nice feed from Barry Goers on an even nicer outlet pass from Ben Holmstrom and breaking down the right wing unchallenged. Note to Vermont: you don’t come into Lowell and give Kory Falite a shot like that. He buries it every time.

If Vermont’s suffocating team defense didn’t put the River Hawks away, its power play certainly did. Vermont, which had scored one goal while up a man in the last month, was 2 for 4 last night. Any time you lose 3-2 to a team that was outshot 28-16, it was typically your mistakes that did it.

Hutton (13 saves, and yes, you read that right) was hopelessly outdueled by Joe Fallon (26 saves), who made stops he needed to make. Hutton went largely unchallenged and did almost nothing to preserve the game for Lowell. The third goal was simply the embodiment of how poorly he had played in the lead-up.

Fallon, on the other hand, did his share and then some, though he certainly received some help from Lowell players. In the game’s waning seconds, after both teams had called time out and Lowell had pulled Hutton in favor of the extra skater, Potacco fanned on a puck that popped out of a scrum. Lowell didn’t see a more open net all night, and certainly the time was never more critical than that.

Credit to Vermont and all that, but this was a case of Lowell losing the game rather than Vermont winning it. Salvaging a split tonight is necessary if Lowell doesn’t want to play BC or UNH and go two-and-out in the first round for what feels like the 32nd year in a row.

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