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Loose pucks: My kudos to whoever shook this shake, Magnum

March 5, 2008

Three things to be happy about:
1. A sweep.

It’s been a while. The last time Lowell won two Hockey East games in a week, we were still stuffed with Thanksgiving turkey. Lowell beat Merrimack 3-0 and 6-2 to earn its eighth league point on Nov. 20 and 24. Lowell went 14 Hockey East games in a row without back-to-back wins in a weekend, which was the major reason for its precipitous drop in the standings and national polls.

But to illustrate how good Lowell was, even when it was playing preposterously bad, ugly hockey the Lowell goal differential in league since the Merrimack series is just -3 (44 for, 47 against), and despite that long period with which we were all so very disappointed with the team, it still went 8-8 in Hockey East play. A full 12 of those games have been decided by one goal, and Lowell is 6-6 in those.

The difference, though, is that Lowell managed to get blown out twice (2-5 to BC, 2-6 to BU). The extra scoring in the two games decided by more than one goal was an empty-netter (3-1 over UMass, 3-1 over BC).

So this team, while we were boo-hooing over getting pounded by BU and swept by UVM, quietly kept its composure and never got too up or too down. Remember how there was all that talk about one-goal games and ties last year that could have gone Lowell’s way if for one extra bounce in its favor? This is proof you’re starting to see that. Many of these games (the OT wins against Providence and NU, the wins over UNH, BU and NU) would likely have been losses or ties last year.

2. Chris Auger: our psychic friend.

Earlier this week, a reader reminded us of a quote from last year’s UMass Lowell Connector by Chris Auger. It seemed absurd at the time, but now it seems shockingly prescient.

After Lowell took three points from Vermont in Burlington on the last week of the season, Auger said he felt that Lowell was the best team in the country to not make the playoffs and – here’s the crazy part – would be competing for home ice next (this) year.

At the time, we thought it odd. Here was a team that had suffered a 20-game winless streak and only really came together at the end of the season. Competing for home ice? These guys?

Well, turned out it was true. We have to give Auger all the credit in the world here. Good call.

3. Parity.

This weekend is going to be awesome. We just know it.

Two things that are really grinding our gears
1. Parity.

On the other hand, this weekend isn’t going to do anything to help our blood pressure.

With all but one spot still up in the air, we know for a fact that there will be plenty of hand-wringing and scoreboard watching this weekend, and we, too, will be guilty of it. We’d love to see Lowell win out and earn home ice, obviously, but the fact that we’ll have to do so much math on Friday night is not going to be healthy for us.

2. Going to Orono.

It’s the worst drive in Hockey East and there’s nothing more depressing than the idea of the Bangor Mall being an area’s cultural center. “Come visit our Dick’s Sporting Goods” or “There’s a Tim Horton’s up the highway” should not be on the cover of a tourism brochure.

Stat of the Week
If Lowell wants home ice, it will have to earn it by beating Maine for the third and fourth times this year. It may not sound like an especially difficult task, what with Fortress Alfond (where Maine is 3-7-2 at home this year) beginning to more closely resemble the House of Usher, but believe us when we tell you: it certainly is.

Lowell, you see, doesn’t often beat teams four times per year. Unless the ‘Hawks play a team in the playoffs, they’ll face them a maximum of three times. Then, Lowell will typically have to have won the playoff series and regular series. The last time Lowell even won a playoff series was when it beat Northeastern in 2001-02, but they lost two of the regular season matchups and thus only beat NU three times.

Before that, Lowell beat UNH in the 2000-2001 Hockey East quarterfinals, but went 0-1-2 against the Wildcats in the regular season. It also bowed out to BC, which it met in the semis, going 0-4.

To find the last time Lowell actually beat a team four times, you have to go back 10 full years, to the 1997-98 campaign. Lowell faced NU in the Hockey East quarters, and beat the Huskies in three games 8-2, 2-3 and 5-1. In the regular season, the River Hawks beat NU 7-2, 3-2 and tied 3-3 to earn a 4-1-1 record against the hated Huskies.

In the decade since, Lowell has had eight seasons in which it has played a team four or more times. It is 8-35-3 against those opponents in that stretch.

Doesn’t sound so easy now, does it?

Where’s the bathroom, Fonbonius Jones?
Maybe our favorite moment of last weekend happened before a single second of hockey had been played. There was a ceremonial puck drop at center ice honoring U Lowell great Mike Carr (whose son will be playing UML next year). The Tsongas Arena’s painfully bad PA guy was droning on and on about all of Carr’s numerous, hard-earned accomplishments.

He got about three quarters of the way through before Carr said, “Screw it,” and dropped the puck while the PA guy was in mid sentence. It was priceless, and it got the show on the road just a little faster. As if we needed further reason to love Mike Carr

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