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Giving thanks: Not a good day to be our pants

November 26, 2008

With Thanksgiving upon us, we thought we’d change up Loose Pucks a little bit here, and thus…

10 things for which we are thankful
1) The best damn offense in Hockey East.

It’s not very often that you can say Lowell’s offense is scary, but this year it’s insane. Opponents have to be on top of their game against Lowell for every shift from every line.

The top line speaks for itself with Ben Holmstrom, Paul Worthington and Patrick Cey combining for a 3-9-12 line in the five games they’ve played together.

You can’t say enough good things about the CPR line‘s work not only to produce points (and that’s 9-9-18 for them this year) but to work harder than anyone along the boards and play extremely sound defensive hockey, and though Hockey East doesn’t keep track of faceoff stats for some insane reason, we suspect Scott Campbell who was winning close to 67 percent(!) before last night’s 15-of-24 performance, has to be at the top.

The third line of Nick Monroe, David Vallorani and Michael Budd has been phenomenal since they were grouped together as well. Monroe has four points in those five games, Vallorani has 11 so far this year, and Budd’s got three goals in four games since being swapped in.

Kory Falite on the fourth line with Sammy D’Agostino and Matt Ferreira has also been a revelation. They also got put together for the UNH game and since then, Falite has scored six goals and the whole line has 9-2-11. Just crazy.

The defense has been contributing to the offense in a huge way as well, with Jeremy Dehner, Nick Schaus and Maury Edwards having nine, eight and 10 points, respectively.

The production from almost the entire team has been absurd this year. Almost four goals a game against Hockey East opponents is mighty impressive.

2) Defense and goaltending.

Can’t win games without keeping the puck out of your own net, and even without its No. 1 goalie for a little more than half the season, Lowell’s defense is allowing a paltry two goals a game. That’s unbelievable.

Carter Hutton had been one of the best goalies in the country when he went down with an injury, but Nevin Hamilton has proved to be more than capable as a fill-in. The defense in front of him features six regulars that find themselves above even in plus-minus, and sophomore Ryan Blair leads the way with an astounding +9 in 12 games.

3) Special teams.

Lowell’s power play is fifth in the country and running at 21 percent. Lowell’s penalty kill is 29th at 86.2 percent but until it surrendered that 5-on-3 goal last night, it hadn’t given up a PPG in 13 straight chances and have been improving markedly in that department as well.

Every time the top power play unit hops over the boards, there are five players on the ice that can and do score from anywhere. Falite and Edwards at the top of the circles with Dehner feeding them perfect passes from the point, Holmstrom creating traffic out front and Worthington cleaning up any additional garbage by working the puck down low, we feel really, really good. All those guys are monsters.

The combined special teams number (52.5) is 17th nationally, but again, it’s improving all the time. Where both the PP and PK could be at the end of the year has to be frightening to Hockey East opponents.

4) The newcomers.

For the third year in a row, the freshman class has been given a ton of work to do and has stepped up remarkably well. You can’t say anything resembling a bad word about the play of Vallorani, who’s second among Hockey East rookies and 10th nationally in points per game despite playing on what most would consider to be the “checking line,” and Budd has been great at popping in the greasy goals since he became a regular. Ferreira, too, has been very strong points-wise since Falite got dropped to the fourth line and had been impressive in some other ways up to that point. And heck, we’ll throw in Sammy D’Agostino here too, even if he isn’t technically a freshman. His work to pester the other teams has certainly not gone unnoticed, by them or us, and when he wants to, he can dictate the pace of a game a little bit.

Not a bad group at all.

5) Playing well, even in losses.

That’s what it all comes down to, right? Apart from the loss to Colgate, Lowell’s losses have been to No. 11 Michigan State (in a split on the road), No. 3 BU, No. 16 Vermont, and No. 6 Northeastern. Not exactly the easiest of opponents. But even with those four losses, and apart from the Vermont debacle, carried play for most of the game against MSU, BU and NU. They’ve been in every one so far. Lowell has rolled over for an opponent exactly once, and still only lost by two.

Some years, opponents would circle Lowell as one of the easier game on the schedule, but if they do it this year, Lowell’s going to do very, very bad things to them. The quality of Lowell’s play in LOSSES is better than some of Hockey East’s other teams’ wins.

6) Doing what needs to be done and then some.

Lowell wins? Forget it. They’re beating teams they should beat, and in some cases, winning big. They’re also beating teams they maybe shouldn’t, like UNH, also violently. It’s almost impossible to name a Lowell victory in which the game was not in hand for a good portion of the proceedings. No squeakers at all. Just strong statements.

We feel like that, along with No. 5, puts the ‘Hawks in a good position moving forward.

7) The revitalized Kory Falite.

He’d scored three goals prior to his weekend off against BU and Vermont, but in the six games since then he has six goals and, even when he doesn’t score, is a menace to defense and goaltenders. When he had 18 last year, with 15 in Hockey East, we were mightily impressed, but his nine goals in 12 games so far this year puts him on pace for 27 with just over 20 in Hockey East. We could really, really deal with that.

Did we mention he scored 11 of his 18 last year AFTER Christmas?

8) Competition.

Last year Lowell did pretty well despite roughly one trillion injuries that forced Lowell to drop just about every healthy body they had into the lineup. It was nuts. Defensemen were playing up at forward regularly (admirably, mind you) and the ‘Hawks were so far down the depth chart we were never sure if we’d see kids like Lester Averman, Greg Goldberg or even Charlie “Spazway” Conway getting a tap on the shoulder.

Not so much this year. Guys that got a ton of ice time last season are finding themselves in the stands more often than not as a consequence of Lowell being so deep at every position and being relatively healthy. That’s going to drive guys to play harder because no spot in the lineup is going to be especially secure. Falite proved that even superstars don’t have a guaranteed spot, getting dropped the fourth line and receiving a serious, serious wakeup call.

That kind of thing is good for the whole team.

9) The future.

It’s tough to keep in mind sometimes, but this Lowell team still only has three seniors. Thinking about where the team will be by the time March rolls around is wacky enough, but imagine where it’ll be this time next year. The River Hawks are going to do some serious, serious damage in the second half of the season.

10) The little things.

What in the entire world is better than seeing Scott Campbell win a draw with seemingly no effort at all? Or seeing Maury Edwards get a hold of a one-timer that finds the back of the net? Or a perfectly executed end-to-end rush with Mike Potacco and Mark Roebothan? Or Jeremy Dehner carry the puck through the neutral zone? Or Nick Schaus demolish someone? Or one of those jaw-dropping little David Vallorani passes? Or the violent release of a Kory Falite wrister? Or Ben Holmstrom deflecting the puck into the net despite having his back to it? Or a handsy little move by Paul Worthington? Or Nevin Hamilton stopping three chances back-to-back-to-back right on the doorstep?

It’s those brief moments that make Lowell hockey so fun to watch and makes us so happy to have such an excellent (and improving!) team.

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