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Saturday thoughts: We hate losing to Amherst

January 18, 2009

Proof that UMass Amherst played its game rather effectively last night: There were 80 faceoffs. That’s one every 1:20. So Amherst took a fast, slick Lowell team and cut its legs out from under it by slowing the game to a snail’s pace with its trap and capitalizing on the few opportunities Lowell gave it.

Let’s be honest, the fact that Nevin Hamilton gave up four goals on 25 shots is bad, but the goals he gave up weren’t really his fault. Alex Berry‘s goal to open the scoring hit two guys on the way to the net, Chase Langeraap‘s was a very nice shot that few goalies would have gotten to, Justin Braun‘s shortie was the result of a bad bounce and a defensive miscue, and Will Ortiz‘s goal was a point shot that got tipped. You wouldn’t begrudge any goalie one of those goals (perhaps Langeraap’s, which he maybe should have stopped), but the sum of those goals makes for a poor stat line and a frustrating result.

To compound the problem, Lowell clearly missed several of the empty nets offered by the so-so creasework of Paul Dainton* and ill-advised, overly-ambitious forays behind the net (for what it’s worth we are currently beginning work on the definitive Dainton* biopic, tentatively titled “Adventures in Puckhandling”) and obviously paid for these squandered opportunities with the loss.

However, there was still much about which to feel encouragement. First, Lowell, too, scored a pair of dirty goals, the first being Ben Holmstrom‘s between-the-legs tip of a Paul Worthington point shot and the second being Kory Falite actually heading to the net and jamming home a loose puck in the crease (also the result of a heads-up play by Worthington) with 26 seconds to go in the second period that once again knotted the game.

The third period gave us yet another a glimpse of the copious skill of what should be Lowell’s first All-Hockey East first teamer since the 2000-01 season, Maury Edwards. Enough cannot be said about the work Edwards does every night on both ends of the ice, and the fact that his defense is overshadowed by his offense tells you just how good the latter is. He had another goal and an assist last night, bumping his total in the last seven games to 5-2-7 and flying from No. 7 on the team in scoring ahead of the UNH series to tied for first with Falite after last night. He has the most points of any Hockey East defenseman both overall and in conference play, he has the sixth-most points of anyone in Hockey East games. There isn’t a defenseman in the COUNTRY who has more goals than Edwards. Simply, he eats defenses and penalty kills alive. If there’s a better offensive defenseman than Maury Edwards in college hockey, we’d sure like to know about him.

But ultimately Lowell simply couldn’t muster enough offense to win the game last night, which is fairly upsetting considering these two teams’ results on Friday. It means that Amherst is still tied with Lowell in the Hockey East standings, although, pending the result of this afternoon’s Maine-Providence game (Maine led 2-1 in the second as of this writing), they are both ahead of the Black Bears, who clutch greedily to their games in hand. But had Lowell won — and we hate dealing in what-ifs — it would be in fifth place, ahead of Boston College and just three points out of fourth. That’s what makes this loss extra upsetting.

We still, despite the loss, think Lowell is a better team than Amherst from top to bottom. It’s more disciplined, it’s faster, it’s just about even in terms of skill, it has better defense, it certainly has better goaltending, and this loss was as much about Lowell’s inability to put the puck into empty nets (four, by our count) as it was Amherst’s ability to sneak two weeks’ worth of greasy goals past Hamilton in 60 minutes. This win doesn’t change the fact that the Minutemen hadn’t beaten Lowell in their previous FIVE attempts. If Lowell is going to go 3-1-2 against a team in six straight meetings with a more or less unchanged roster, we think it’s more than safe to say that the River Hawks are a superior program.

One night doesn’t change that.

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