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Saturday thoughts: …Twenty riders were approaching…

March 15, 2009

Everything worked out exactly how it should have.

The ‘Hawks waltzed into the weekend with nothing but a hope and a gameplan, and walked out perhaps the most fearsome team in Hockey East.

All weekend, Lowell imposed its will against the Catamounts in a very real and comprehensive manner, taking tonight’s tilt 4-2, winning the series 2-0 and winning 8-5 on aggregate. This at the vaunted Gutterson Fieldhouse, four hours from home, where the Catamounts had one of the best home records in Hockey East. And Lowell simply manhandled Vermont.

Of course, it’s easy to say that in retrospect. The game opened rather dubiously with a penalty to Mike Budd just 41 seconds in leading to a goal through a screen by Viktor Stalburg 18 seconds after that, and seemed to get worse when Vermont had an apparent goal called back (the light came on but the referee never signaled goal) just a minute or so after that. Then at 6:01, Maury Edwards took a penalty.

Vermont had its chance to put the ‘Hawks down 2-0 within six minutes, but saw its second straight game-of-inches opportunity go the other way when Drew MacKenzie rang one off the post from the point, which set up what we felt was the critical moment of the game. The puck came back to the point after that, and a D-to-D pass to MacKenzie wound up in his feet. Scott Campbell, who was playing close to the point anyway, skated up a few strides, poked the puck from between MacKenzie’s skates and out of the zone, and prompted MacKenzie to make the move that cost Vermont all its momentum and, eventually the game.

As Campbell tried to step around the d-man, MacKenzie shoved him hard in the face with both hands, thus negating the Vermont power play and creating a 4-on-4 situation that would lead to a brief Lowell power play. It was just 11 seconds into this power play that Paul Worthington whipped a puck from behind the net and into the high slot, where Chris Auger was charging undetected after a change. Auger absolutely crushed a shot off the post to level the game at 1-all and completely deflate the once-jubilant Gutterson crowd. And that was the ballgame.

It’s funny how the littlest things, even early in the first period, can affect the outcome of a game. Maybe MacKenzie misses the net instead of putting it off the post, and a forward collects the puck and sets up a different play. Maybe his D-pairing partner puts the pass on his tape. Maybe Campbell isn’t standing right where he is. Maybe he goes for a change instead of attempting to step around his opponent. The power play on which Lowell scored never even happens. Maybe Vermont scores in the remaining 1:36 of power play they have coming to them. Maybe we aren’t talking about a win right now.

But all of that did happen, and it sparked Lowell’s immense second period in which it heaped the pressure on Rob Madore, who, despite facing just one more shot in the period than Nevin Hamilton, also faced exponentially more quality on those shots. It was just this pressure, and Vermont’s complete inability to cope with it, that led to Mike Potacco‘s go-ahead goal. Late in the period, Lowell got three guys to the goalmouth and Potacco somehow emerged with the puck and, though someone got in the way of the first try or two, he shoveled it over Madore’s outstretched pad with a backhanded shot to give Lowell a lead it would never surrender.

Campbell scored Lowell’s third straight goal and (its second on the power play) midway through the third, and though Justin Milo pulled Vermont back within a goal just 11 seconds later, the final minutes game never really seemed all that nervy to us. Lowell continued its aggressive forecheck unabated and stifled any chance of a Vermont’s “pulling a Lowell” and coming back from a two-goal, third-period deficit. Campbell also added an empty netter from center ice to wrap the game up with 48 to go.

Campbell, it should be noted, was by far the game’s best player, scoring his two goals and doing the dirty work to create the scrum that led to Potacco’s go-ahead marker. He finished the weekend with four points and a plus-2 despite lining up across from the likes of offensive threats like Stalburg, Peter Lenes and Dean Strong both nights. The entire CPR line, which also features Mark Roebothan (who finished 0-3-3 and plus-2 on the weekend), was Lowell’s best line, as it has been for weeks. They play a complete game as well as any troika of forwards Hockey East can scrounge up.

Now, we said earlier that Lowell is more feared than any other team in Hockey East at the moment because, well, they probably are. You make an argument that it’s BC, which swept UNH in Durham, and we’d listen to that. The Eagles, though, have a bit of a problem with goaltending and, though they clearly play their best hockey in March and April, also couldn’t frighten Lowell considering they coughed up five of six points to the ‘Hawks this year. BU? Ehhhh, they lost to Maine 6-3 tonight despite being the “best team in the country.” Northeastern? Tied in a series with THAT Amherst team? Yikes.

But then there’s Lowell, which, even though it lost the season series to both BU and Northeastern, played them just as hard as anyone in Hockey East despite turning in some of their worst performances of the year. Now Lowell seems to be playing its best hockey and that’s bad news for Hockey East’s old guard standing sentry along their watchtowers.

Think they relish the thought of meeting this Lowell team next weekend? Think this Lowell team isn’t positively brimming with confidence that not only it can burn those other teams’ hopes to cinders, but it will? Think this Lowell team, the first to be Boston-bound since 2002, is going to be worried by any attack or defense these teams can marshall?

Just stop. Lowell humiliated the No. 7 team in the country in its own barn for the second time in three weeks. And now they’re going to get concerned about the assembled armies of BU, Northeastern, BC, Amherst or Maine? Yeah. Okay.

Take the next six days and love every second of them, Lowell fans. Come Friday night, you’re going to feel nerves you haven’t felt in seven years. The Lowell players, though? They’ve been through that, and ours is not their fate.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. d1hockey.com permalink
    March 15, 2009 4:28 pm

    Hi RiverHawk fans. Great series with Vermont! You may find the Lowell section on my website to be of interest, as well as the Frozen Four watch. Take a look… it’s free of course. http://www.d1hockey.com

    Email us with your comments: tips@d1hockey.com

  2. Jay permalink
    March 15, 2009 6:10 pm

    Congrats on making the Garden.

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