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Sunday thoughts: Lesson learned

November 9, 2009

That’s more like it.

It may have been shaky at times, but Lowell’s 6-3 win over UNH this evening was, when viewed as a whole, fairly encouraging. While the mistakes that Lowell made against Vermont were, to some degree, still happening, at least they weren’t especially costly.

And that’s the kind of thing that makes a world of difference.

Case in point, and don’t stop if you think you’ve read this before: Lowell was up by two goals and on the power play when it took a pair of close-together penalties that turned a 5-on-4 advantage into a 4-on-3 for the opponent. Lowell had two options here. It could have folded up shop and tried to sit on the lead again, as it did against Vermont to no avail. Or it could be aggressive and make smart plays and not rest on its laurels and allow the Wildcats to regain some traction.

And for the first time this weekend, it took the latter path and followed it all the way to victory. This was largely the result of a pair of heady plays by Ben Holmstrom, who had a night full of them. The first was that his idea of “winning” the draw to start UNH’s 4-on-3 was to simply swat the puck to the unmanned point and down the ice and that killed more than a few seconds. Then, when UNH reestablished some o-zone possession, Holmstrom hung back while a Lowell defender pestered the puck carrier and waited for him to seek the relative sanctuary of the halfboards, where he stepped in, deftly removed the puck from his opponent’s stick and cleared it the length of the ice for a change. Those two little plays killed about 20 seconds of a long penalty kill all by themselves and effectively told UNH that their third goal just a few minutes earlier would be the last they’d get on this night.

But that was in the third period, when things had crystallized themselves a bit. The first two periods were far murkier.

The first started much as it did against Vermont, with Lowell conceding a goal in the opening handful of minutes and looking real flat doing it. But as with the game on Friday, Lowell equalized before the end of the first period on Maury Edwards’ hard wrister on the power play (big shock there, eh?) and that was all well and good. Frankly, things could have ended a whole hell of a lot worse. Lowell was outshot considerably and UNH still was dictating play despite being an obviously weaker team.

And indeed, that trend of things getting worse happened, though it was not through any action by UNH. It was, instead, Holmstrom winning a clean draw back to Ryan Blair near the bottom of the circle in Lowell’s zone and Blair, intending to send the puck around the endboards, instead backhanded it past Carter Hutton to stake UNH to a one-goal lead. The way the Wildcats have been playing (just two wins all season), they happily took it, but got fat and happy on a meager 2-1 lead against a team which has yet to score less than three goals this season, and Kory Falite tipped a Nick Schaus point shot past the woebegone Brian Foster to level once again midway through the period. It stayed 2-2 headed into the intermission, which, we think, was starting to flatter UNH a bit.

After that it was almost all Lowell, and deservedly so.

Brett Kostolansky had taken a penalty with no time left on the clock in the second and that, in turn, gave way to a Lowell power play. The River Hawks’ power play unit was, at the time, 1 for 2, with the goal coming just 12 seconds into the first advantage of the night. And while it took slightly longer than that, Ben Holmstrom made quick work of that man-up situation from down low, smartly spotting Foster trying to cheat pass and deflecting a shot off him just 36 seconds into the period/power play. That was, for all intents and purposes, the ballgame but Lowell was not satisfied with a mere one-goal lead.

David Vallorani created what might be the most impressive display of skill, hard work and dogged determination we’ve seen in a Lowell game in years just over four minutes later. After his line lost possession deep, he backchecked and stripped the puckrushing center near the blueline, turned, pushed it through a defenseman, stepped around him, knocked the puck toward and then away from a diving Foster and onto the waiting stick of Falite, who had a wide-open net into which he to put the dagger. Would that we were not pressed for time with the Mad Men season finale rapidly approaching, because we would write epic poems and loving paeans to just this type of goal, the type that ends up on highlight reels for a long, long time and still has you wondering how it all worked out just as it did. Granted, Vallorani didn’t get the goal, but he will forever get all the credit in our books. The skill he possesses is mesmerizing as it is lethal, and this was an utterly memorable and dazzling goal.

Then UNH got frustrated and took two quick penalties, allowing Nick Schaus to net Lowell’s fifth goal (also on the power play, meaning UNH’s PK ended the weekend at 4 for 11. Yes, you read that correctly) and Bobby Butler scored a beauty on a busted breakout and some confusion in the defensive zone to pull UNH back within two again. That’s where we meet up again with Holmstrom’s brilliant penalty killing, which iced the game for Lowell as much as Mike Scheu’s gorgeous snipe that stretched the lead back to three just inside five minutes to go.

What the third period showed, really, is that even if Lowell hasn’t learned not to make the same mistakes over, it has at least learned how not to be held accountable for them by the opposition, which is, we suppose, some sort of progress. This was at least better than the performance at Vermont on Friday, where, instead of picking up the heel of its boot off an opponent’s neck, it stamped down a little tighter and ensured that any hope of escaping with a point was crushed along with its trachea. This is the type of game Lowell needs to win, so to see them do it is cool with us.

Would we rather have the extra point out of the weekend? Of course. But can we accept three? Grudgingly, yes, because Lowell is now officially atop the Hockey East standings, at least until Friday.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Keith permalink
    November 9, 2009 8:26 pm

    I thought the first two periods were pretty sloppy and mildly dreadful for all. Obviously as a fan, the third was just plain fun.

    Even taken in to account the beautiful fall weather in conjunction with a football Sunday, the 4100+, slow to arrive in attendance for a national televised game (even if it is just ESPNU) was weak, at best, and that even accounts for the smattering of UHN hillbillies present. Of course TV shouldn’t be the only motivator, but my God, is it too much to ask to show a little support when Lowell finally has a game televised?

    Maybe it’s just me.

  2. Matt permalink
    November 10, 2009 12:08 am

    Keith,

    Why go to the game when you’ve been drinking all day watching football and you can continue to do so while watching it at home? Is it really that big of a deal? Two years ago, 4100 would have been the best crowd of the year.

    How many people want to be inside when you have one of the last nice days left of the year? You need to relax.

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