Skip to content

Friday thoughts: Rope-a-dope

December 12, 2009

If the question is, “Did Lowell look great tonight?” then the answer is no.

But if the question is, “Did Lowell play well down the stretch, wear out a plodding Princeton side, capitalize on its mistakes and make very few of their own?” then the answer is obviously and emphatically: “Of course they did.”

This game, in many senses, reminded us of Ali/Foreman in Zaire (a little scrap called the Rumble in the Jungle). Princeton came out of the gates throwing bombs. Hell, it scored just 1:52 into the game on a really terrible play in which a Lowell defenseman we believe to have been Ryan Blair (it could’ve been Maury Edwards but the play was on the wrong side of the ice so we leave it to people with a better vantage point than the-other-end-of-the-ice) backed off the puck carrier to an absurd extent and Dan Bartlett, the Tigers’ leading scorer, threw it at the net and it beat Carter Hutton no big deal.

Their sticktoitiveness in the neutral and defensive zones had Lowell playing more than a bit disconcerted in the first period, and that the score was 1-0 to the visitors was, in our book, fair enough. They hadn’t exactly peppered Lowell with chances by any wilder stretches of the imagination but they had limited Lowell’s chances the other way effectively enough that we were somewhat perplexed by just what had gone wrong. And perhaps that’s all they were looking for.

The problem, of course, was that strategy could never have been a winning one. First, Lowell is very much evocative of Ali in his prime, skilled and powerful and fast and brash, so while Princeton won the first round both on the scoreboard and on the scorecards of your two favorite judges, there was an ever-increasing sense that it couldn’t last. Just a flurry of body shots here and there, if you will.

For one thing, Princeton had itself behind the eight ball in terms of roster size. Having been decimated by injuries already this season, disaster must surely have struck over the course of the week, as the Tigers skated short both a defenseman and a forward. And Lowell is, of course, the kind of team that can wear out a group of 20 guys. Against a group of 18 guys? Well, you see the result. Second was that goaltender Mike Condon was given the go in what we later learned was his first-ever college start. Couple that pressure with that of playing on the road against a very good, nationally-ranked team with offense to spare, and then sprinkle in the student section riding him all night because his name just happens to be one letter off from the name of a prophylactic, and he was bound to crumble.

The game’s tonal shift came, at long last, with about nine minutes left in the second period. That wonderfully efficient line of Kory Falite, Scott Campbell and Colin Wright just started cycling the puck in pretty much exactly the same way that Lowell did last week that swung the momentum so decisively. The shift earned Lowell three straight shot attempts and some tired Tiger legs, but rather than resulting in a goal, the shift ended when Brodie Zuk was whistled for a cross check at 12:31. That was the entire ballgame. Shifts like that have lifted Lowell to wins several times this year and this was no exception. The remaining 29 minutes were so much in Lowell’s favor that it became laughable. This was Lowell, seeing an opponent already near-punchless and worn out from the endeavor of chasing dump-in after dump-in and finally coming off the ropes, steely-eyed, with malice in its heart and punishment on its mind.

This is where Condon and the Princeton defense fell inevitably apart. Scott Campbell’s power play goal in the second period to level the game and ensure the Tigers never led again wasn’t so much the result of anything great Lowell did as it was a breakdown on Lowell’s part that led to a breakdown on Princeton’s part that led to Condon having no idea what to do with himself. The River Hawks were in their typical power play setup and someone slid a pass through the slot to Riley Wetmore, who fanned on the shot in the way Charlie Conway did in the first Mighty Ducks movie (“Keep swingin’ Riley, maybe you’ll give ’em a cold”). But this hilarious miss caused Princeton to rush everyone toward the puck, which in turn allowed Wetmore to slide it back to Campbell. Condon was dead to rights and may as well have been facing the other way.

The last two non-empty netters were all on Condon, though. The first of such goals was Wetmore’s third-period game-winner, which came on a one-on-one break down the right wing. The slap shot from just below the faceoff dot hit Condon in the shoulder and somehow bounced under him and trickled into the net. That made it 2-1 to Lowell with about 15 minutes to play and everyone on the Princeton bench just looked like they wanted to go the hell home. Mike Budd’s unassisted goal six or so minutes later made it hysterically academic, and came about in the most Princetonian fashion possible: a broken stick at the Tigers’ attacking blue line gave Budd and Ben Holmstrom a 2-on-1 with Budd carrying down the left side. He didn’t even fake pass. Just a regular ol’ shot from more or less the same spot as Wetmore’s goal, which hit Condon’s right pad and wobbled on into the net.

The remaining 10 minutes did have one moment of comedy for Lowell as Kory Falite so blatantly held his opponent’s stick that when he actually ripped it out of the poor kid’s hands and threw it to the ice, his glove came with it. That did, though, set up Paul Worthington’s shorthanded empty netter, and it was really funny, so we are inclined to forgive this moment of rockheadedness (not that we wouldn’t have stapled his ass to the bench for the game’s remainder had it not come with 2:06 to play, but we digress).

We can’t fathom that Princeton, having been short players and then run ragged tonight, will have anything in the tank for tomorrow. And Lowell, instead of our feeling pretty decent about a three-(really-two)-goal win that came as a result of strategy, needs to land the knockout blow nice and early tomorrow. Can’t give anyone, even a weakened team like Princeton, a puncher’s chance.

No comments yet

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: