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Lowell at the Break: Creeping disappointment

December 18, 2009

We remember those halcyon days, oh yes.

The date was sometime in the middle of August and, so giddy were we for the start of the season, Lowell’s season, that we embarked on not our season preview post, but also a brand new blog we’d been contemplating for months, a lengthy “About” page and a volumnious glossary, at least a month and a half ahead of schedule. We had intended for all of it to go up about a week prior to the first game of the season against St. Lawrence in the Maverick Stampede, but we are not patient men and the anticipation proved overwhelming.

And so it was that over the course of two days, we banged out close to 4,000 words detailing how this Lowell team was different from the others. How it could build on both the failures and successes of the past few years. How it was, unlike any other, fit to run roughshod over a weakened Hockey East. This season was meant to be both coming out party and hysterical grave-dancing funfest.

And instead, it has been an inconsistent mess, almost from the get-go; Lowell beating teams it should beat in convincing fashion, Lowell handing over games to garbage teams that have no right whatever even playing on the same ice as a team like Lowell. A team rife with talent and work ethic and what should have been a keen and well-honed desire for vengeance.

And yet here we are, having watched Lowell thrash its way to a 10-6-1 record. An improvement over last season’s 8-8-1 record at the break? Obviously it is. But from what we’ve seen when this team is on, it’s not enough. Had we, at the beginning of the season, hazarded a guess at the River Hawks’ potential record through 17 games, we would have felt good with 13 wins. An extra loss here or there would be disappointing. An extra win would have us delirious. But only 10 wins against THESE teams? Just thinking about it caused us to sigh audibly, causing one patron of the coffee shop in which this is being written (Brew’d Awakenings Coffeehaus on Market Street in Downtown! Support it, because its hot, and occasionally cold, beverages indirectly support this blog.) looked over with eyebrows aloft as if to express their condolences for whatever was troubling us.

And the problems started almost from the beginning. The season opener, a 3-0 win over St. Lawrence wasn’t as emphatic a result as we perhaps would have liked, but hey, we’ll take a three-goal win and a shutout. But the next night? Blowing an early 2-0 lead to freaking Nebraska-Omaha, really? We considered it inexcusable at the time, and certainly this should have served as some sort of early warning sign of what future problems were festering under the surface. But the trepidation over just how ready this team was that should have existed was soon be washed away by a wonderful turn of events.

Lowell started winning, and winning a lot. It positively handled both Colgate and Northeastern in the home opener weekend, and looked fairly impressive doing it, if the Colgate game did offer a few reasons for concern early on. And while the next weekend did offer that (dubious) split with Boston University, it did show us that a motivated Lowell team could dominate very skilled teams. The Saturday evening soiree at Agganis Arena was solely owned and operated by the River Hawks, who bossed the Terriers in their own rink to great effect.

And the swing from that weekend boosted Lowell even higher as it went on to take a point from Vermont on the road and crush UNH at home on national television. Then it handed Alabama-Huntsville its steakfried lunch, as it is wont to do and beat a highly-regarded Merrimack side in fairly convincing fashion.

That was all a six-game unbeaten streak, and part of a larger a run in which Lowell won or tied in eight of nine games, and clearly that was the high point of the season. We were understandably feeling great about how things were working out. We were also feeling vindicated about pumping Lowell’s tires so vehemently all summer and autumn. We were mostly feeling like Lowell was invincible and bulletproof and primed to roll through the remaining first-half schedule, which consisted of Providence, Maine, an improving UNH squad that Lowell had already thumped, UMass Amherst and TWO with *chortle* Princeton. Oh yes, this was going to put Lowell at 12 or 13 wins headed into break, minimum. No problem.

And then the River Hawks, instead of looking at those six games and then putting on a bib and licking their lips cartoonishly, laid two straight eggs against the Friars and Black Bears and then played well enough to just barely lose in Durham the following weekend. Saturday’s convincing win over Amherst gave us reason to hope that Lowell would ride into break with at least a little bit of a gallop thanks to an easy weekend with a short-benched and awful Princeton team, but they only won once in one try and then didn’t play the following game for some reason.

And that all added up to 10 wins before break. From 17 games. Against the wholly easier part of the schedule. You can see where we’d be upset.

Not that there wasn’t reason to feel very good about a lot of things in the first half. For the most part, Carter Hutton and Nevin Hamilton have been strong in net (although the stats are a little worse than we’d like to see). Nick Schaus has positively laid to waste all that dare oppose him. Scott Campbell and David Vallorani have been very good as well. Chris Auger is, so far, the shock comeback player of the year. Jeremy Dehner is as reliable as ever. Really, if we were looking at this on a case-by-case basis (and we’ll do that in a minute when it comes to gradin’ time), we’d hand out what are largely positive marks.

But the problem is that the season has not been the sum of its parts as we would have thought in October or even during the summer. It has, inexplicably, been far less than the sum of its parts. And that’s something that needs to be addressed as soon as humanly possible. Last year we wrapped this part of the midway summation of the season by noting that Lowell was in a position where it could make a strong run at a home ice spot, but that it should be there already.

We can’t believe we have to echo that sentiment today.

First semester grades
Three quick things to note: all grading is done solely by us and is relative to our expectations of them rather than any single metric. Also, players are listed numerically by position and have to have played in six games (more than 33 percent of the schedule) to receive a grade.

Forwards
Colin Wright (13 GP, 3-0-3): B-
Because of a combination of Lowell’s blue line depth and a paucity of available forwards at one point, this kid, who’s listed as a defenseman, played up front, and frankly we think he’s acquitted himself well. The stats aren’t exactly sparkling (when’s the last time he scored? The Alabama trip?) but you at least know when Wright’s on the ice because he’s typically doing something well. We’ll take it.

Riley Wetmore (17 GP, 4-4-8): C
Eight points. Pretty decent. But only two in Hockey East, and that’s what our beef is. It’s all well and good to beat up on the OOC babyteams (and he has, obviously), but we need goals in Hockey East too, and that one of them cut that Providence lead to 4-2 inside of two minutes to go doesn’t impress us. He does things well, but not enough things well, and not well enough. If that makes sense.

David Vallorani (17 GP, 7-8-15): B+
He has built a bit on his first half last year but, fair or not, our relative expectations for Vallorani have risen and as such, less than a point a game from such a talented player has us wanting for more. Not much more, but a bit more certainly. We’d also like him to shoot more.

Sammy D’Agostino (3 GP, 0-0-0): Incomplete
No offense or anything, as we typically liked Sammy last year (to our recollection we gave him a B- for a final grade), but if you can name the three games in which he played this season, we think you deserve some manner of award. (The answer, which we sadly did know: both the only Princeton games and UNO game in place of the injured Mike Scheu).

Kory Falite (17 GP, 8-5-13): C+
Last year at this time, we gave Falite a B for his 10-5-15 from 16 games which was both off the pace for his goal and overall point totals in his sophomore year. This season he has even less, and we had come in expecting more. Wholly disappointing, but still, he scores goals more than anyone else on the team so what’re we gonna say?

Joe Caveney (8 GP, 1-1-2): B
Hey man, you can scoff at the quarter of a point a game all you want, but if you don’t think Caveney’s been busting heads and clearing space for his most common linemates Kory Falite and Scott Campbell, then you’re out of your mind. The point total is wanting considering what his runnin’ buddies produce, but we’ll take this from a freshman of Caveney’s skillset without much complaint.

Scott Campbell (17 GP, 6-9-15): B
While we haven’t seen a game yet this season that Campbell has taken by the scruff of the neck, and he’s the River Hawk we deem most capable of doing so, he’s been solid pretty much every game. The Hockey East stats are certainly less than respectable, though, and that’s gotta change in a hurry.

Chris Auger (14 GP, 4-7-11): B+
It’s too bad about this latest injury. Auger was just starting to play very well, at least in our books. He was playing hard and getting points as a result. Now granted, almost 50 percent of his points came in that Merrimack game, but 11 points is, we suppose, 11 points. And from Auger, from whom we certainly didn’t expect very this many points, we’re glad to have them.

Matt Ferreira (17 GP, 0-3-3): C-
We feel bad about saying it, but during the only Princeton game last weekend, one of us asked of the other, “Do you remember the last time Matt Ferreira did anything actively good?” No reply came. It’s not that he’s a bad player, but he’s certainly not the player we thought we’d be getting based on his junior stats and Lowell could always use a little more offensive pop. He hasn’t provided it. Or much of anything else.

Mike Budd (13 GP, 2-2-4): B-
He has fewer points this year than he did last year, which accounts for the change from B+ to B-, but he’s also a plus-5 and pretty much an ideal third-line shutdown forward. Would we like more offense? Sure we would. But would we also like this defensive play to hold up forever? Yes. Yes we would.

Patrick Cey (8 GP, 0-1-1): C
There’s simply no accounting for the dropoff in production. This has been a disappointing season for Cey once again, even if his role has changed. There’s no way to sugarcoat that.

Mike Scheu (12 GP, 3-5-8): B
It’s a pity that Scheu can’t stay out of the trainer’s room. We love what he does on the ice (although what happened to the goalscoring!?) and we want to see a huge second half from the player known throughout the student section as the “Scheuperstar.” This kid right here is our darkhorse pick for a giant last 20 games.

Ben Holmstrom (17 GP, 4-7-11): B
The bad news is that it was another typically slow offensive first half for Holmstrom. The good news is that he has now doubled his career total for first-half goals. With that in mind, we’re confident that he can turn into his regular ol’ second-half self except even better than ever and score a bunch of points and help Lowell win hooray hooray.

Paul Worthington (17 GP, 8-5-13): A-
Now this is what we’ve always expected out of Worthington. He’s got offensive poise and makes good decisions and, because of those things, he makes things happen. And before the second half of last year, he hadn’t really done that with any degree of regularity. So this new Paul Worthington is one we can get behind in a big, big way.

Jonathan Maniff (14 GP, 0-4-4): D
This is the River Hawk by whom we are most consistently annoyed and aggrieved. We can’t figure out what kind of purpose he’s meant to serve now that he doesn’t score goals ever. Didn’t he score 10 in a season once? Did we dream that? Shoot the puck and see what happens.

Defensemen
Jeremy Dehner (17 GP, 2-7-9): A
Dehner will never not be excellent. This is just something that needs to be accepted as fact at this point. He’s putting up just about the offensive numbers he did at this point last year (0-10-10 in one fewer game last season) and his plus-minus, which is admittedly not our favorite stat in the whole wide world, is plus-10. That’s real, real good.

Steve Capraro (17 GP, 0-1-1): B-
Poor Steve Capraro. He gets points taken from him more often than David Vallorani scores them. And that’s a lot, you see. He’s still as good a sixth defenseman as you’ll find in the league, but he was thrust into a No. 5 role for which we think he was just barely not equipped. There were times when the combo of he and either Tim Corcoran or Chris Ickert had us a bit more nervous than we probably should have been. He’s still a perfectly fine player.

Tim Corcoran (8 GP, 0-0-0): C
Turns out we valued Corcoran’s performance last season a bit more than we should have. He hasn’t been bad or anything, but we thought he’d be very good at his role and it turns out he’s just average at it. Nothing wrong with that, but maybe that’s on us for expecting more.

Nick Schaus (15 GP, 4-14-18): A+
Nick Schaus rules. Nothing else need be said. Oh you want more? Okay. Tied for second in points by defensemen nationally. Leading the team in scoring. Still hitting the hell out of people. Shutdown defense. Does everything. Is a force. Will kill someone this year. Is Lowell’s best player by far for the second straight season. We think that about covers it, eh?

Barry Goers (6 GP, 0-0-0): Incomplete
Yes, six games played and still an incomplete, because one of those six games lasted exactly one shift against BU before he got hurt. Tough noogies, all you Incomplete nazis.

Maury Edwards (17 GP, 2-7-9): C-
Moe has to be hurt, right? That’s the only explanation we can come up with. Two goals? Come on. He has fewer shots than Ben Holmstrom. This is insane. And his lack of offense isn’t exactly being covered by stellar defensive play. We’ve come to expect a lot of Edwards and we’re not getting anything near it.

Ryan Blair (17 GP, 0-4-4): F
Speaking of players from whom we’ve come to expect more, Blair’s just been terrible. There’s no other, nicer way to say it. Incredibly awful. Remarkably bad. These last few weeks have been especially difficult to watch. We can’t imagine what happened to this kid. Put it this way: Blair has one goal this year, and it was into his own net.

Chris Ickert (9 GP, 0-3-3): B
There have been times, we’ll admit, where Ickert had us a little nervous. But he’s gotten better as the season has progressed, and we get the feeling that if he’d been getting time in October until waiting for the Huntsville weekend for a game (not that we don’t know the reasoning behind that perfectly well), we’d like him a whole lot more. He’s pretty poised for a freshman. Solid. All you’re lookin’ for.

Goaltenders
Nevin Hamilton (8 GP, 5-2-1; 2.61, .911): B
The numbers may not be as good as Hutton’s, but as of right now we’d rather have Nevin in net in a big game. He may make the odd mistake but he’s more reliable than Hutton on a shot-to-shot basis. It normally takes a few chances to beat him whereas Hutton has let a number of clean looks get by him this year and so forth. He’s also had, if memory serves, a bit of a tougher schedule than has his batterymate.

Carter Hutton (9 GP, 5-4-0; 2.11, .927): B
As has become the team’s modus operandi, the team doesn’t always give “Hutts some help,” as one of TIIL’s tags so eloquently puts it. Were it not for flagging offense, Hutton’s won-lost record, and therefore Lowell’s, would be in a lot better shape. Too bad about that. And too bad about the Downy-soft goals he’s allowed at times this year as well.

Okay, we’re gonna take a little while off here. Enjoy your holidays and check back for a tournament preview a few days after Christmas.

Blog stats at the half
78,285 words over:
70 posts (1,118.4 per).
11 weeks (7,116.8 per).
205 pages, single-spaced.

You’re welcome.

8 Comments leave one →
  1. stevo permalink
    December 18, 2009 9:02 am

    You didnt do a overall grade score of the team

    • RHHB permalink
      December 18, 2009 3:51 pm

      at no point have we ever done that. why would we start now?

  2. December 18, 2009 2:49 pm

    Great job guys. Strangely enough, we’ve been at this point of year many times wishing for 10 wins. Right now, the 10 wins feels like a downer. Hopefully they come back from break and start playing with some confidence.

    If not, especially on the forwards side … maybe it’s time to see what Visca can do?

  3. Keith permalink
    December 19, 2009 3:16 am

    Nice work boys.

  4. Joe Grav permalink
    December 23, 2009 4:41 am

    Championships aren’t won in December. It’s pretty rare to see teams win wire-to-wire, last year being a notable exception. That’s why I’m staying cautious about BC’s chances right now, and it’s why you shouldn’t be too down on Lowell yet.

  5. December 25, 2009 4:01 am

    Merry Christmas and happy holidays guys!

  6. December 27, 2009 5:52 pm

    http://fightmass.wordpress.com/

    Big-time disrespect alert filled with inaccuracies.

    example: “Meanwhile, we’ve been to the NCAA tournament once, and even pulled an upset in it. They…haven’t. Ever. Yeah, yeah, they were a successful D2 program back in the day. Good for them. Doesn’t count.”

    • RHHB permalink
      December 27, 2009 6:04 pm

      we’ll take care of this insanity by Wednesday or your money back.

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