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Saturday thoughts: Men rode in blood up to their knees and bridle reins

January 3, 2010

As we have said for so many other games over the past two years, that Lowell won by a mere three-goal margin on this day was, in fact, an incredibly generous act by a benevolent and compassionate hockey team. Because, given the disparity in general quality between the warring sides, that Holy Cross were not completely broken by Lowell’s superiority, in both tactics and artillery, can only have been the result of the victors’ infinite magnanimity.

The River Hawks carried play, often dominating the Crusaders like Salah ad-Din himself and only giving away any advantages through miscues, rather than having allowed them to happen as a result of anything positive their opponents coerced.

Really, this game was a mere formality. It was Lowell doing Holy Cross the favor of allowing it to play Lowell, which was always going to win this game handily and with considerable ease. The reason the ease was admittedly a bit less evident than you’d expect is a nearly-interesting story.

Lowell was in an awkward position headed into this game and indeed the tournament as a whole. Here was a team so much better than any other in the field that the entire endeavor was almost designed to be a letdown. Win and nobody cares because the River Hawks should have flattened all that stood in their path. Lose and come out looking like Amherst this week, dropping winnable games against lackluster opponents and generally making fools of yourselves.

So when Maury Edwards potted his third goal of the year, and first since early November, a little over eight minutes into the game, our general feeling was that this one was already in the bag, and fixing to get ugly on the giddy-up.  Of course, it didn’t end up working out that way, at least not completely. The game was, of course, in the bag but, again, there was never a point at which it wasn’t.

It just so happened that Lowell never made it especially ugly, and the primary reason is that it took too many penalties. From what we inferred by listening to the radio broadcast, it seemed Lowell just came out too eager to play physical hockey. The first three penalties for which Lowell was whistled were roughing, boarding and slashing. These aren’t the penalties of a lazy team that cannot keep up with its opponent. These are the penalties of teams looking to engage the puck carrier. Nick Schaus, who picked up the first two of the above penalties by himself, seemed particularly guilty of this, though that’s not something for which we would ever criticize him.

Of course, we were also unaware that Holy Cross had, through some mix-up, sent their women’s team up to Hanover, because both the penalties on Nick Schaus were for perfectly clean hits for which the poor, poor Crusaders simply weren’t ready. We understand, though. Atlantic Hockey isn’t a league for actual, good hockey players. A couple guys can shoot and a couple guys can get in front of a puck okay, but overall most of the league’s superstars would struggle to crack the roster at Merrimack. So when they’re carrying the puck and look up just in time to see Schaus barreling toward them with malice smoldering in his eyes, they did the only thing they could do, which was, notably, not continue to play hockey like any adult male would, but rather to bail out and contort their bodies in such a way that they might, through some miracle, avoid getting the absolute hell knocked out of them. They didn’t, obviously, but what they did instead was draw enough pity from the officials that they had no recourse but to send Schaus to the box for what amounts to hitting too hard.

We’ve seen that kind of officiating before and we don’t begrudge it. Theoretically at least, the officials’ first job is to protect the players on the ice, and if putting Schaus in a cage for two minutes is going to keep a few Crusaders out of the hospital, then we can accept the ensuing penalty kills, especially when the team benefiting from them fails to score, as Holy Cross did on all five of its power plays.

Lowell, meanwhile, had no such problems. The Edwards goal was on the man advantage, as was Ben Holmstrom’s third-period goal that made the game 3-0 and put it hopelessly out of the Crusaders’ reach. The only power play on which Lowell failed to score began with roughly two and a half minutes to play, and was so inconsequential as to be barely worth mentioning, except in the context that it mattered not at all.

And all this, of course, leads us to the only reason this game will continue to exist in our memories beyond the end of this writeup: Carter Hutton’s shutout record. He turned aside each of the Crusaders’ 32 shots and in doing so earned his ninth career shutout, a Lowell school record previously held by Cam McCormick. It also gave him his third shutout of the year, which is good for half of McCormick’s single-season record. We have no further information regarding shutout records at this time.

This was just a sound and comprehensive beating in which Lowell didn’t play particularly well, mainly because it had no need to do so.  And so now it moves on to face its expected opponent, Hockey East foe Northeastern, which rampaged past Dartmouth 7-0, in the championship game of the Such-and-Such-a Tournament. Lowell’s going to need to win that one too.

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