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Sunday thoughts: This close

January 4, 2010

Here we have a team that frequently and habitually squanders easy games that it should win. We’ve seen it against Nebraska-Omaha. We’ve seen it against Providence. We’ve seen it against Maine. We’ve seen it against Princeton. And now we’ve seen it against Northeastern.

Here we have a team that gets out to slow, ineffective starts that ultimately costs itself points. We saw it against Vermont. We saw it against Maine. We saw it against Princeton. And now we saw it against Northeastern.

Here we have a team took far too many penalties this weekend. It may not have hurt them against Holy Cross (Lowell players could have set themselves ablaze and still emerged with a 2-1 win), but Northeastern, for all its faults, is and will never be Holy Cross-bad.

Here we have a team that is incredibly and increasingly frustrating to support.

We’ve tried, obviously, to carry the banner proclaiming that this season would be different. And early on, it appeared as though we were right. Lowell was routinely beating good opponents and, apart from a one-goal loss here or there against beatable teams that could be explained away without too much difficulty, had looked good for pretty much the whole season right up until that Thanksgiving week debacle when the wheels fell off, and they’ve yet to be recovered.

This was a game that should have been won easily. Sure, Northeastern beat Dartmouth 7-0 the night prior while Lowell “only” put down Holy Cross by a 3-0 margin so theoretically they had played better, but the way the earlier meeting between Lowell and Northeastern shook out led us to believe that Lowell would and could physically dominate them to the point that the game would, as it did in October, simply become unwinnable.

We were proven wrong in the first period when Lowell wasted two consecutive power plays in which the River Hawks had eight shots blocked, one sent wide, and none on net. This, we told ourselves, was going to make for a rather long night. Lowell was, at that point, being outshot by a 4-1 margin, and Northeastern had hit a post. So when Mike Budd went off for interference soon after the second Northeastern penalty expired, we knew it was trouble. Northeastern scored on the first shot it took (and why wouldn’t it?). The period ended with the same score, but the Huskies held an 8-3 advantage in shots.

Let us repeat that: There was a period in which put just three shots on goal. Three. This, we’ll remind you, was against Northeastern, and not the 1972 Soviet Olympic team.

Now granted, things turned in the second period. Lowell came out with its hair on fire and Kory Falite, who had himself a goddamn hell of a weekend, scored just 1:45 into the period to level. That was fine with us. And indeed, Lowell continued to pour pressure toward Chris Rawlings’ net to the point where we were certain a go-ahead goal was in the offing. Somehow, though, that goal never came. Though Lowell, which was outshot in the first period 8-3 and now held a 19-15 edge thanks to an impressive period, had dominated every facet of the second — despite having taken off three consecutive penalties that ranged from bad (Ben Holmstrom’s contact to the head crosscheck) to incredibly stupid (too many men) and still come out none the worse for wear — there was still the matter of the scoreboard, which read 1-1.

Then in the third, Lowell turned back into a pumpkin, producing another ineffective period in an ever-growing string of them, all of which can be pointed to as reasons Lowell doesn’t have like 15 wins already. It wasn’t that the River Hawks were outwardly bad, they just weren’t anything you could call good, or even heady. Mike Budd’s second penalty of the night was also the second to cost Lowell a goal, as Jake Newton squeezed one past Carter Hutton, who should have been up on the post but wasn’t, inside of four minutes to go.

But again, we cannot impress upon you enough how much of a win this should have been. Northeastern was positively shellshocked after the first half of the second period, and Lowell, being Lowell and thus unwilling to put a dying team out of its misery, insisted upon taking penalty after penalty after penalty (giving opponents a total of nine in the game and 14 on the weekend) and not closing their overmatched opponents down with anything resembling a killer instinct.

It’s happened far too often this year, as Lowell has its opponent on the ropes and, instead of moving in to deliver the lethal blow, lets them come off and, in fact, backs into the ropes themselves in some sort of bizarre effort to keep it fair and close. It’s infuriating and frustrating and inexplicable. If this team wants to make any, and we mean any, kind of appearance in a game that actually matters this season, it needs to start winning now. It officially “definitely needs” to beat both UNH and Northeastern next weekend, and certainly needs to sweep UMass Amherst the weekend following. If not? Well, this will be the most disappointing campaign in program history.

We’re not ready to give up on this season just yet.

But we’re this close.

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