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Sunday thoughts: Surprises

October 4, 2010

This afternoon we got our first look at many of the new recruits for this team as Lowell rolled a full roster in what we can only assume is an attempt to build some chemistry. And now we know a couple things about this team, and the rookies on whom it will so heavily lean, after just 60 minutes.

For one thing, the rookies we thought would be legit lived up to the hype. Derek Arnold is going to be excellent one of these days, and his audition for premium minutes went off without a hitch. Even discounting his very nice little goal from Riley Wetmore, who absolutely had a whopper of a game himself, the freshman was often in the right place and making precocious little moves with and without the puck. Apart from that ill-advised penalty in the first period, there was nothing bad to say about the performance today whatsoever.

And he wasn’t even the best rookie.

That honor, we think, goes to Chad Ruhwedel, whose name you’re going to be hearing a lot. We would hesitate to begin drawing comparisons to Jeremy Dehner just yet, but boy does this kid play big-time hockey. Never a bad decision today, and even if he didn’t pick up a point, he was bird dogging every loose puck, winning every battle, and proving effective in every zone. This was an A-plus performance, and while we thought he was capable of big things, we had no idea of just how far along in his development he was. It wouldn’t shock us at all if he proved to be the best defenseman on the roster by the end of the season.

Apart from that, there were some other standout freshmen, such as Shayne Thompson who was given second-line duties alongside David Vallorani and Mike Scheu. They didn’t score today, but they might be able to do some damage this year, especially if Vallorani keeps his puck-handling clinics going. Granted this game was played largely against talentless thugs, but Vallorani turned several people inside out per period and just worked the puck down low, coming and going as he pleased. And Thompson was the rock that allowed him to do that. With the puck on his stick, the freshman seemed immovable. Away from it, he seemed to be in places where he could get the puck without much fuss.

Joe Pendenza and Josh Holmstrom played solid, responsible hockey and rarely looked out of their depth, but again the quality of competition was, shall we say, poor.

This Lowell defense didn’t calm any of the concerns we may have had about it prior to this game, at least not in its own end. That it preserved a shutout and limited St. Francis Xavier to just 14 shots isn’t so much about quality as it is a complete lack of talent from our neighbors to the north. Their attack was as disjointed as the pregame canned version of O Canada, which stopped for 10 seconds or so with no explanation right before the part about standing on guard for thee before resuming exactly where it left off. Still, Colin Wright got spun several times by oncoming X-Men and many attempts to break the puck out were derailed, or at least in need of restarts, as passes went well away from their intended targets.

And that’s not to pick on Wright, necessarily, as he looked fantastic in attack, but the year away from the blue line might have done more harm to his defensive game, because at times he was just drowning. He was, oddly, ably bailed out by Ryan Blair, whose allergy to shooting remains but whose defensive game seems to have become better established. Similarly, we didn’t often notice Maury Edwards doing too much in his own zone, but perhaps that was because he was too busy shooting the lights out; official stats had him at 10 shots for the game, and while none found their way past an able if unspectacular Joseph Perricone, this was the offensive Edwards we so often missed last year.

But because of the strong defensive game overall, it’s tough to get a read on any of the three goalies who got 20 minutes apiece tonight. We thought Doug Carr might have had the most difficult time — he did concede the disallowed goal, which was directed in by a hand in the first period — and his positioning was occasionally wanting. But he also faced the most challenging attempts of the day, as Mike Heffron and Marc Boulanger were largely untested in the latter 40 minutes of the game. It was interesting, though, that the only goalie who didn’t get a run out in this one was TJ Massie, though what that says for his chances at significant playing time can be read at least two different ways: either he didn’t play because he’s a known quantity and will shoulder more of the early load, or he didn’t play because he won’t play. We’re loath to speculate in either direction.

Overall it’s difficult to be upset with a game that, even if it didn’t always appear so, was statistically a command performance. Any time you outshoot your opponent something like three to one and hold it without a goal, you’ve probably done something right. And for a team with 14 freshmen and sophomores in the lineup, including all three goalies, that’s good enough for now.

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