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Friday thoughts: The Kobayashi Maru

November 6, 2010

One of the great artifices constructed in Hockey East over the past several years is that Vermont is somehow a good program.

These Catamounts have traipsed to the Frozen Four and snuck into another NCAA tournament as well, but what, really, have they ever shown to persuade anyone that they’re as for-real as everyone would like to have us believe?

A thing that certainly doesn’t stand as evidence that Vermont is in any way good: its record against Lowell. Over the past eight games, they’ve skulked away with precisely zero wins. An 0-5-3 record. It would seem that playing the River Hawks, with any number of different players in the lineup, has become a test that is unable to be solved for Kevin Sneddon, Rob Madore, Kyle Medvec et al.

Tonight was no different.

First we start with a confession: we’ve seen enough of the River Hawks this year that, when Doug Carr slipped and fell, allowing Chris McCarthy to poke the puck into the net just under nine minutes into the game, Vermont, for the first time in forever, actually had us nervous about a result.

There was the eye-rolling. The hand-wringing. The oh-no-not-againing. It was an ugly, terrible goal to give up, one that Carr certainly wants back, but one that was, ultimately, to Lowell’s benefit.

Because, as Vermont so often does when it’s leading on the road, it reverted to that same trap it always does, trying to preserve a 1-0 lead for over 51 minutes. And it almost worked, too. Neither team was able to gain much in the way of traction, or anything like solid attacking pressure, as the players slipped, slid, dumped and missed connections for the first two boring and ultimately uneventful periods.

Rob Madore certainly had the easier time of things in the early going, facing just 10 shots through 40 minutes, while Carr was tasked with turning aside 23, and was successful all but once. But to say that Lowell was outshot more than 2 to 1 is a bit unfair. After all, Vermont padded their shot total Providence-style, by shooting from everywhere (including one especially speculative effort right off the draw… from center ice) but never quite testing Carr except in a few extremely isolated incidents.

But where the two teams diverged was clear late in the second period, when Lowell sent two players to the box almost in a row, and Vermont mustered next to nothing. The teams opened the third period much the way they ended the second, and it was more or less all Lowell for the remaining 20 minutes.

Just four minutes into the period, and despite Derek Arnold being whistled for a hold on a player going full speed that he was about a stride and a half behind, Lowell had not only eliminated Vermont’s one-goal lead, but in fact had reversed it. And who led the way once again? You guessed it: the kids.

It’s tough to put into words how nice the no-look pass off the endboards into the slot from Josh Holmstrom was, but as Riley Wetmore rampaged between the circles uncontested and lit up Madore for the first time (on just the team’s 12th shot), we knew something good was about to happen. The Holmstrom line had not only scored a goal, but it had roughed up the opposition fairly well in doing it, successfully burying the puck along the boards and working a brief cycle until Wetmore found himself in acres of space with the whole net to shoot at. This was great stuff from a line that’s been producing very, very well, led by a freshman and sophomore who have impressed us mightily, to the point where we consider Holmstrom perhaps the team’s best player to this point. We’d hear some arguments to the contrary, certainly, but right now, who’s better than the team’s assist-getting, penalty-killing, shot-blocking, turnover-creating wunderkind?

One of the players we’d listen to a rebuttal for: Joe Pendenza, who positively embarrassed Dan Lawson in the neutral zone, broke with the puck the other way, created just enough space to get a shot away and buried the shorthanded dagger just 64 seconds later that, predictably, stood up as the game-winner.

Pendenza, somehow, didn’t get into Lowell’s first two games, but has four goals in the six games since, and has saved Lowell’s bacon, or come close, a couple times as well.

But the example set by the freshmen was, finally, followed by a senior whose name we’ve been calling for a few weeks now. David Vallorani’s insurance marker in the middle of the final frame, which finally nailed shut Vermont’s casket (again), was certainly not the prettiest goal he’s ever scored. But he spent the entire night prior to floating a shot, somehow, past Madore trying to be rather the opposite. He got so cute with and without the puck that it became predictable: he’d deke through a guy or two effortlessly then fall down at the slightest bit of contact, or, sometimes, even without it. In the past we’ve espoused the belief that winning ugly is still winning, and the same is true of scoring ugly. You don’t ask how, you ask how many, right? For Vallorani, hopefully one is enough to get the motor working the right way again.

With Lowell up 3-1, the defense in front of Carr — who, given his last two performances, really deserves to start until he lays an egg — became airtight. Even when Vermont pulled Madore with nearly two and a half minutes remaining, the Catamounts were still held without a shot the rest of the way.

This was the win we thought this team was building toward last Saturday, and again in the third period on Tuesday. That it came against a team so full of itself that it was nearly bursting (despite having logged no wins on the season in four games, all of which were in Burlington), was much better. Two points was all anyone could have reasonably hoped for out of the weekend, so to get that out of the way tonight is really quite nice.

But one of these days, Sneddon’s going to have to figure out how he’s going to stop Lowell going into the Neutral Zone and rescuing point after hilarious point from a team that doesn’t deserve it. Unfortunately, he doesn’t have the luxury of reprogramming the game.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Monty permalink
    November 6, 2010 11:38 am

    Good comments. These kids are definitely a joy to watch. But please don’t make Val leave any earlier than he has to, he’s only a Junior.

    • RHHB permalink*
      November 6, 2010 2:53 pm

      If Val leaves early (which will never happen, by the way) because of what we said, then he has much bigger problems than his inability to skate with the puck for more than eight seconds without falling down.

  2. Mary Sunday permalink
    November 6, 2010 5:07 pm

    I believe Monty was trying to point out you said he was a Senior, which would put him in his last season. He’s a junior, with two years left to play. I doubt Monty was suggesting he’d leave early.

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