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Friday thoughts: The House of Usher

November 11, 2011

For so long, Alfond Arena has been Lowell’s repeated Waterloo, Little Big Horn and Chinatown.

It seemed that any trip up that dismal stretch of I-95 would produce depression not only because Orono is a urine-soaked hellhole, but also because the only thing the River Hawks ever got out of it was a pair of losses. In recent seasons, that had become considerably less common, but Ls were still more common than Ws up there, and so it was with trepidation that we circled these games on our calendars.

After all, we try to keep it pretty real around here, and while we certainly liked what we saw from the first game against BC and obviously the laugher against BU, we were still fully cognizant of the fact that this was indeed a pair in Orono and wins are always hard to come by. Plus, the success of the last few years, if you want to call it that, was brought by a coach who is no longer with the team. But how did our dear, dear River Hawks respond?

By surprising the absolute hell out of just about everyone, with the exception of themselves.

The simplest way to put it is that the Alfond which towered so menacingly over Lowell in the past, casting a shadow of fear and indomitability that was difficult for even the best River Hawk squads of the last decade, has been toppled. Its mystique as an unmatched house of horrors lay shattered.

And it lay at the feet of Matt Ferreira and Scott Wilson.

As with BU’s pitiable performance at Tsongas Center last weekend, Lowell’s twin terrors in attack ran the game from start to finish and continued to rain goals on whichever defenders and netminders were foolish enough to stand in their way. Put plainly, the pair, which have combined for four goals and six assists in the last two games alone, have made it their job to lay bare the faults in other teams’ defensive strategies (here: Maine’s inexplicable lack of attention in its own zone) and exploit them with surgical precision.

It was, not surprisingly, a Wilson assist that got Lowell on the board first, just 2:26 into the game. On a 3-on-2 rush, Wilson found himself alone against Martin Ouellette and made a nifty move, but was stopped, so Josh Holmstrom picked up the rebound, shifted to his backhand and buried it after some really nice work by Steve Buco to maintain possession and funnel it back toward the Maine net. Just 146 seconds into the game, a sophomore and two precocious rookies had erased the spectre of a decade’s worth of losses, and, after a broken play led to a Maine equalizer, Lowell went to work in earnest and just three minutes later scored what was the most important goal of the night for a number of reasons, particularly to students of history.

Again, Lowell has not, historically, been one to go up early in games at Maine. Take, for example, last year’s abysmal Hockey East opener at Alfond, where it coughed up the first of eight goals just 1:09 in. And even when Lowell has been able to score early at the Alfond (an incredibly rare feat: the last time it happened was 2007-08), Maine has always come back and worn the game down before picking up the win. So when Stu Higgins pulled Maine even tonight, we were quite expecting an avalanche of Black Bear goals. That’s just how things go in Orono. But instead, it was Ferreira who netted the go-ahead marker, springboarding Lowell to a lead it would never relinquish.

And how it happened was, perhaps, even more important. Holmstrom’s aggressive forecheck on a penalty kill induced a notably boneheaded turnover by Ouellette, allowing the senior to bury one into an empty net from the blue line. That kind of slapstick embarrassment of a mental error just didn’t happen to the Black Bears, and in fact, many was the time that a River Hawk would completely forget himself and leave the puck for an opposing player for no readily apparent reason, to the point that it was entirely not unexpected when it happened. And it happened more frequently than we care to recount. But for it to happen tonight, right after a Maine goal, and during a Maine power play? Well that’s more than your buddies at TIIL could have ever hoped for.

It just got worse from there for the hosts, as Riley Wetmore used a power play to pile on the misery just 2:20 later and chase Ouellette from the game, hammering home that this night was for the River Hawks to tear down the artifice of the building’s power, even if that scumbag Joey Diamond cherrypicked his way to a goal before the first 20 expired.

The second period passed largely without incident, excepting for Lowell once again inducing its opponents into taking a few penalties, including a reprehensible hit from behind by Higgins that netted the freshman five, 10 and a game, and not unduly.

In the third, it was all Lowell once again, and Wilson took another power play opportunity to score the eventual game-winner with a kind of blasé brilliance. The unstoppable freshman carried the puck down the left wing, and danced around poor Matt Mangene without even taking notice of his presence, before turning his attentions to Will O’Neill, who was at least lucky enough to have been acknowledged before having his doors blown off. O’Neill made an ill-advised attempt at a pokecheck and exposed a space between his legs through which Wilson could have fit the puck, himself and at least two teammates. But Wilson went around him instead, then cut a backhander against the grain and over Dan Sullivan’s blocker. Pretty as you like and done with a kind of shrugging, “Yes that happened.” What Wilson doesn’t seem to realize, to his credit, is that Lowell players simply don’t embarrass Black Bears like that. And certainly not in Orono. Or at least, they didn’t used to.

Lowell’s lead was extended one more time, as the River Hawks once again capitalized on a wholly un-Mainelike turnover at the Black Bears’ own blue line, which allowed Terrence Wallin, himself having a strong rookie campaign, to give Matt Ferreira two clean and completely uncontested looks at a helpless Sullivan at 9:47 of the third. Noted terrible person Joey Diamond scored late but no one cared because he sucks.

And just like that, two hours and 25 minutes after the puck first dropped, Lowell had burned Maine’s aura of invincibility to the ground, put out the inferno, then set fire to the rubble. Just to be sure. No matter what happens tomorrow night — and we fully expect Maine to come rampaging out of the corner like a frustrated prizefighter who feels he’s not getting his due on the judges’ scorecards — the Alfond you and we grew up with is dead. Even the members of Lowell’s senior class, who have suffered their share of tough losses up there, are still .500 all-time at that dump. At worst, it’s a place where Lowell can go and expect not to lose. At best, it’s a place where Lowell can run the show.

That kind of change doesn’t come overnight, but now that it’s here, one suspects it’s here to stay.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Bucky permalink
    November 12, 2011 10:40 am

    No disagreements here. One quick housekeeping matter; it was Stu Higgins that tied the game early for the Black Bears.


  1. Around Hockey East: 11/15 | Husky Hockey

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