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Saturday thoughts: A vulgar display of magnanimity

November 19, 2011

Imagine the type of infinite graciousness with which Lowell must have approached this game.

Yes, there was the obvious problem with the game at UNH last night where the team didn’t show up, and that was certainly very unfortunate. But we heard enough in the intervening time to know that the team was very upset with itself over the loss — and the optics thereof — and would be out for blood against its next opponent.

But because that opponent was a rather poor Amherst team, Lowell very clearly took its foot off the gas from the outset and instead coasted to a 4-0 victory that really could have been a whole hell of a lot grislier.

There are those out there who would have had you believe that Lowell’s loss to UNH on Friday was a sign that the team is not “for real” as some in the media claimed, this despite the River Hawks’ recent run of success against BU (last seen steamrolling everything in an opposing sweater) and Maine (last seen being goodhearted enough to merely draw Amherst). Oh how they must have rubbed their hands together in an appropriately villainous fashion, cackling to themselves in the deeper recesses of whatever mental hospital to which they’d found themselves committed by concerned relatives.

Lowell’s success? Not for real? You’re having a laugh. Look no further than tonight’s game to see exactly why Lowell is completely legitimate, and a stunningly benevolent host as well.

This game was seized right from the opening seconds by a desperately hungry and obviously upset Lowell team. The River Hawks got the puck and kept it for long stretches of time, passing here and there throughout the attacking zone, putting the occasional shot on net but all the while trying their darnedest not to score despite the poor goaltending effort turned in by Steve Mastalerz (four goals against on 34 shots, and bailed out by a pair of posts). So impressive was Lowell in maintaining possession and playfully keeping Amherst from doing anything of note — not unlike when an older brother uses their superior reach to hold a younger sibling at an arm’s length while the child throws fruitless if feverish haymakers that fall several inches or more short of their mark — that the Minutemen were only able to muster their first shot on net at 10:22 of the first period. And before you go thinking that the one somehow sparked a flurry of offense or heck, even a spritzing, don’t get ahead of yourself. The only other Amherst shot of the entire first period came about a minute later on a soft dump from the red line that trickled to Carr, who had, we’re guessing, fallen asleep then rolled over onto it to put a draw to his right.

And through that first 20 minutes, Lowell was kind enough to allow Amherst to enter the dressing room with the score tied at zeroes. Shots were 12-2 and Lowell had already hit the first of its two posts (on a Zack Kamrass bomb during a Lowell power play). Just in terms of possession and peripherals, the Minutemen should have been down by a considerable margin, but found themselves hanging around entirely as a result of Lowell’s largesse.

But as with any prey being toyed with by a predator, Amherst’s hopes couldn’t live forever. Though still clearly working on Norm Bazin’s first-intermission admonitions, the ‘Hawks generously gifted Amherst a few more shots than they had in the opening period, but any right-minded observer would have noted the growing testiness with which Lowell carried out its marching orders to dial the dominance back a bit. At least one River Hawk didn’t get the memo about taking it easy on a team as bad as Amherst, because Matt Ferreira was slaughtering anyone foolish enough to sidle up for a faceoff against him and won the first four he took in the second period (he ended up winning 14 of 18 at the dot). The team eventually took his lead, and worked hard enough to induce lumbering and presumably enigmatic Russian turnstile Oleg Yevenko into elbowing a River Hawk.

A team can only take so much. Eight seconds into the power play, David Vallorani used a penalty killer as a screen and fired it through his legs. Mastalerz didn’t even react until the puck was in the net. And just like that the game was, for all intents and purposes, finished. The River Hawks had done all in their power to keep things from getting ugly, and frankly, due to their having been standing at the mouth of a river of ineptitude, the goalless draw lasting even 30:44 was near-miraculous.

But here again, Lowell at least was beneficent enough to play-act as though it intended to keep things close. Less than three minutes after the first goal, Tim Corcoran, we’re sure, tried his best to send a bouncing puck into the opposite corner from the attacking blue line, where a number of players could converge, jostle around a little while, repeatedly step on and off the puck and maybe run another minute or six off the game clock. It’s hardly his fault that the puck bounced in such a way that it ended up careening toward the net and past a clearly bewildered Mastalerz who, had he been playing anything resembling his position, would have gotten in front of the puck with ease. (All the same, we’re pleased as punch that Corcoran was able to net his first career goal.)

Lowell had even taken the pains of having Josh Holmstrom commit what would have been a not-great holding penalty if it had not been so brilliantly engineered to give the Minutemen their first power play of the game. It’s worth noting, though, that the two-minute man advantage resulted in just two shots on goal, and neither of them troubled Carr. When that failed, Dan Furlong, ahem, “inadvertently” committed a roughing penalty with no time left on the clock in the period to hopefully kickstart Amherst’s sputtering offense.

And so it was that Lowell entered the second intermission with a 2-0 lead despite its best efforts to keep the game more respectable than that. After the Minutemen were only able to patch together a pair of pathetic shots through the first, the River Hawks redoubled their efforts and allowed six, giving their guests a grand total of eight. Hardly anything to write home about, sure, but certainly more than a team of Amherst’s rather low quality deserved.

And it was early into the Furlong power play that Holmstrom really and truly committed to another holding penalty, this one designed to look spectacularly daft, 200 feet from his own net. A lengthy two-man advantage for the visitors? Lowell was being very much the dictionary definition of altruistic, but even then, Amherst seemed reluctant to step out of its own way. Despite having 1:28 of 5-on-3 time, they created just two shots. And even when the Minutemen gave Lowell the power play, Malcolm Lyles made his only noteworthy appearance of the game to eradicate that after just 22 seconds. But Amherst, it seemed, was not to be denied in its quest to give up goals by the bucket. During the resulting 4-on-4 play, Chad Ruhwedel started a rush in his own defensive zone and carried with two River Hawks going against one Minuteman. He delayed until the passing lanes evaporated under a strong backcheck and waited until Mastalerz lazily made his way over to the left side of his net. He even shot as he (intentionally) fell down. But all the planning went for naught, as the puck bulged the top of the net and extended Lowell’s lead to three goals.

The game was now hopelessly over, with no promise of even the faintest reply from the Minutemen in the offing. It was too bad, too, because after hearing how great the visiting team was playing in three successive home wins (and coming back to grab a hard-earned draw the night prior), we entered this game picturing the game being even remotely well-contested. After all, how could a team that knocked off BC not give Lowell all it could handle? Alas, this question and others like it will remain unanswered, especially because, 2:51 after Ruhwedel broadened Lowell’s lead to three, Riley Wetmore added to it again. He worked from behind the net, putting a backhand on an overmatched Mastalerz and, when no Minutemen made the slightest attempt to check him or even swat the puck away, he switched to his forehand buried it with a dazzling display of skill and awareness. This is likely because while it’s unsporting to run up the score on an opponent, particularly one as newborn-baby helpless as Amherst clearly was here tonight, it’s downright ungentlemanly to not take their offerings of appeasement. Wetmore is nothing if not extremely cordial.

That stood as the final score as well, given that Lowell clearly wanted no part in further embarrassing a club that was already this bad. Carr, despite his and the D’s best efforts, picked up the 16-save shutout. Ruhwedel had three points, Wetmore two. The power play went 2 for 5 (Amherst’s was 0 for 5 with a mere four shots). It was a solid enough win by any measure, but one that could have been a good deal more ruinous to the pretensions of Amherst and its various media backers had Lowell played at anything better than 70 percent effort tonight.

What a bunch of nice guys.

One Comment leave one →
  1. Mark 86 permalink
    November 21, 2011 1:19 pm

    I was amazed at how much UMass looked like Lowell last year. Can’t score, can’t shoot, and their power play sucked, even a 5 on 3 for about a minute and a half. Unbelievable how much influence Blaise has already had at UMass.

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