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Saturday thoughts: Come in, she said

December 4, 2011

In Friday night’s game, Lowell pretty well ran the show for the opening 40 minutes and then found itself under assault for the final third of the game.

Tonight was the same but opposite: UNH came storming out of the gates with perhaps the most impressive single period of hockey we’ve seen from any team in years. But in the end, what did they have to show for it?

The Wildcats outshot Lowell 29-10 through 20 minutes — a mind-bending number that, even if it wasn’t padded out a little bit by the UNH stats crew (and it was) would be difficult to wrap the casual observer’s head around. Most teams in Hockey East would be happy to get 29 shots on goal against an opponent like Lowell through 60 minutes, but 20? That’s impressive and nigh-unheard of. This is a River Hawk team that prides itself largely on two things: driving possession and keeping shots to the perimeter. It did neither of those things tonight in what was a trying, worrisome period; UNH held the puck for minutes on end and Lowell was lucky to clear it long enough to get a line change, and it shot from anywhere it damn well pleased.

And yet, if we were to tell you that Lowell emerged as 5-3 victors, what would you think?

You would likely think, for one thing, that UNH pulled its goaltender to make the game even slightly sporting. Outshooting a team by 19 shots in one period isn’t something that happens every day, certainly not in the defense-first world of Hockey East, but Doug Carr proved equal to all but one of those 29 shots. What a performance, really. That’s not to say that Lowell played badly, as you would think allowing 29 shots would entail. It really didn’t. The play obviously left a lot to be desired, but at the same time, this was clearly a case of a frustrated host coming out of the gates snorting and bucking like rodeo bulls, only to find the rider all too determined to stay on for the duration.

And as the seconds ticked down toward the merciful end of the first period, we were silently counting our lucky stars that it was only 1-0. Having surrendered 29 shots, Lowell must certainly have felt the same way. But then a funny thing happened, though one supposes you might only consider it funny if you were a Lowell fan: Lowell scored an equalizer with 27 seconds left in the first period on a beautiful interchange between Derek Arnold, the goalscorer, and David Vallorani, the setup man. We cannot stress to you enough the psychological impact such a goal must have had for both sides. For Lowell, it surely put a serious wind at their back going into the interval; “This,” it said, “is reason to hope.” The River Hawks had been hopelessly outshot, conceding more in one period than it had in all but three of its games in total, but on the scoreboard, that mattered little. And this wasn’t as though they’d somehow escaped the period without having been scored against, this was having been scored against and saying, “So what?” The goal also had a very clear message for the hosts, namely, “Lowell will not go quietly into that dark night.” Prior to the goal, the River Hawks could have very easily pulled a reprise of their pitiable Durham performance of two weeks ago, running a white flag up and hoping UNH would hold off on raining blows on their hapless, helpless opponents too badly for the remainder of the game. Instead, it laughed off the UNH barrage and scored an equalizer.

This kind of supreme confidence in itself is largely uncharacteristic of the Lowell teams to which we have understandably become accustomed. We watched the opening 19:33 from between the cracks in our fingers: Doug Carr was under a storm of shots and found himself without an umbrella, but stood in stern defiance of the cats-and-dogs assault with which he was faced. What’s worse, the team could have just as easily folded up tents early in the second period when, immediately following a fruitless Lowell power play, Casey Thrush staked UNH to another lead. But Mike Budd is only one man, and can only take so much of UNH’s pretentions to being a good team. Has it proven difficult to beat the Wildcats at their comical gimmick of a rink, necessary to establish the kind of offensive control the team has had on Hockey East this past decade or so? Yes. Has it proven impossible for Lowell the last half-decade or so? Of course. Does that mean Mike Budd of all people has to sit there and let some bozo named Casey (girl name) Thrush (bird name) tell him Lowell’s not going to win a game? Obviously not. That’s why he tied the game again just 2:26 later. At the time, shots were still wildly in UNH’s favor, as they would be all night, but Lowell’s repeated ability to answer the bell following the Wildcats’ strikes was not to be denied.

And certainly, if Mike Budd wasn’t going to let a girl bird tell him that Lowell couldn’t win, Matt Ferreira was going to tell an entire building where it could put its beliefs that UNH was anything better than a sub-.500 team. That’s why the senior, who had been largely absent from the goalscoring in Lowell’s recent travails, netted his first since the opener at Maine a little less than five minutes after Budd’s. It’s worth noting that shots, at this point, were 37-17. Again, we have to stress that this is not in any way a typographical error. UNH really was outshooting Lowell by more than double. And yet somehow Lowell, against all statistical odds, was up 3-2.

But of course, the great equalizer in this was that Lowell’s goaltender, Carr, was incredible, as he has been for the vast majority of his season (even his one loss was a strong effort) and UNH’s, Matt Di Girolamo, carried his abysmal performance from Friday into Saturday because he is really rather poor. And as a result, Lowell once again entered a second intermission this weekend with a lead, though one that was a good bit more tenuous than it had been the night before, and not just because it had been halved by the Wildcat attack. Again, it can’t be said enough how well Carr had played in the opening 40 minutes, but even if UNH’s dominance waned considerably during the second period, there was still the feeling of impending doom hanging over the Whittemore Center. Surely, someone was going to meet a grisly end before the third period wrapped, one way or another.

In the first half of that final period, it looked for all the world as though that team would be Lowell. The menace with which UNH carried play in the first period had returned, if not in full force then at least in a reasonable imitation thereof, and that Lowell was helped not at all by a Tim Corcoran trip and Colin Wright board that came in rapid succession. Staking UNH to a pair of power plays in the third period of a game in which it had outshot Lowell by miles and desperately needed a win (it being a point back in the standings and giving two games in hand to its opponents) was not the soundest of strategies, but the Wildcats allowed both man advantages to go by the boards in the way that only Dick Umile-coached teams seem to be able to muster. And yet, at 12:22 of the period, Stevie Moses, for whom UNH fans must have been posting flyers and printing photos on milk cartons for the prior 112:22 of the weekend, finally made his apparently-notable presence felt by leveling the game at 3-all following a Lowell icing call.

Worrisome? For idiots, maybe. But Matt Ferreira is no idiot. He knew, and indeed knows, that Lowell is the superior team no matter what shot differentials in the game will tell you (and he’d likely add that following the abysmal first-period performance, Lowell outshot the hosts 22-19), this was always the River Hawks’ game to win. So just 25 seconds later, he and linemates Joe Pendenza and Terrence Wallin marched down the ice and scored another go-ahead goal to drive a stake into the hearts of UNH and its hopes of winning the game or season series. And if the Ferreira marker was the decisive salvo, Vallorani’s goal 1:34 after that was Lowell’s effort at making sure UNH’s earth was good and salted, so that no hope of winning would ever spring from the Wildcats or their fans again. Lowell rode out the final minutes and had an empty-netter by Riley Wetmore called back, and that was all well and good. Don’t want to embarrass opponents this poor too badly.

At the end of the day, Lowell got what was coming to it: four points, largely on the back of its stellar goaltender, who ended up making 78 saves on 83 shots this weekend against one of the best offenses in the country. National player of the week? We sure think so. Best goaltender in Hockey East? Obviously. Early frontrunner for the league’s Player of the Year honors? Only if the league wasn’t so blindingly tilted against the River Hawks.

But more to the point, this weekend served as notice to everyone else in the conference. Lowell is as for-real as for-real gets, and if you want to be considered anything approaching worthy of consideration for its attentions, you’re going to have to put together a pretty strong case for yourself. Only one team, Boston College, has done so this year. All others — Maine, UNH, BU, Amherst — have been brushed aside with terrifying ease.

Such is Lowell’s power. And you will bend to it or be trampled underfoot.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. December 4, 2011 6:19 pm

    If the title of this article is a Bob Dylan reference, I now love you even more.

  2. Monty permalink
    December 5, 2011 6:37 am

    Girl bird. Awesome.


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