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Saturday thoughts: What in the world?

December 10, 2011

[Ed note: We try to be as fair-minded as possible when observing Lowell’s actual games (the way we view everything else related to the team, obviously, is less fair) but are now exercising our right to complain a lot about this one.]

It’s difficult to imagine exactly what Norm Bazin was thinking.

Lowell was down a goal late in the third period, yes. And sure, it’s safe to say that the team had played pretty poorly in the night’s first 55 minutes given its previous five-game run. But at the same time, it was a Lowell power play.

Here, too, we’ll concede that the night’s previous power play (yes, both Lowell and Northeastern had just one each prior to this one) had gone pretty terribly. That, though, had little bearing on what happened in this later man advantage, in which Lowell, sticks undoubtedly gripped a bit tighter and minds definitely more focused, actually generated about as many chances in the first 1:18 as it had in nearly the entire game leading up to it. And it was perhaps because of that dominance that Bazin made easily the single-worst coaching decision we’ve seen in years, which directly led to Lowell’s embarrassing 3-2 loss in its final game before break.

Let’s be perfectly clear: Bazin has certainly had the Midas touch this season. Every decision he made after pronouncing Doug Carr the starter (a week too late) has been letter-perfect, and he is, obviously, one of the many reasons Lowell is currently 10-5. But tonight, he became the reason it’s not 11-4-1 at least.

With 42 seconds left in the power play, and 4:08 left in the game, Bazin judiciously called his timeout. It was a good chance to give the team’s top power play unit a breather before it returned to attacking the net with a ferocity not seen for most of the opening two periods and only occasionally in the third. And perhaps emboldened by a particularly strong sequence that led to the whistle, Bazin must have figured the additional pressure provided by a sixth skater was worth gambling on. Of course, any casual observer of the sport could tell you that pulling the goaltender when down by one with four minutes remaining (and especially on the power play), is a sucker’s bet. The number of things that could go wrong in that situation are far greater than the number that could go right. And even if you did want to pull the goalie, pulling him to start play, rather than waiting for Lowell to win the draw and establish possession, is an even greater risk for only a slightly greater potential reward.

Predictably, Lowell did not control the draw straight away and in the resulting scramble, Steve Quailer got the puck on his stick and sent it the length of the ice into an empty net. That made it 3-1 to Northeastern with 3:57 to go. Lowell later scored on another power play, which made it a one-goal game again, but the damage had been done.

Lowell had not played particularly well in this game to be sure. It wasn’t on a first-game-at-UNH level in terms of effort, but there were just a lot of straight legs, a lot of guys trying to do too much by themselves, and almost no good decisions. The number of seconds Lowell actually established a cycle during the first two periods could probably be counted on one hand, but the third was a bit more composed and reflective of the type of play that characterized all of its recent, more impressive wins. Where last night Lowell was incisive in attack and told BC exactly how the game was going to be played, tonight it was a bit doddering and ultimately ineffective. This isn’t to say that Northeastern didn’t do its part to disrupt Lowell’s game, but as it leaned on the River Hawks, there also wasn’t a whole hell of a lot of pushback. That, too, can be laid on Bazin if one wants to take it that far, and since we’re handing out blame, we’ll certainly accept the invitation. Lowell has come to play in every game for which we’d have held it to account this season, and the letdowns, apart from the UConn game (which we’ll again point out was played under extenuating circumstances). And with the exception of that unfortunate night in Nashua, has emerged victorious in each. Or at least it had until now.

This was clearly a team not ready to defend its five-game winning streak, and that’s reflected in the Huskies’ goals. The first was from behind the net when a Lowell defender flat quit on the play and his man (Adam Reid) shook loose. The other was the result of a lazy turnover that Northeastern turned into a bang-bang tip in front of the net. The third was a bone-headed coaching decision that, had it been a cartoon, would have left a lot of question marks floating above the heads of everyone in the building. Honestly, what WAS that?

The instant Lowell got its second power play of the third period, we knew for certain that it would score, thus allowing the shorthanded empty-net goal to stand up as the game-winner, and in a way, that was fitting. What better way to exhibit to Bazin the depth of his decision’s stupidity? It wasted another typically strong performance from Doug Carr, it wasted a chance to move into sole possession of third place, it wasted a chance to enter break as the hottest team in the nation, and making a serious case for itself to be considered among the best.

And now some positives, just so we’re not piling on Bazin too heavily here (not that he doesn’t deserve it for that decision, which was, we cannot express to you enough, as baffling as it was disheartening): The fact of the matter is that Lowell still did well enough to tie this game despite playing probably a C-minus game. It did so short two regular defensemen (Zach Kamrass and Dan Furlong, both out with separated shoulders), a night after going to war with the No. 3 team in the nation which had bested Lowell with some amount of ease in their prior two meetings. It did so after Northeastern had a week to prepare for nothing but Lowell. It did so on the road.

These are all very good things that argue pretty well in Lowell’s favor as the better team, but the scoreboard doesn’t show that, and the standings don’t either. This was a game in which Bazin frittered away at least one point. We’re writing this, obviously, before any game stories come out. We don’t yet know Bazin’s thinking and we don’t yet know how he plans to own up to this catastrophic decision.

But we’re sure that we’re not going to be satisfied with the answers.

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. Butter Smooth permalink
    December 10, 2011 7:37 pm

    I think you’re being way to hard on both the team and Bazin in this post. It was a tough loss and a very risky move to pull the goalie there, but I am fine with it. It is early in the season – this game doesn’t mean much. Beating BC was big, if that play had worked, these guys would be on top of the world going into the holidays. Reward >>> risk. It is rare a team nails that open net shot like whoever on NU did. Usually it is cleared with no harm.

    Also: failing now tempers the coach from making such risky decisions down the line when it will really matter.

  2. Bucky permalink
    December 10, 2011 8:01 pm

    Yes, this was a tough loss and the team did not deserve to take points. However, I could not disagree more about pulling the goalie in that situation. If Lowell is down two goals, then maybe I see that logic. Lowell still had 1/3 of the PP and 1/5 of a period to pot the equalizer. That was not the time or the place to play a hunch; if they had converted, it would have been flat out luck.

    Sure, there’s a lot of risky decisions to be made in hockey, but that type of reckless abandon will lose you most hockey games than you win.

  3. Rich permalink
    December 11, 2011 7:13 am

    I saw this loss coming earlier this week, and especially after being in the building for the BC game. There was so much emotion and intensity that it would have been hard to not exert all their energy for that game. Add that in to facing a confident Northeastern team that just swept ND and it was a formula for a loss. I think Norm pulling the goalie was him telling the team he didn’t trust them to win on that night without a risk. Ballsy, but its not a playoff game. I think it was worth the chance, and by the end of the year I think a loss to Northeastern won’t look so bad when we see the rankings in March

  4. Rich permalink
    December 12, 2011 10:40 am

    Just saw the rankings and want to puke that BC remains at #3, but yet we only move up to #17, behind schools like Ferris State and Lake Superior who are behind us in the PWR rankings, or for that matter Colorado College with one less win and an easier schedule. These voters suck!

    • Not in Cuffs permalink
      December 12, 2011 12:23 pm

      It’s just another case of blatant disrespect.

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