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Thursday thoughts: A long-expected party

December 29, 2011

We figured that when Lowell went into break having lost a tough decision to a team like Northeastern, it would therefore come out of break like a prize fighter behind on points in the final round.

RPI just happened to have been unfortunate enough to be the team across the ring.

Lowell was a bit rusty in this game, even if it scored just 43 seconds in, but was still of such quality against a team so clearly lacking in the same that this 7-2 win was inevitable.

If we’re being honest, this was a five-goal margin that should have been a bit wider. The River Hawks were actually outshot in the game (though we’re dubious that the 25-24 final tallies are wholly accurate) and occasionally seemed a bit beleaguered by the all-too-frequent bouts of possession in the Lowell zone enjoyed by the Engineers.

But before we get too doom-and-gloom we should note a couple things: first, thee disparity in chance quality was in Lowell’s favor by a mile or so and RPI was often at sixes and sevens in dealing with the chances the team was generating, even if its defensemen in particular excelled at blocking shots (they were officially credited with just 11 but it felt as though they had about double that). And to the River Hawks’ credit, they converted on many of those chances.

The first such chance, as we said, came just 43 seconds into the game when an RPI defenseman fell down in the neutral zone and Joe Pendenza broke in on a 2-on-0 rush. He never even considered passing and Lowell was up 1-0 before most fans in attendance had even found their seats. The game settled down a bit from there and while Lowell mostly controlled play for the next nine minutes or so, it had precious little to show for it, even despite a power play.

That all changed when Billy Eiserman floated a gorgeous, Ray Bourque-esque saucer pass through a forest of opposing sticks and Stephen Buco tapped the puck up and over RPI goaltender Scott Diebold. And a note here on Diebold: he entered the game having played just 230-something minutes against largely underwhelming teams, and was completely thrown to the wolves today. We felt legitimately bad for him to have to be burdened with this kind of high-precision assault. But not too bad.

That goal came at 11:01 of the first period, and the game’s most momentous strike for a number of reasons came 2:37 later. It was at that time, with Lowell killing a penalty, that David Vallorani worked his particular brand of magic to score a shorthanded goal that, eventually, stood up as the game-winner. But more importantly, he had entered the game with 98 career points and this goal, so uniquely Valloranian, followed a secondary assist on the Buco goal. What a wonderfully appropriate way for him to become the 40th player in school history to break the century mark. What a thrilling player. How lucky we are to have seen him get to this milestone, and then surpass it with another assist in the second period. A world of congratulations to him.

Lowell entered the first intermission with that 3-0 lead and would probably have liked to build on it in the second, but a bad penalty by Dan Furlong, in his first game back from injury, allowed RPI to cut into the deficit at 4:35. That, however, didn’t last long. Just 30 seconds later, some unfortunate Engineer made the sad mistake of allowing Scott Wilson a clean look at the net and regretted it immediately as the freshman scoring sensation wired one past Diebold to reclaim the three-goal lead. Mike Budd, on another in Lowell’s long string of odd-man rushes tonight, extended that to four just under six minutes later.

And so it came to pass that the River Hawks entered the third period with a 5-1 lead that they couldn’t have been especially happy with. As a whole, the team wasn’t doing much on the power play, was taking too many penalties and was too often allowing its overmatched opponent’s numerous mistakes to go unpunished.

The renewed aggression in the final period, therefore, was encouraging. Terrence Wallin gave Lowell its sixth goal immediately off a draw with an absolute laser, and in doing so also got Matt Ferreira his second helper of the evening. And while RPI got that one back, a final power play goal from Pendenza with 10 seconds left in the game proved the emphatic exclamation point on this one.

Again, this was far from Lowell’s best effort, but that is forgivable enough given that the team had about two days to practice together again following the holiday break and, really, who cares about RPI? We’ll certainly take this win, since you can’t be too upset with a team putting up a touchdown, even if it probably should have added another field goal.

Now on to tomorrow and, we can’t believe we’re saying this, revenge against UConn.

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