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Saturday thoughts: Don’t look back in anger

January 28, 2012

“The good news is,” one of us said to the other after Amherst scored the goal that knotted the game at two, “that probably wakes them up.”

To that point, late in the second period, the game had very much resembled Janus in its being of two faces. In the first period, Lowell ran the show in much the way they had in the prior meeting at Tsongas Center between these two teams. Where that first-period performance hadn’t yielded the hosts a goal, it at least held a 12-2 shot advantage. In this one, Lowell scored twice and held a 13-5 shot advantage. It was looking for all the world like the River Hawks were going to run away with the series sweep.

But in the second period, things proved far more complicated than all that. Amherst actually had the temerity to show up for the first — and ultimately only — period it played in Lowell this year. The Minutemen scored twice and were tilting the shots heavily in their favor. By the time Amherst brought the score back level at 15:28 of the middle frame, shots were 17-4 to the visitors and Lowell was very much on its heels.

But that prediction ultimately proved rather prescient; Amherst enjoyed their tie score for all of 82 seconds before Lowell pulled ahead again on Josh Holmstrom’s third goal of the weekend and the surety of the result never again was threatened.

Lowell opened this game in much the way it has in most home games this season: it dominated. Amherst had maybe three fully effective shifts in the first period and very rarely did they actually result in something Doug Carr, who was once again magnificent tonight, had to trouble himself with. Lowell, meanwhile, took a little bit to get its feet going even as it prevented Amherst from doing the same, but eventually, the levees broke and Derek Arnold opened the scoring about halfway through the period on a mad scramble caused by the Scylla and Charybdis of Jeff Teglia brutally misplaying a bouncing puck and the defenseman who swarmed around him having no clue at all what they should do with the puck once it started to settle down. Riley Wetmore, sensing weakness in their prey like any successful predator, worked the it loose and found Arnold, who had already hit the post on a backhand roof attempt, for the one-timer.

The River Hawks’ margin was broadened about seven minutes later by Matt Ferreira, scoring his first goal in nine games. The play came on an odd-man rush that saw Terrence Walling break down the right wing with Ferreira in the middle, a defenseman between them but a half-step behind the Lowell senior. Wallin fired a tape-to-tape pass so gorgeous it’s difficult to put into words right onto Ferreira’s outstretched stick as puck, then forward, then defender all went past Teglia and into the net. Lowell’s victory, it would seem, was assured.

But the Minutemen had other plans.

For all the poor play it had turned in during the first four periods of the season in Lowell, it seemed Amherst distilled everything they wanted to do to the River Hawks into the first 17 minutes or so of this one. Shots, again, were ridiculously in favor of the Minutemen but much like the events of the first period, it took a while to finally break through. And even then, it took a double deflection for Joel Hanley’s shot from the top of the circle to beat Carr high. It must be said that Lowell’s outstanding netminder was positively under siege for much of the second period, and that played itself out in the form of Amherst’s second goal, which came about in much the same way as Lowell’s first. There was simply a mad scramble at the goalmouth and Patrick Kiley, after his teammates had two or three whacks turned aside, finally slipped one past the sprawled netminder for the tying goal at 15:28 of the second period.

It was then that the prediction was made, and less than a minute and a half later that it was proven true. David Vallorani caught a lucky bounce and took the puck on a 2-on-2 rush down the left wing. Holmstrom, trailing behind the far defender, deftly slipped himself from the right channel into the center of the ice. Vallorani shot, Teglia kicked the puck into the slot, Holmstrom buried it. But it was the subtle move from right to center that spelled all the difference the River Hawks would need to salt the game away. If Holmstrom doesn’t recognize the play developing and make that switch, the second defenseman is first to the rebound, and probably sweeps it safely to the corner.

And it was here that Amherst unraveled. Where before that goal they had swarmed the Lowell net and dumped 17 shots on Carr in the second period, greater than the total number they’d managed in these teams’ entire first game at Tsongas, they cobbled together just two to Lowell’s four, and reverted back to being the same Amherst team that takes too many penalties, loses its composure and, as a consequence, loses road games.

Not surprisingly, Amherst took 23 penalty minutes during the final frame after having been whistled for none in the previous 40 minutes. It began with a TJ Syner interference penalty next to the Lowell net, which is not where you want to be taking interference penalties. It was followed 1:06 later by a sterling shift from Eric Filiou in which he first hooked one River Hawk to draw a delayed call and then, during that time, tripped another one. That put Lowell on a 5-on-3 power play for 54 seconds, and allowed Arnold all the space he needed to rocket a one-timer past Teglia to once again give Lowell a two-goal lead, one which it would under no circumstances be surrendering this time around.

And even if the fourth goal didn’t see to that, the particularly egregious hit from behind on Scott Wilson from Steve Guzzo surely did. The resulting five-minute major allowed the River Hawks to score again, this time from Terrence Wallin at 9:14 on a beautiful and creative assist from the side of the net from David Vallorani, and simultaneously run off much of the remaining time.

The win gave the River Hawks their first sweep of Amherst since 1997-98, if you can believe that. And far, far, far, far, far more importantly, it gave them eight points from a possible 10 during this hellacious stretch of five games in eight days, three of which were on the road. That’s almost enough for us to forgive the Providence loss, but not quite.

This team is really starting to show us something, and with its next five games at home, there’s no reason to believe it will slow down any time soon.

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