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Thursday thoughts: The Sword of Orion

March 8, 2012

We know the following things about Lowell hockey: First, it’s a very, very good team. Second, it can beat anyone on any night. Third, it is considerably better than Providence in just about every way imaginable.

What we do not know about Lowell hockey is how it all went so wrong tonight.

There are a lot of words you could use to describe Lowell’s performance tonight in this, the program’s first home playoff game since 2002, and its first playoff game at all since 2010. Here are many of them, choose any 10 you like: Baffling, galling, putrid, pathetic, bad, addled, pitiable, uncharacteristic, reactionary, noxious, unsettling, abhorrent, weak, shocking, harrowing, ghastly, execrable, unpleasant, abject, hangdog, pusillanimous and, of course, disgraceful.

The night started out badly for Lowell and only got worse, as Providence somehow clambered to a 5-3 win and, far more importantly, pulled within a game of a trip to the Garden, necessitating Lowell win both Friday and Sunday.

Having seen these teams play all three times this season, we have to say that this was a befuddling, loathsome performance that was wholly uncharacteristic of anything either team showed for more than a shift or two in any of the previous meetings. Lowell was disjointed and never once looked like it was completely comfortable. Providence was dogged and was happy to see Lowell put in the aforementioned position.

We suspected that things might go badly for the River Hawks when, in the first 1:22 of the game, there were already two River Hawks serving penalties. Now, Providence’s power play being what it is (not good), Lowell still didn’t have too much trouble killing the offenses and returned to even strength more or less without incident, but it was from that point on that Lowell allowed the game to come to it, rather than do what it had done twice just last weekend: grab it, screaming for blood, by the hair, and scalp it with lethal efficiency. About seven minutes into the game, Lowell still hadn’t registered a shot, and the first was a particularly weak effort, but it seemed to open the floodgates, as not to long after that Josh Holmstrom gave his team soon after the expiration of its first power play of the night, the result of a Scott Wilson shot that bounced off Riley Wetmore and sat, tantalizingly, in the crease.

It was at this point that we thought normalcy had been restored. While Lowell’s legs were still a bit wobbly, it had gained some amount of purchase from its weakened state and was, we thought, shambling to its feat. We mentioned that Lowell was behind 5-0 on shots seven minutes into the game, but that seemed just about all Lowell would have of that, and the hosts outshot their foes 14-6 for the rest of the period, including a flurry that looked sure to double the lead in the waning seconds.

But something strange must have happened in the intermission, a sort of Freaky Friday turn of events that allowed the Friars to storm out of their dressing room with steely resolve, and Lowell to shift back into the simpering mess it had been in the game’s opening minutes. Providence’s second-period was the rocks upon which Lowell found its hull torn open, and at that point, no amount of bailing would save the sinking ship. Derek Army scored twice in the period, sandwiching goals from teammate Andy Balysky and Wilson, to give Providence a 4-2 lead that Lowell never looked close to recapturing.

Army’s first was the real gut-punch, of course, coming after Lowell took another painfully dumb penalty (the third in a series), this time for having a sloppy change that resulted in six guys in white sweaters standing on the ice at the same time. We mentioned that Providence’s power play isn’t good and that certainly held true tonight, but even bad power plays score when you give them enough opportunities, and Lowell learned that lesson that hard way with an atypical lack of discipline and wherewithal.

The game plodded along for another 4:10 before Balysky cashed in a hard drive to the net and gave Providence the first two-goal lead it enjoyed over the River Hawks all season. And though Wilson pulled his team back within one less than two and a half minutes later, there was never really any sense of hope that this was something Lowell could recover from. Perhaps it was the feckless rush, or the disquieting inability to hold the puck in the attacking zone for any length of time, let alone one long enough to establish a cycle, and if this all sounds alarmist, we can assure you that no, it was exactly this bad.

Army’s second came on a mediocre 3-on-2 caused by Dan Furlong, who was absolutely nightmarish in all three zones tonight, falling down at his own blue line. Army was the trailer on the play and beat Doug Carr, who gave up four goals but saved the game from being a BU-level embarrassment, high. Providence took the 3-2 lead into the third period, but that was the entire game.

Well actually, no, that was not the entire game.

Lowell was more composed in the third period, but still lacking in any kind of urgency or indeed, the ability to match Providence’s effort level. Witness the wholesale death the Friars rained on their hosts from the dot, winning 43 of 73 draws in the full 60 (which, if 73 in 60 minutes doesn’t tell you everything you need to know about Providence’s ability to slow down the game, please return to watching baseball), and allowing only two River Hawks to go better than .500 on faceoffs. Steve Buco was 2 for 3, and Derek Arnold was 1 for 1. That’s it.

Lowell was also more successful at drawing penalties in the third than it had been all night, and it was on just such a resulting power play that Matt Ferreira seemed to net the equalizer. A shot from Chad Ruhwedel bounced of Alex Beaudry, who was shockingly pretty good tonight, then Ferreira, and into the back of the net at 10:25. But we had misgivings right away. The shot seemed, from our vantage point, to have gone off his shinpad in a bang-bang play, but the officials decided to review it. Before that, though, the scoreboard flashed one replay and we thought we might have spied at least an attempt to direct the puck, if not a possible kicking motion. The official explanation made over the PA was the former, though it seems to us, mere laymen, that directing the puck into the net with your foot is perfectly legal as long as the skate is not moving forward. If that’s what they saw on the video, that’s what they saw and that’s fine, but the explanation left a lot to be desired. Though, with Joe Bertagna darkening the building with his insidious presence, anything is possible.

Literally 1:05 later, Tim Schaller hit the post with a shot on the counter and Matt Bergland tapped in the rebound to extend Providence’s lead back to two goals and put the game safely out of Lowell’s reach. A lot is likely to be made of the return of Schaller in this one, and certainly he contributed a lot to Lowell’s misery on draws, winning 17 of 24. Look at the turnaround a player like that can cause. But if you want the truth, he wasn’t usually that evident. Instead, his linemate, Bergland, who had two goals (one into an empty net), as well as Army, were the ones that ran riot on the River Hawks. Perhaps Lowell was so preoccupied with shutting Schaller down Bergland was able to shake loose of coverage, and Army was able to use the favorable matchups to his advantage. But that’s giving the fragile junior a bit too much credit as some sort of puppetmaster who could so insinuate the shadowy, foreboding spectre of his goalscoring capabilities into the minds and hearts of every Lowell defender. He was fine tonight and did well on draws. That was just about it.

And with the game, as we mentioned, safely out of reach Norm Bazin thought that this was the perfect opportunity to use his timeout (as opposed to, say, in the second period when the Friars pushed Lowell around from start to finish and scored three goals and outshot the hosts 18-10 and so on). That actually seemed to have a calming effect and woke the team up, because they played the final 9:30 with the type of ferocity that we’d been hoping to see roughly 41:30 earlier. From that point on, Lowell poured everything it had into the Providence zone and Beaudry was under siege. It resulted in an actual Ferreira goal this time, but with 4:29 remaining, there just wasn’t enough ticks left on the clock, or enough left in Lowell’s tanks, to level again. Bergland’s empty netter was the nail in the coffin. Whether Bazin pulled Carr too early (he got out the hook with 2:10 remaining) is not for us to decide, but yes, he probably did.

We’re not sure how the team picks up the pieces after a loss like this, bereft of effort, dictated by a lesser foe, and humiliating as it was. The only hope that remains is that Providence’s Herculean effort to displace Lowell from its game tonight will prove a fatal task and, having awoken the terrible hydra, will succumb quickly and quietly the rest of the way.

We damn well better see a more concerted effort tomorrow night.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Doug W permalink
    March 8, 2012 8:54 pm

    Lowell has definitely played better hockey this season. They are better than this.
    While it is easy to blame a lot of things on poor reffing tonight, (we counted at least three trips that should’ve been called against PC in the 2nd period) some responsibility falls to River Hawks for letting the poor reffing get to them. The embellishment call is proof of that. They wanted the refs to pay better attention so they had to make it a little more obvious, and it backfired on them.
    As I told the other season ticket holders I sit with, there aren’t many times I’m glad I have to leave a game early to go work the night shift, but after seeing UML get called for tripping despite the player being flat on his stomach, I knew it was my cue to leave.

    • Rich permalink
      March 9, 2012 4:42 am

      That tripping call where he was sliding may be one of the worst calls I have seen in a long time. I will qualify my thoughts on the refs by saying they weren’t the reason Lowell lost. But I will say if we had some actually officials in the game and not some pukes who should be in Atlantic Hockey and not Hockey East, I think we would have seen who would have won based on effort, not on a choppy game where they were letting the teams play, and then 5 minutes later the same play happens and calling it a penalty. I don’t care if you call soft calls or don’t call anything, just please don’t do both in the same game.

      I think this was once again the case of Lowell bought into their own hype and thought this would be an easy 2 wins. This shouldn’t be an issue again, since they (hopefully) will take Providence seriously now, and any remaining opponents will likely be ranked teams. That being said, I think its a point that Norm will need to improve on going forward, because this team is going to be good over the next few years, and they can’t keep giving away games like last night.

      I expect nothing less than Lowell to dominate tonight, leading to the all important game 3 Sunday

  2. Monty permalink
    March 9, 2012 7:40 am

    I want to be at the Tsongas for a hockey game at 4pm on Sunday. That’s really all I have to say at this point.

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