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Saturday thoughts: The four years at Clown College

November 24, 2012

Our hope entering this afternoon’s affair was that the offense could continue its path of being good enough to win Lowell hockey games, and though it wasn’t a big ask, we had reservations that this end was achievable. After all, eight goals is a lot, but against Amherst’s third- and second-string goalies, it might not, in reality, work out to being worth all that.

Well, on paper the goals were there. Three goals isn’t a ton, but it’s enough to win most nights, and the way in which they came was reminiscent of the successful Lowell attacks seen last year. Also, only allowing one goal, and not even having it come on a Princeton power play, was very encouraging as well. But, if we may paraphrase Wilco, we still have reservations about so many things to do with this team that even two consecutive wins isn’t enough to dissuade us that it’s not out of the woods yet.

Let’s just start at the very beginning here: Lowell had three goals, yes, but they came in the space of 82 seconds. With the acknowledgement that, yes, it’s very nice to be able to pile up three goals that quickly, and turn a game completely on its ear, that also means the River Hawks played 3,518 seconds without scoring a goal against a team that is, frankly, not very good. But yeah, three goals are good, and they all came in a way we really haven’t seen much this season: in transition.

The first two, from Terrence Wallin (of all people! And he had a hell of an all-around game, too) and Michael Colantone at 18:05 and 18:37 of the second period, respectively, were on 2-on-1 rushes, and we were struggling not only to remember when last we saw such a goal from the River Hawks in-person this — let alone two — but even the number of such breaks in general. Can’t have been more than a handful or two at best, and we’ve seen nearly every second of Lowell’s games this season. The third, scored 50 seconds after Colantone’s, was on a 2-on-2 on which Lowell scored its goal by very literally crashing the net. It was as if wonders would never cease.

But the issue we had, for much of the first half of the contest today, was that Lowell wasn’t playing with much of the same pizazz we saw against Amherst. It was only occasionally tenacious on the forecheck, a hallmark of last year’s team, and often had trouble breaking the puck out of its zone. When it did, the resultant shot typically result in a second-chance opportunity, and you could forget about sustained pressure. Again, this wasn’t the issue from front to back in the first half, but it was more often the case than not, and the flashes of the old Lowell we saw intermittently during this time were tantalizing and very convincing that the old team, the one that couldn’t stop winning, was lurking somewhere just beneath the surface, waiting to spring forth like Excalibur, if only someone had the ability to reach out and grab it.

And as we mentioned earlier, Lowell really got the penalty situation under control. We’re not talking about not conceding on the penalty kill — which was good but not great in doing so, having allowed two shots on goal during Princeton’s two opportunities — but rather playing a relatively clean game. After going to the box 10 times in Amherst, in what was admittedly a very testy game, only doing so twice today is likewise encouraging. When your penalty kill is no good, not giving the opponent the opportunity to face it is usually a pretty wise way to go about things.

We should note here, too, that while we were questioning the decision to give Doug Carr a rest today, and instead run out Connor Hellebuyck for his first game in more than a month, our fears were happily ill-founded. The freshman netminder was solid as he needed to be, and made a few very tricky stops even as the Lowell defense did a pretty solid job of limiting Princeton’s opportunities. The goal he allowed was in no way his fault, either; it was a top-quality shot by a guy who was wide open in the slot. Hellebuyck waved at it but never had a chance, and that’s on the guys in front of him for losing Aaron Kesselman in coverage.

The only other thing that’s a point of concern is that Riley Wetmore missed most of the second period and all of the third with what Norm Bazin characterized as a “small” injury. The hope here is that the decision to keep him off the ice for the game’s remainder was a largely precautionary one, but rumors swirled almost immediately that he separated his shoulder, which is, obviously, not a very small injury at all. If Wetmore is out for an extended period — which it sure seems like he would be if the rumors, which we will stress again, are currently just rumors — this isn’t the best time. Lowell has three more Hockey East games remaining before break (and another non-conference affair on the road against a pretty tough Harvard team), against UNH twice and Northeastern once. Dropping more points to UNH seems likely, but every little bit will help if Lowell has any hope whatsoever of clawing back into at least being in the conversation for home ice.

Lowell is certainly moving in the right direction with these past two performances but more are needed to really convince us and the rest of the league that this uptick from what had previously been the norm is the way things will go from now on.

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