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Loose pucks: Call it progress

December 12, 2012

Three things that make you strong:
1) Two wins.

We asked for it and we got it. Lowell went out and picked up the two Ws we said we needed to see to begin convincing us that this team is actually pretty good after all. The jury’s still not all the way back in, of course, but it’s now no longer completely out, in our estimation. This is a team that can do very well against others that aren’t great, which is perfectly fine, even if they’re not as close to being among the top-flight teams in the nation as we perhaps thought. That’s especially true given the general quality of every team outside the top three in Hockey East this year (average to poor), against which Lowell has a great number of games remaining and upon which we are beginning to feel confident they can feast. Do we think they can feasibly get home ice? Probably not. But do we think they can take fifth and play whichever mediocre team takes fourth, and then beat them? Yes. Very much yes.

2) Hell, two shutouts.

How about that for something to instill confidence in your backup? We noted Monday night that Connor Hellebuyck’s stats now positively sparkle, though we temper our expectations for his playing going forward with the fact that he hasn’t exactly played the iron of the NCAA just yet. Three straight wins, in which he’s allowed a total of two goals (when you include the no-decision third period against UNH) on 85 shots. His GAA in that time? A mind-numbing 0.60. Things bode pretty well for the future, and that’s not even counting the fact that Doug Carr is still the No. 1 guy until proven otherwise. Plus, let’s not forget that Lowell’s PK is now 7 for 7 in its last two games, and that’s something that has to be celebrated.

3) Jake Suter, sniper supreme.

There are goals we’ll remember for a long time not because of how they were scored, or in what situations, but because of who did it. Take, for example, Niklas Storm’s one career goal in a Lowell uniform, against Niagara. It was crazy (and that game ended in one of the most embarrassing losses in Lowell history) but  it was scored in 2003, and we still remember the wrist shot from the middle of the slot like it was yesterday. Came on a pass from Jason Tejchma, if memory serves, and Andrew Martin scored about 10 or 15 seconds after that. Then there’s Steve Capraro’s lone career goal, in the first period of a game against Providence in late February, 2010. Not a hard point shot, or even a particularly great one, but it squeaked through Alex Beaudry nonetheless, and stood up as the game-winner when Lowell won 4-0. We feel the same way about Suter’s goal Monday night at Harvard. Good hard shot that had eyes, and found its way through about six bodies. Suter will always be known for his shutdown defense, which is why it was so weirdly satisfying to see him mix in a little offense.

Two things that show you’re weak:
1) A few weeks off, then a game against Bentley.

We don’t know what’s worse about break, that it happens every year and robs us of Lowell hockey for the majority of December, or that the first game back is a Sunday afternoon game against Bentley of all the teams in the world. An easy win, sure, and one that will put Lowell back at .500 before 2013 begins, which isn’t the worst thing in the world. But still, it’s really hard to get excited for something like that.

2) Decisions, decisions.

One or two more performances like that out of Hellebuyck and we might have a regular ol’ goaltending controversy on our hands. We don’t want that day to come, but we do want to see both guys play well through the end of the season. It’s a tough spot to be in

Stat of the Week
As mentioned above, Lowell went out and posted a pair of shutouts in consecutive games on Saturday and Monday. That’s also not the first time that’s happened in the last two seasons for these River Hawks. Doug Carr did it just last year, closing down Amherst and Alabama-Huntsville on Nov. 19 and 25, 2011. But in Lowell’s long history, this is still a somewhat rare occurrence, having happened just eight times. The first back-to-back clean sheets in Lowell history were pitched by then-freshman Dana Demole on Jan. 25 and 28, 1983, against Salem State and New Haven.

The Chiefs never saw a comparable accomplishment again, and in fact waited through a name change another 18 years for it to happen again. If ever there was a Year of the Shutout for the River Hawks, 2001-02 was it. Cam McCormick pitched a pair of 1-0 shutouts at UNH and against Amherst on Nov. 10 and 16, then he and Jimi St. John repeated the feat two weeks later against Army and at Union on Nov. 24 and 28 in wins of 4-0 and 3-0, respectively. Those four shutouts were part of a season in which Lowell had a whopping seven before the new year, and one more after that.

The next season, Chris Davidson and Dominic Smart combined for another back-to-back shutout run, beating Clarkson 3-0 on Dec. 7, then taking down Vermont, 5-0, on the 28th. The year after that, Davidson also pitched consecutive shutouts (on back-to-back days, no less!) against Amherst, but those wins were vacated because Paul Falco sucks forever.

Then, in 2006-07, Carter Hutton had two straight shutouts of his own against Northeastern (1-0) and Merrimack (3-0) on Feb. 8 and 16, part of a run in which Lowell allowed one goal in four games.

Get ready
We’ll have your annual At the Break/Player grades post ready at some point tomorrow or, in the case of unforeseen circumstances catching up with us, Friday at the latest. After that, it’s time for TIIL’s yearly long winter’s nap.

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