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Friday thoughts: Only two ways home: death, or victory

February 16, 2013

Games always have something at stake. On some nights a team has the opportunity to play for a trophy. Occasionally milestones are realized. Most hockey games, however, are simply about taking two points in a tough league.

And on special nights, a team can achieve all three goals in spectacular fashion.

Going into Friday night’s game at the Mullins Center, no one was expecting a repeat of the scoring assault Lowell administered to Amherst back on November 18.

With third-string goalie Jeff Teglia waving at pucks like King Kong circa 1933, the River Hawks posted an absurd eight goals on 23 shots on their way to humiliating the Minutemen 8-2 in what to date stands as Lowell’s most dominant win of the season.

This time around Amherst rolled out its No. 1, putting Kevin Boyle and his 2.54 GAA/.904% SV between the pipes in an attempt to add to Lowell’s recent struggles and to give itself at least a puncher’s chance at wresting back the Alumni Cup from the River Hawks.

Being Amherst it of course failed miserably at both.

Instead Lowell pumped six goals past the woefully inept Boyle en route to a 6-3 win that saw the return of freshman sensation Connor Hellebuyck, and senior captain Riley Wetmore reach the 100-point plateau for his career.

Scott Wilson started the night off in the first two minutes, tipping a Michael Fallon shot past Boyle on what we’ll generously call a 2-on-3 for the River Hawks at the 1:20 mark. Scoring so early into the game was obviously acceptable in our book, but we wanted to see Lowell press with the advantage and get the next one, given that it hadn’t been up by more than a goal since the BU game on Jan. 19. Coupled with the two-week layoff, we were anxious to see if Lowell could assert itself with the Minutemen back on their heels.

So you’d imagine we were tickled pink when Joseph Pendenza’s shot from Christian Folin’s set up trickled past Boyle to make it 2-0 at 14:22 of the period. And we were. We were even more smug than usual when Branden Gracel got the box for boarding just 36 seconds later. This had the feel of a game that could turn embarrassing for Amherst in a flash and Lowell had all the momentum.

That is until Michael Pereira jarred the puck loose behind the Lowell net and wrapped it around an unsuspecting Hellebuyck with four seconds left on the power play.

A game which seemed to have broken entirely Lowell’s way was back to a one goal difference. We had the sickening feeling that we’d seen this particular disaster before, and we didn’t even have Ludwig Durr to blame it on.

Except we forgot this was Riley Wetmore playing against Amherst.

Just as he picked up a hat trick in that game earlier this year, he continued to embarrass the so-called flagship school in this one. With a minute to go, Wetmore got control of the puck and fed Joe Houk, who entered the Amherst zone with Derek Arnold on a two-on-one. Not that we don’t trust Houk with the puck, but we were thrilled to see him get it to Arnold who buried it past Boyle with 57 seconds left to play.

The shots after the first period stood 11-6 in favor of Amherst. Three goals on six shots. Yikes. We can only assume that Boyle did his best to convince the coaches that Tegs deserved another shot at these bums, only to be dragged kicking and screaming back to the ice when the horn sounded.

The second period saw the first of five straight penalties that Lowell allegedly commited coming just 14 seconds in on what we can only assume was a ridiculous call on Wetmore for tripping. The River Hawks managed to kill off the first two penalties, but Scott Wilson’s high stick at 8:51 wouldn’t be as fortunate. Connor Sheary notched his seventh of the year on the ensuing power play and just like that Amherst was back within one.

Special teams were the only variable keeping Amherst in the game (however we doubt we’ll see 34 articles about how bad the officiating was from the Lowell papers), a fact that had to be driving coach Norm Bazin out of his mind. Lowell continues to be one of the least-penalized teams in Hockey East, yet their penalties always seem to come in bulk in two or three games a season.

Any appearances that Amherst would escape the period down only a goal were again shattered by the Houk/Arnold connection. Houk this time sprung a streaking Arnold deep in the neutral zone for a breakaway opportunity that the forward buried on the backhand to reclaim a two-goal lead at 18:09.

The third period continued the unfortunate trend of Lowell’s inability to stay out of the penalty box. This time Houk would sit for interference and it was Joel Hanley that made Lowell pay, getting a slap shot past Hellebuyck with 12:50 to play in the game.

With Amherst desperately clawing its way back within one for the third time in the game, Lowell looked to Wetmore, and the captain delivered, putting Lowell up by two for good on the set up from Ryan McGrath and Arnold with under five minutes to go. Josh Holmstrom added a power play goal (here we would normally say “finally,” but it was just Lowell’s second power play of the game, which is simply not enough) with under two to go to seal the win, and the Alumni Cup, for the River Hawks.

Any time you score six goals you’re doing something right. Granted, we’d like to see more than 19 shots on net, but considering the River Hawks have averaged 38 shots in their six previous games and went 3-2-1 for their efforts, we’ll happily take this result. Connor Hellebuyck was good but not great on his return, though obviously some rust was to be expected. Hopefully we see him again again on Saturday night, because he needs the minutes and we still can’t trust Doug Carr.

We wish we could sit here and write about the accomplishment of winning the Alumni Cup for yet another season, but we can’t. Do the Globetrotters throw a party because they beat the Generals? Of course not. The reality of the situation is simply that Lowell continues to dominate Amherst. The sun rises in the east. The swallows return to Capistrano. These things just are.

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