Friday thoughts: Hot or not?
“Red-hot Wisconsin,” they said.
“A tough test for Lowell,” they said.
“Mirror images,” they said.
But as it turned out, not one word of what they said had even the faintest hint of truth to it. Lowell rumbled past Wisconsin like a steamroller over a rotten egg and never really seemed in any danger of doing anything but. Hottest team in the nation, indeed.
This was a 6-1 game, and that’s lopsided enough, but things could have gotten a whole lot worse than that. The carnage started early and went late, and we can only assume the reason it didn’t was that Lowell didn’t want to see Mark Zengerle cry.
Scott Wilson gave the Badgers, and in particular beleaguered netminder Joel Rumpel, a preview of how the rest of their evening would go less than two minutes into the game when he darted between two defensemen and got a backhand attempt off. It was, to Rumpel’s credit, stopped, but that wasn’t a trend that continued for much more of the game. This was obviously contrary to everything we’d heard about the Badgers, who were meant to have been so strong in every zone and riding high on Mike Eaves’ first Broadmoor Trophy, that we wondered for a while whether someone had swapped them with Alaska-Anchorage as a funny prank.
A little more than five minutes later, Joe Pendenza opened the scoring for the River Hawks, going from his own zone down the left wing boards and breaking into Wisconsin’s zone with the defenseman giving him a suspiciously large amount of space. That extra few feet, combined with Rumpel’s total overcommitment to that side of the ice opened up plenty of room for Pendenza to fire a shot that beat him far side, and Lowell never again thought of looking back.
Things held steady at that 1-0 score for the remainder of the first period, but that wasn’t for Wisconsin continually trying to give away more goals, and the officials making a series of rather baffling calls — missing two pucks that went off the protective netting above the glass, granting Jefferson Dahl a penalty shot for reasons that seemingly defied logic (though Dahl, clearly a humanitarian and good sport, barely troubled Connor Hellebuyck on the effort) — and the creeping sense of inevitability that one goal might be all Lowell actually needed to get a pass to the regional final.
But Lowell wasn’t about to sit around hoping Wisconsin wouldn’t score in this one, and instead Christian Folin took matters into his own hands on a beautiful interplay with Scott Wilson to score the eventual game-winner 3:12 into the second. The ability to breeze by a couple Wisconsin forecheckers in his own zone was nice, the tape-to-tape cross-ice neutral-zone pass to Wilson was nicer, the net drive was nicer still, and the finish to extend the lead was nicest of all. It was all so easy, almost as though the Badgers weren’t even there.
But as with the first period, the second wore on without much more scoring besides the opening marker, though this was, again, not for Wisconsin’s seeming willingness to allow Lowell to waltz right on by them for odd-man rushes at every opportunity. Among the more notable such chances was Adam Chapie ringing one off the post following a wonderful spin-o-rama pass from Wilson on a 2-on-1, as well as a few more chances on 3-on-2s that came because Wisconsin had little to no clue what it was doing in the neutral zone.
Finally, Lowell’s next breakaway, which came late in the period, broke the game wide, wide open. Jake Suter floated a pretty little pass up ahead to Shayne Thompson, soft as you like, and though he was caught from behind by the defender and driven into the goaltender, the goal stood up and basically turned the game from one in which we were confident in the result to one in which we watched in embarrassment for the Badgers to have flown halfway across the country only to get pasted by a team with which its only similarity was that they both had the misfortune of having to be in Manchester, N.H., for the weekend.
At some point we had to wonder whether the Badgers even watched tape of their opponents, because they were making bizarre decisions when they had the puck in somewhat dangerous areas of the attacking zone, which we’ll note wasn’t often. Hockey East forwards have long since learned to their sorrow that trying to go through Christian Folin or Chad Ruhwedel one-on-one is an effort that typically goes for naught,
Yes, we know, Nic Kerdiles cut Lowell’s lead to two after a frankly strange charging call on Wilson, but let’s look at the facts here. The first is that the play was broken from the start, getting tangled up in a forest of sticks and feet before freeing itself and going not-all-that-hard toward the net, seemingly of its own volition. On its way there, it hit, well, something, then another, and Kerdiles was as much a goalscorer as almost-unwitting shooter in the whole affair. But sure, Wisconsin had hope all of a sudden, and it was all the better for Derek Arnold to snatch it away.
Arnold had been one of Lowell’s more persistent offensive threats in recent weeks, but apart from a scorching shot in the second period on another 3-on-2 (are you noticing a theme here?) he hadn’t done much of note even as Lowell roughed up the Badgers for a little more than 50 minutes at that point. But when he and Ryan McGrath took the puck out of their own zone and wound up on — all together now — an odd-man rush, he went hard to the net and was justly rewarded at 13:56 thanks to a perfectly-weighted pass from his opposite winger.
Just like that, Lowell’s lead was back to three and we spent the remaining minutes like Fred Flintstone, waiting interminably for the steam whistle to give him the all-clear to slide down that dinosaur and into his car. It was around this time that Wisconsin started getting a little chippy, not that it ended up mattering much. Pushing and shoving is the kind of sore-loser garbage we’ve come to expect from the dregs of the WCHA, and this was more of the same. Adam Chapie’s hard-working empty-netter to further extend Lowell’s lead did little to ease tensions.
After one such testy post-whistle exchange, some mealy-mouthed puke from the Badgers started mouthing off to Suter, whose dad and uncle and cousin all had the misfortune of having attended Wisconsin, only to be advised by the shot-blocking extraordinaire as to just how badly his crap team was losing to an actually-hot, actually-respectable side like the River Hawks.
But because they say living well is the best revenge, we were obviously thrilled to see Ryan McGrath score a power play goal with 3.3 seconds left, on yet another breakaway, just to rub salt into the wounds and make the result just that much more emphatic.
We said all along that we had no doubt Lowell would win this game, but we must confess we’re guilty of buying into Wisconsin’s hype. Imagine the impudence it took for us to sit around for a week thinking the Badgers would give Lowell of all teams a game worth watching. This was a master class in how not to approach a team that’s lost just once in its last 13 games, and Eaves its resigned professor. The River Hawks ran right through the Badgers, with more ease than most could have thought possible, but the win was a result that we saw coming a long way off.
It didn’t matter how hot the opponent. It probably never did.