Weekend thoughts: The dogs of war
Lowell came up short of their ultimate goal this weekend, however they showed the kind of composure and tenacity that should have River Hawk fans feeling good about their team’s chances heading into the NCAA tournament. While they were denied a third Lamoriello Trophy in four years, Lowell fans were treated to two (almost three) games of exciting hockey and a masterful performance by senior goaltender and tournament MVP, Kevin Boyle.
Friday night’s semifinal against Providence College didn’t start out well for Lowell. The Friars dominated the early possession and struck first when freshman defenseman Vincent Desharnais scored his first colligate goal at 6:38 of the first period. After establishing possession in the River Hawk zone, the Providence defenseman was unchallenged by the Lowell defense as he glided in from the point and put a wrister that changed direction and beat Boyle high glove side. Lowell managed to stop the bleeding and carved out some zone time near the end of the first period. CJ Smith would provide the offense for the River Hawks, as he’s done all season. Collecting the puck in the left circle from Joe Gambardella, Smith weaved around Kevin Rooney to the dulcet tones of Yakety Sax and slid the puck underneath a sprawled Nick Ellis to tie the game with 1:06 remaining. Lowell was outshot 10-5 in the first and were fortunate to head into the locker room knotted at one.
From this point on there was a lot of hockey played with very little decided. Those in attendance with heart conditions were left fumbling for their nitroglycerine tablets as both teams had several prime scoring chances during the next four and a half periods, with neither goalie relenting to the pressure. As the Boston College and Northeastern fans finally took their seats for the nightcap, Lowell and Providence played on. And on. And on.
We got the feeling that as well as the teams were playing, this game was destined to end ugly. We couldn’t have predicted just how brutal it actually was. Friar defenseman Kyle McKenzie corralled a loose puck behind the Providence bench and blindly backhanded it up the boards to the left of Ellis. Lowell forward Michael Fallon beat the Providence player to the spot and threw the puck across the zone toward AJ White who was streaking to the far side of the Providence net. The puck deflected off of White’s angled skate and beat Ellis at 12:27 of the third overtime period. The goal was emphatically waived off by referee Cameron Voss and a lengthy review would ensue. After what had to be a Zapruder-esque examination of the video, the call on the ice was reversed and Lowell was moving on to the Hockey East Championship game.
There’s been a lot of online discussion about the game winning goal and the review that led to the call. We’re filing this one under “good call, bad rule”. The rule calls for a goal to be allowed unless a “distinct kicking motion” is visible. While a kicked puck should obviously be disallowed, it leaves a lot open to interpretation. AJ White did not kick the puck into the net, but you’d be hard pressed to argue he didn’t intentionally deflect the puck into the net after watching the video. Although it adheres to the letter of the law, so to speak, it also seems to go against the intent of the rule. We fully expect this issue to be discussed by the powers the be in the offseason, however we’re not sure there’s a fast and easy fix that doesn’t boil down to all goals going off a skate to be left to the judgement of the on-ice officials. However for now, seeing as the call ended the marathon in Lowell’s favor, we think the decision was obviously the right one and find anyone arguing against it to be a disrespectful contrarian.
The second semifinal began sometime after 10:00 pm and devolved into a shootout between Boston College and Northeastern. The Eagles would score the first goal of the game just fifteen seconds in, but found little else in the way of offense as they amassed just four shots in the period. In the end, the Northeastern hype train coupled with a particularly putrid performance by Thatcher Demko (.843 SV%) set up the Hockey East Championship game between Lowell and Northeastern.
As we’re all painfully aware, the championship did not go Lowell’s way. It was a back and forth, and the River Hawks had the edge in possession, however they were once again done in by special teams. The Huskies power play connected for two goals while all of Lowell’s extra attacker chances were turned aside. The team skated hard and gave it everything they had but Northeastern would not be denied, capping one of the greatest one-season turnarounds any sport has ever seen. There’s no doubt Lowell was skating on tired legs, but there’s no reason to search for excuses. The will and desire were evident from Lowell but the execution just wasn’t good enough. We imagine the crushing feeling of being denied the Hockey East Championship for a second straight year and having to stand on the ice while another team’s banner is raised to the Garden rafters will be more than enough fuel to drive the River Hawks forward.
Lowell needs to develop a scorching case of amnesia and put this game behind them so they can focus on the bigger picture: the NCAA tournament. Lowell has earned a #2 seed in the East Region and will be taking on the noted trust-fund malcontents at Yale on Saturday night. All the secret handshakes in the world aren’t going to save the Bulldogs from the impending doom awaiting them in Albany. The 2013 Frozen Four debacle is still fresh in the minds of all Lowell fans, and more than a handful of Lowell players and staff. The River Hawks are presented with the opportunity to right a wrong that has hung over the program like a storm cloud since that regrettable day in Pittsburgh, and we’re confident the team is going to respond with extreme prejudice.