Weekend in review: Evidence of things not seen
Lowell earned a pair of ties against Minnesota-Duluth during its opening weekend of the 2016-2017 season. There was plenty of good (CJ Smith, Joe Gambardella, Tyler Wall), more than enough bad (Michael Kapla, surrendering leads, running out of gas in third period) and far too much ugly (penalties, penalties, penalties) for Lowell fans to digest as they watched the River Hawks battle a fellow top-ten team at the Tsongas Center.
On Friday night, referees Cameron Lynch and Jeff Miller called a staggering 19 minor penalties in what turned out to be the two hour and thirty nine minutes it took to play sixty five minutes of hockey. Absurd doesn’t begin to describe the absolute farce that was on display Friday night. Lowell would jump ahead 1-0 thanks to a power play goal by Dylan Zink just 4:29 into the first period. The River Hawks and the Bulldogs exchanged power play opportunities for the rest of the first period and into the second, when Duluth would get the equalizer on their fourth power play of the game at 3:54 of the second period. Lowell would score the next three goals; a power play goal and an even strength tally by senior Joe Gambardella and the other a power play goal by rookie defenseman Mattias Goransson. The 4-1 lead seemed comfortable at the time, however the whistles quickly became one sided. After the Goransson goal at 14:08 of the second period, Duluth would get five of the final six power play opportunities.
Being the first game of the season, and with only a handful of practices under their belt, Lowell simply didn’t have the legs to kill off all of the power play opportunities that the Bulldogs had, and the three goal lead eventually evaporated with 3:30 to play in the third period. Sophomore goaltender Christoffer Hernberg was mostly solid for the River Hawks, although we imagine he’d like to have the eventual game equalizer back. In overtime, CJ Smith scored what appeared to be the game winning goal after a turnover in the defensive zone by Duluth. Cutting across the face of the goal, the puck slid past Bulldog goaltender Nick Deery at the far post and was signaled a good goal by the official behind the net. As the Lowell faithful cheered, the officials met at center ice for over five minutes – because even Lowell getting screwed can’t be done in a reasonable amount of time. After the Conference at Yalta, the goal was disallowed and, just to twist the blade on the way out, CJ Smith was assessed a two minute minor for goaltender interference. At no point did the officials review any video tape, instead deferring to the official on the blue line who called the penalty without the knowledge if the puck had crossed the line first (hint – which it did). We give a lot of credit to the Lowell penalty killers, who could have packed it up then and there after having victory snatched from their hands by the jaws of unimaginable incompetence. But they dug deep and managed to kill the penalty off and the game ended tied 4-4.
Over 6,000 people packed the Tsongas Center to watch the River Hawks and Bulldogs on Friday night. After over two hours of occasionally exciting (but mostly borderline unwatchable) penalty filled hockey, only 4,600 returned for the series finale. The game started off eerily similar to the previous night’s contest, with the ‘Hawks getting on the board early in the first period on the power play. Lowell was dominant in the first, out-shooting Duluth 12-6 and keeping the Bulldogs chances relegated to the outside. Aiding the stingy defensive play was freshman goaltender Tyler Wall, whose performance was better than any Lowell fan could have rationally hoped. Dare we say that Wall was Hellebuyck-esque; square to the puck, no wasted movement and always in sound position.
The new officiating tandem of Koharski and Gravallese were lighter on the whistles than the previous paring, however Lowell once again found themselves being called with the last four penalties of the game, including three in the third period. If the River Hawks had dead legs on Friday, they were borderline crippled on Saturday. Duluth out shot Lowell 20-4 in the final frame, and the ‘Hawks were unable to cling to the one goal lead. Defensemen Neal Pionk fired home a rebound with 3:54 left in the game, a score that would hold up after the extra five minutes were played.
Overall there was a lot to like about the opening series of the season. The Gambardella/Smith line was the best line on the ice both nights, regardless of who was paired on the right wing. John Edwardh was given the job on Friday night and Ryan Collins on Saturday, although late in the game on Saturday Edwardh was back out with them. Tyler Wall looked fantastic, albeit with a small sample size. He was, quite literally, under siege for the second half of the game and showed poise under pressure.
On the flip side, the Lowell defense, which was supposed to be the hallmark of this team entering the season, struggled at times from the most unexpected sources. Senior leader Michael Kapla has perhaps his worst weekend in a River Hawk uniform. Kapla was indecisive with the puck, had trouble corralling pucks and, in a moment of supposed insanity, allowed the puck to glide past him into the defensive zone on the power play as two Bulldogs raced past him and he simply stood on the blue line. Senior forward Evan Campbell was invisible on Friday night, and along with Kapla and partner Dylan Zink, was called out by coach Bazin on the radio post game show. Campbell wasn’t in the lineup on Saturday, and we’re hoping he can get his head screwed on straight because the River Hawks are going to need him this season.
Our Weekly Awards
Player of the Week
CJ Smith, Lowell (junior forward) – Three assists for Smith who was outstanding in all phases of the game. Smith was relentless on the PK and was clearly the best player on the ice.
(Honorable Mentions: Joe Gambardella, Lowell)
Rookie of the Week
Tyler Wall, Lowell (freshman goaltender) – Wall was everything Lowell fans were hoping for as the heir apparent to a string of great Lowell goalies. Wall allowed one goal on 43 shots in Saturday’s draw with Minnesota-Duluth.
(Honorable Mention – Mattias Goransson, Lowell)
Ham n Egger of the Week
The University of New Hampshire – Early season losses don’t necessarily mean anything. But getting punked 5-1 by Bentley at home is an entirely different level of hilarity. To add insult to injury, a scant 3100 people descended down from the hills to watch that debacle.(Honorable Mention: Vermont)
Weekend Results (home team bolded)
Air Force 2, Boston College 1 (neutral site)
Vermont 5, Clarkson 2
Maine 5, RPI 1
NU 2, Quinnipiac 2 (OT)
Amherst 3, Colorado College 0
Providence 4, Miami 3
UConn 6, Alabama-Huntsville 0
Lowell 4, Minnesota-Duluth 4 (OT)
Notre Dame 9, Arizona State 2
UConn 4, Alabama-Huntsville 0
Boston University 6, Colgate 1
Bentley 5, New Hampshire 1
Maine 4, RPI 2
Quinnipiac 5, Northeastern 2
Colorado College 7, Amherst 4
Lowell 1, Minnesota-Duluth 1 (OT)
Notre Dame 4, Arizona State 2
Miami 2, Providence 1
Clarkson 3, Vermont 2
Boston College 3, Denver 1 (neutral site)
Sacred Heart 2, Merrimack 1