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Friday, January 9, 2009

On Hockey

Riverhawks craving completeness

The Friars will finally rekindle their intercollegiate ignition tomorrow night bent on refurbishing their posture in the Hockey East playoff push. Their forthcoming adversaries from UMass-Lowell are yearning to recover a not-so-shabby offense that supplemented their regal goaltending earlier in the year.

It’s just a fact of life glaring at the ailing Tim Army Corps at this time. They will be locking twigs with one somehow enviable opponent after another as they initially get their blades whet in the climactic second half of the 2008-09 campaign. Providence pines for first time viability in the 2009 Hockey East playoff picture. Lowell pines for renewed membership in the national leaderboard.

The Riverhawks have already thawed their game time attire back out in last weekend’s Shillelagh Tournament –aka the ex-Lightning College Classic controversially transplanted from Tampa Bay to Chicagoland. They’ve taken their midseason posture for an authentic test drive, and their priority is plain: shore the scoring back up.

For the full scope of October and November, Lowell flaunted a flurry of offensive prowess, including an aggregate 10-2 steamrolling of the Friars over two tussles up at Tsongas Arena. Through their first 13 games, they had kilned an 8-5 overall transcript and a favorable 46-27 scoring differential. And they did so through a dense, relatively anonymous depth chart.

“It gives us a chance to have a lot of different people step up,” said head coach Blaise MacDonald in Tuesday’s midseason teleconference. “It’s a team that can’t be marked very easily, because if you take care of Kory Falite, then maybe Scotty Campbell can score. If you take care of Campbell and Falite, you’ve got Mike Potacco that may be able to score.

Ten of MacDonald’s offensive regulars have tuned the opposing mesh firsthand at least three times over their first 18 games. Another, senior captain Mark Roebothan, is nearing a return from a shoulder injury that has confined him to the sidelines each of the last five ventures.

“I think we can put out 12 forwards that can generate offense and play tenacious defensively,” MacDonald proclaimed.

But most recently, “can” has not mechanically translated to “do.” Coinciding with Roebothan’s recuperation over the sparse December schedule and last week’s tournament, the Riverhawks have veiled their borders well enough, but have charged up an infinitesimal six goals towards five consecutive falters.

“What we’ve encountered in our last five games is five one-goal losses,” MacDonald observed, implicitly opting to discount a gravy goal by New Hampshire’s Mike Sislo on an empty net December 5. “We could have easily won all five of those but we clearly didn’t do enough to secure a victory, so we’re in the process of trying to figure out how it is that we’ve only scored six goals in the last five gamese.

“People talk a lot about scoring being down in hockey in general, and we’re experiencing that right now.”

Come what may, Lowell entered this season aptly ambitious and has followed through with a couple of eye-catching spurts, such as an 8-3 thrashing of UNH November 14. Crease colleagues Nevin Hamilton and Carter Hutton have rotated on the IR almost as much as they’ve shifted in the cage, but one or the other has been consistently reliable. So much so that the Hawks have yet to lose by a goal margin greater than two and have only twice authorized more than three goals in a game.

But if they are to revitalize their stature in the national landscape –having been perched in USCHO’s #17 slot the first week of December only to lose all honorable mention votes after their subsequent, and still active, five-game slide- they need to statistically verify their treasured offensive density.

Step 1 is theirs to take up tomorrow night. They will indubitably salivate for the chance to complete a season sweep of the Friars, preferably in the same one-sided fashion from the younger weeks of the season.

If PC is to favorably kickstart its own second-half agenda, a fitting first course would be to revive the snug parity that defined this rivalry not so long ago. Oh, and to tip the scale their way a la former OT heroes Jon Rheault and Colin MacDonald.

“We certainly had expected a better first half, but it didn’t play out that way,” said Army in one final begrudging glance back. “We’ve dug ourselves a bit of a hole at 0-8-1 in the league and 3-12-1 overall, but we look forward to getting back underway.”

“It’s a home game for them, and they haven’t played in a while, so I think they’ve had an opportunity to retool and refresh themselves,” the opposing foreman predicts. “They will, I’m sure, play a spirited, enthusiastic game and we need to be prepared for that.”

Al Daniel can be reached at hockeyscribe@hotmail.com

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