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Sunday, March 29, 2009

Hockey Log: Sunday Edition

Hawkish statement
Lowell a few tweaks, twists shy of glamour

There’s almost never a boast or brag in this game, but how often does an analyst actually convert through the five-hole on a preseason proclamation?

Recall six-and-a-half months to this date (September 14 to be exact), when in this very column of this very publication, this author speculated that the 2008-09 UMass-Lowell Riverhawks would emerge as this year’s counterpart to the 2007-08 Vermont Catamounts.

You be the judge: was falling just one win shy of a Hockey East title and an NCAA tournament bid similar enough for you?

Let’s be honest. In some alternative universe where ice is both a more sustainable and profitable resource, Tsongas Arena is either in the prelude or the aftermath of an NIT hockey tussle between Lowell and Northern Michigan. Two days after they had swallowed a round of Sweet Tarts in the form of a 1-0 falter in the Lamoriello Trophy Game, the Hawks were ranked #16 in the eyes of USCHO and #14 by USA Today. If not for the automatic bids that granted Air Force and Bemidji State their tournament membership, Lowell would indubitably be in the mix, as to might St. Lawrence.

Or better yet, the Hawks might have seen action in Manchester or Bridgeport this weekend if not for the puzzling washout of Ben Holmstrom’s clear-cut conversion at 10:38 of the second period in the conference final, right?

Or, best yet, and to properly scope the full length of the sheet, they would have happened into the TD Banknorth Garden sure of additional commitments beyond championship weekend if only for a more consistent, reckonable offense. Then the repellant backstopping of Boston University’s Kieran Millan and the flawless garbage-picking of his associate skaters wouldn’t have left such a vinegary aftershock.

The plain fact is, Lowell could have and should have stocked up a few more pinches of punch ahead of time, and they would have made a leap beyond their collective years.

Yes, indeed. Blaise MacDonald spent his program’s ostensible breakout campaign feeling the same sort of syndrome that notoriously hampered Bob Deraney’s cause with the PC women’s program in recent years.

The 2008-09 Riverhawks’ only let the opposition push away with a three-plus margin of victory (a 3-0 nipping via Northeastern on February 27). But that, coupled with six two-goal losses and nine one-goal shortcomings, amounted to a plainly detrimental accumulation of 16 in the overall L column.

And as is so often the case with so many NCAA aspirants, a sub-.500 showing in interleague play (3-4-0) was Lowell’s death knell waiting for the cue to ring once they slipped out of the Hockey East pennant race. All four of those nonconference losses were 2-1 decisions.

At the very least, perhaps three corrections to that slew of slights to the chin would have cemented their bracket passport. At least one more nonconference win, plus a little more ardent self-assertion in the conference stretch drive (they were 8-5-2 between the December deceleration and the regular season finale).

But at least, for their sake, the Hawks’ missing link is conspicuous enough and they have a copious band of returnees for next season. Only forwards Mike Potacco and Marc Roebothan –good for the eighth ninth slots on the team scoring charts, respectively- are leaving their tracks. The rest of the roster combined to insert 97 goals in a span of 38 games and all but two of their regulars cracked the double-digit point plateau.

Therein lies more Vermont parallels. Last year’s Catamounts saw an offense that was pleasurably balanced on the depth chart but culpably balanced and shallow across the schedule. And they, too, parted ways with two skating seniors who had factored into but two of 88 total goals scored.

Kevin Sneddon’s more seasoned, learned roster of this year upgraded its cumulative offensive output to 110 goals through 36 games heading into this weekend’s regional action, a privilege they earned with an equally improved nonconference record of 5-1-1 (versus 1-4-2 a year prior) and a 20-11-5 overall log that not even a quarterfinal sweep at the hands of the Riverhawks could shrivel.

That’s always the worst, is it not? The wishbone winners of that playoff opener were somehow idled earlier.

But it’s somewhat fitting, seeing as Vermont already had to indulge the same breed of growing pains. And, looking immediately ahead, Lowell’s calling to break out is already more auspicious. They have two more reliable crease custodians –Nevin Hamilton and Carter Hutton- raring to return than the Catamounts had this past autumn.

Pursuit of the platter
A total of eight soon-to-be Hockey Easterners –PC pick-up Jessica Cohen included- are slated to round out their preparatory careers in the USA Hockey Girls U19 Championships, beginning this Wednesday, in Rochester, N.Y.:

Boston College- Corinne Boyles, G, Chicago Mission; Dru Burns, D, Shattuck-St. Mary’s; Ashley Motherwell, F, Assabet Valley

Connecticut- Kelly Horan, F, Assabet Valley

Maine- Brittany Ott, G, Little Caesars

New Hampshire- Kristine Horn, F, Shattuck-St. Mary’s

Northeastern- Casie Fields, D, Chicago Mission

Providence- Jessica Cohen, F, Shattuck-St. Mary’s

Cohen already owns two national championship rings, having helped the renowned Minnesota-based prep school to the 2006 (at the expense of Leigh Riley’s Assabet team) and 2007 titles. Boyles and Fields are doing their part to defend the Mission’s icebreaking championship from last season while Ott vies to correct her Super Sunday falter that granted Chicago its first crown.

Quick Feeds: There is nothing conclusive on either notion, but based on a recently sealed Free Press poll, there was either a lone box-stuffer in action, an outspoken Matt Bergland fan club on the rise, or both. For those who missed it, the PC men’s radiant rookie, who charged up a team-leading 27 points on the year, charged up 43 votes for 89% of the unofficial team MVP vote…Ryan Bourque, the Hall of Fame Bruins’ younger of two sons, has aborted his commitment to Dick Umile’s capstone class in New Hampshire in favor of a gig with the Patrick Roy-coached Quebec Remparts in the major junior ranks. This coming a good 18 months after he had fixated his eyes on the Wildcats and begun a presumptive two-year incubation period. Perhaps now the last of the utterly disgruntled Bruins’ Buffs –especially those doubling as UNH fans- who took no pleasure in father Ray’s “Mission 16W” with Colorado will accept a prescription for better-to-have-loved-and-lost lenses?…Not to tarnish the Friars’ sole token of solace for this season –namely the Charlie Holt Sportsmanship Award- but not only did PC take the fewest penalties amongst all HEA programs this season (145). They also drew the fewest opposing infractions (147)…The Wisconsin women have kept the NCAA trophy home in its rotating Midwestern confines, but the real head-turner lies in the fact that their 5-0 pasting of Mercyhurst was the most lopsided title game upshot in the nine-year history of the Women’s Frozen Four. To zealous easterners, that really ought to be taken less for an omen and more for a just-cause-we-can gibe as the WCHA exults for at least one additional year.

Al Daniel can be reached at hockeyscribe@hotmail.com