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October 15, 2013 E-MAIL PRINT Bookmark and Share

Second Thoughts

It's Not Every Day You See History

by Ryan Lambert/Columnist

(Ryan Lambert writes "Second Thoughts" bi-weekly. In order to keep him on his leash a little, we made him alternate the column's focus between Eastern and Western schools. -ed.)

The thing with writing about college hockey is that you're supposed to act like everyone is kind of good even when they're not. This is a thing that happens every week of every season, and has for as long as probably anyone can remember.

Which is why the pronouncements about exactly what UMass Lowell was going to do to Sacred Heart in the season opener, at Lowell's stronghold of Tsongas Center, were so jarring. Most people you talked to about it had the River Hawks winning by at least five, many by more than a touchdown, some even tacking on the extra point.

This was, based on what everyone knew as fact about the two teams, a perfectly reasonable prediction: The River Hawks are the reigning Hockey East champions, after all. Both regular- and postseason, as a matter of fact. They creamed Wisconsin and UNH in the NCAA regionals then forced overtime against the suddenly-juggernaut Yale Bulldogs in the semifinals, who if course went on to win the national title.

Sacred Heart, meanwhile, started last season 0-26-2 and didn't get a win until they beat Holy Cross some time around the point at which Lowell was already deep into the midst of its historic run. The gap between the two on paper was roughly equivalent to the average Earth-Sun distance.

That dumb old saying about how they don't play games on paper is considered dumb and old for a reason. Games like these almost always go exactly how you think they're going to go. Good team wins. By a large margin. Thanks everyone for coming out. Get home safe. Look what Northeastern did to Alabama-Huntsville.

And yet.

It's difficult to say what went wrong for, ahem, mighty Lowell because any explanation proffered would be simultaneously lacking in specificity and not broad enough. Almost everything was calamitous in several rather thorough ways, so it's easier and briefer to say what worked well for Lowell. Here's that list in its entirety:

Connor Hellebuyck. Roll credits.

This is my 20th season watching college hockey and I know for certain that I have never experienced anything like this. Not in person at least. Probably not through hearsay either. Relatively neutral observers wondered aloud whether this is in fact the "worst loss in NCAA hockey history," and of course it was. Hell, it even made Deadspin. For college hockey to make Deadspin, something truly noteworthy has to happen. This more than qualifies.

At some point, you just can't even ask how it happened. Obviously a lot of attention is going to be paid, and digital ink spilled, to an autopsy of exactly how the No. 1 team in the nation, playing at home, got KOed pretty much right from the start by a team of guys who, at best, were given a chance to escape Tsongas Center with some small part of their dignity intact. That's not entirely fair to Sacred Heart, which came in and slew the dragon, but it is the way of the world. Just about everyone knows at least a rough outline of the how and why of the fall of Western Rome, but very few would be able to pick Alaric I, King of the Visigoths, out of an historical lineup, yet he was the one who did the sacking.

Given the relative status of the teams involved, this is going to be looked at as a Lowell loss rather than a Sacred Heart win but that's not especially fair.

To their credit, the Pioneers took advantage of an early and obvious slashing penalty from freshman Evan Campbell, scored on the ensuing power play (following a poor clearing attempt) and spent the remaining 56:12 doing everything they could to prevent Lowell from doing anything in any part of the ice. It worked. Even when Lowell finally answered early the third, and everyone assumed normalcy had returned to our universe, Sacred Heart struck back 1:25 later and never again really looked all that troubled.

There was some scoffing in the immediate aftermath, and who can blame the wags for thinking so, but rest assured this has nothing — repeat: nothing — to do with the weight if expectation currently yoked around Lowell's neck. In theory the River Hawks could have left their A, B, C, and D games in the locker room and walked away with two points, smiling. They simply brought their F-minus game, and Sacred Heart brought its A-plus.

You wonder how much of it was hubris. Not only within the game but before, thanks to an overlong and gauche on-ice "banner raising" celebration that featured pyrotechnics. One can't imagine Bazin, whose stoicism rivals that of Brutus himself, was too happy with the pomp and one definitely knows for sure he wasn't happy with the result.

It was the first game of many this season, but the River Hawks deservedly slipped from No. 1 to No. 9 in the polls, replaced by a Miami team that unlike Lowell, did not embarrass itself. Lowell starts slow under Norm Bazin. Seems like it always will.

"We don't have any excuses for tonight, and we're not going to make any up," the reigning Spencer Penrose winner and back-to-back Hockey East Coach of the Year said after the game.

This was the biggest win in Sacred Heart's history, and the biggest loss in Lowell's. It will probably stay that way in both cases forever. Lowell could win its remaining 32 regular-season games and this would still be a massive deal.

Of course, the next day, Sacred Heart got run out of its home rink by RPI and Lowell crushed UMass, 5-2, so all seems once again to be right with the world.

But still, the clear No. 1 losing to the consensus No. 59, at home. Seems pretty unlikely that anyone is ever going to see something like this again.

Second thoughts

Atlantic Hockey

Air Force: Tough way to lose your second game of the weekend, conceding the tying goal with 1:52 left, then the game-winner with 3.4 seconds on the clock. Giving up the ENG in the remaining time is actually fairly impressive, though.

American International: AIC doesn't start until next weekend, when it plays Providence, but there was good news in the last few weeks, as former Yellow Jacket Mike Little made the Norfolk Admirals' opening day roster. However, he has since been sent to Florida of the ECHL, without having played a game. Tough bounce.

Army: Penn State really tried hard to be gracious hosts, giving Army 10 power plays, but the Black Knights only scored on one of them, and lost 4-1 in a game far more notable for being the first-ever game at Pegula Ice Arena.

Bentley: Sacred Heart wasn't the only AH team to shock a heavily-favored host, as the Falcons surprisingly pumped six past Ryan Massa and successfully killed six penalties.

Canisius: The Buffalo News discovered over the weekend that a crosstown rivalry game between Canisius and Niagara is more entertaining than a Sabres game, presumably because goals get scored by people who live in the greater Buffalo area who are not named Thomas Vanek.

UConn: Not that it should surprise anyone, but UConn confirmed that its holiday tournament will be at XL Center in Hartford for the first time ever. UMass, Quinnipiac and Sacred Heart will play in it as well, so that might draw fans' interest. That it's being played at the XL Center sure won't.

Holy Cross: Remember a few years ago when Holy Cross beat BU at Agganis Arena? They didn't quite repeat that performance, but still, 3-2 is probably closer than most people would have predicted. Adam Schmidt scored his second goal in as many games against the Terriers, though.

Mercyhurst: This was not the best showing out of the Mercyhurst D, against some admittedly very tough teams, giving up 11 goals on 77 shots. Minnesota had 48 of those, which is obviously too many.

Niagara: What do you do if you give up three goals in the first 11 minutes at home against your biggest enemy? Score five goals in a row? Yes, that's a pretty good plan.

RIT: Going up against a juggernaut like Michigan and forcing their media to say the Wolverines "survived" the game, especially given the way they handled Boston College a few days earlier, probably speaks well for your chances of succeeding when conference play begins. The coaching staff, though, probably sees that as little succor following the sweep this weekend.

Robert Morris: The Colonials dropped a pair of 3-1 decisions at Lake State. They, too, struggled on the power play all weekend, going just 1 for 15.

Sacred Heart: Kinda really tough scheduling for the Pioneers. About 17 hours after knocking off the No. 1 team in the country on the road, they had a home game against another likely NCAA team. The 6-0 result was therefore fairly predictable. That kind of turnaround would be tough for anyone, let alone a team that won two games last season.

ECAC

Brown: Matt Lorito scored 22 goals last season and that makes him a pretty decent Hobey candidate if you're trying to pick someone from the ECAC.

Clarkson: It's crazy to me that Clarkson has already played four games, none of them at home. That they're 3-1 in those? Also pretty crazy.

Colgate: The Raiders were tied 1-1 with RIT midway through the second period, which was not where they wanted to be. So they scored twice in 22 seconds and never looked back. They've also allowed just two goals in their last two games after giving up seven in the first one. "I was pleased with how we played defensively, especially in the third period,” Don Vaughan said after the game. "A lot of that was because we kept them 200 feet away from their net and that was a good sign for us." Having the puck means the other team can't score, you say? That can't be right.

Cornell: Here's a cool and great thing Cornell did in its annual Red and White Scrimmage: Both rosters were made up of both the men's and women's teams. Consequently, Jillian Saulnier was the game's No. 1 star with a hat trick for the white team. In your face, Andy Iles.

Dartmouth: The most exciting Big Green news this week was 1949 grad Joe Riley being named to the Massachusetts Hockey Hall of Fame. He and his two brothers terrorized other teams for Dartmouth throughout the 40s, and his nephew Bill went on to win three Div. II national titles with the University of Lowell in the late 1970s and early '80s. Another set of nephews, Brian and Rob, are the last two Army coaches. This exhausts my knowledge of the Riley hockey family.

Harvard: There was literally no Harvard hockey news this week. I don't know what you want me to tell you. Please instead enjoy this video of a Craig Adams goal for the Pittsburgh Penguins, because if you watch the Penguins play for more than four seconds when he's on the ice, you will be reminded that Craig Adams went to Harvard.

Princeton: It's apparently a busy week for announcing holiday tournaments that everyone knew about already. Princeton is hosting the Liberty Hockey Invitational in two weeks, with Yale, Brown and Dartmouth all participating this year.

Quinnipiac: The Q put in a bid to host the Frozen Four at any point from 2015-18. In Orlando. Wisconsin put in a bid for one in Tampa, too. Because of how much sense that makes. Can we just all agree that if the arena where you want to host the Frozen Four is more than 2,000 miles from your campus you just don't get to host it there? Can that be the thing?

RPI: I went to the BC/RPI game on Sunday afternoon and it wasn't a good day at the office for the Engineers (conceding seven on 23 shots, etc.), but man could I listen to Seth Appert talk all day and night forever. "They scored tap-ins in front our net because our backcheckers and our defensemen didn't do a good job, didn't communicate, didn't talk, didn't want to take charge. Our juniors and seniors in big moments didn't want to take charge and execute. And that's on me. I've got to get them to understand what it takes to be great."

St. Lawrence: Two big Ws for the Saints over Maine, who everyone was pretty convinced would take steps forward in Hockey East this year. Granted these were home games, but nonetheless, Maine hasn't beaten SLU in its last four tries.

Union: Five Dutchmen are already hurt, and four of them are "doubtful" to play this weekend. "We're just going to have to structure practice a bit different, probably have a skills day [Monday] while guys are having their maintenance days," coach Rick Bennett said. "Maybe we'll have to shorten practice up a bit." Well yeah. If any more guys get hurt they're going to have to put up a shooter tutor in one of the nets.

Yale: Yale already has to have one big date circled on the calendar this season. National championship and crosstown rematch with Quinnipiac in less than a month. That's going to be a decent one.

Hockey East

Boston College: I'm going to go out on a limb and say that, with no way to verify this, BC is the first team in college hockey in a good, long while to be held to two shots on goal in the first period and go on to score seven in the game. I don't need to tell anyone this, but Johnny Gaudreau is for-real.

Boston University: Also good? Garrett Noonan. Maybe the best defenseman in the country. He already has three points from the blue line. That's not as many as Ahti Oksanen's four, but I guess you take it.

Maine: The Black Bears found rather an interesting way to lose the back end of that all-road weekend against St. Lawrence, giving up three goals with less than five minutes to go. "At the end of the day, for two nights, we didn’t put together a full 60 minutes and because we didn’t, we didn’t win," Red Gendron said of his first two games behind the Maine bench. Seems like they played 55 though. That's close.

UMass: Here's a stat that you gotta think is pretty rare: In two games this weekend, five different Minutemen were called for hitting from behind, with Oleg Yevenko and Shane Walsh picking up majors and game misconducts for it.

UMass Lowell: An ugly start to the weekend for Lowell, what with the humiliating loss, but the goal-scoring play that starts at 48 seconds of this video is almost as ugly. What's Steve Mastalerz doing there? (Apologies in advance for the badness of the music.)

Merrimack: Never good to get shut out in back-to-back games. Anyone worried about Mike Collins (just 3 shots on goal) and his ability to do all the scoring himself?

UNH: Losing to Minnesota at Mariucci isn't really a big deal because pretty much everyone does it. The problem, I think, was even-strength play. While the power play was 2 of 5 and the PK 6 of 6, the Wildcats were outshot 27-19 and outscored 3-0 at five-on-five. That's gotta improve.

Northeastern: Kevin Roy had a hat trick and an assist in his first game but then only two assists in the second. Really have to step it up, kid.

Notre Dame: Jeff Jackson on the Irish going 2-0 and outscoring Western Michigan 7-0 on the weekend: "We're far from where we need to be from a structural standpoint, but I was really happy with the performances of a number of individuals." Next time you guys better allow negative-2 goals or it's Herbies for everyone 'til Summerhays throws up. By the way, it's going to take me another four months to consistently remember that Notre Dame is in Hockey East.

Providence: Everyone's talking about Jon Gillies and for good reason, but the best sneaky-good player on the Friars, and maybe in the league, is Ross Mauermann, who started the season with a goal in each game of the sweep of Minnesota State.

Vermont: Getting even one point from North Dakota at the Ralph is probably better than anyone could have expected.

Player of the Week

Jon Gillies is the best goalie in college hockey and I'm not sure how anyone makes an argument to the contrary. Just look at this highlight reel: Mankato's getting to the net with absolute impunity, running him over, that kind of thing, and still he's impenetrable. One goal allowed on 64 shots against the then-No. 11 team in the country. Yikes.

Goal of the Week

Why would Johnny Gaudreau do this to people? He's a mean boy.

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