I tweeted earlier this week about how “sad” it was that the games highlighting the weekend schedule this weekend featured non- traditional powers, Merrimack and Lowell. Although this will be by no means a ratings bonanza for HE, It is refreshing to see some new blood in the mix in terms of exposure and the depth of talent will bode well for the league moving forward. Much like the Beanpot has fell victim to a lack of parity as of late, Hockey East will undoubtedly benefit from the success of the lower echelon teams as long as the elite programs remain elite.
People tire of the monotonous nature of a dynasty and will inherently develop a disdain for these perennial champions. As an example, the Red Sox/ Yankees rivalry was growing somewhat stale several years ago and in my opinion hit the bottom depths of the intensity bell curve in 2008. The emergence of the Tampa Bay (Devil) Rays seemed to reinvigorate the fan bases around the American League East as it not only broke the monotony and formality that was Red Sox /Yankees division winners, but gave the fledgling faithful of the bottom tier teams some hope that they could emulate the success of the Rays.
The same holds true for Hockey East, as the main attraction last night had an unfamiliar feel to it. The #7 Lowell River Hawks(19-7-0) scored 3 3rd period goals and blanked #8 Merrimack 3-0 to amazingly move into the #1 spot in the Pairwise system. Lowell continues to score timely goals and ride the efforts of Doug Carr (Hanover, MA), 31 saves, who continues to impress in net. The drastic turnaround is turning an unfathomable worst to first aspiration into a reality as Lowell sits in first place after the win last night. Merrimack continues to struggle offensively and without the exploits of Joe Cannata (only 46 GAA all year, leads Hockey East) would most likely being battling it out for the final playoff spot in HE.
Perhaps it was Rich Peverley’s (the Bruins Forward was the honorary guest last night) presence that spurred the River Hawks to victory as Lowell continued its “gimmicky” minor league style marketing ploys to attract fans to Tsongas arena. Heck you can’t blame them as not every school can rely on its brand name (like a BU or BC) to naturally fill up its stadium on a nightly basis; even the White Sox employ similar Marketing schemes and events to keep pace with the Cubs for exposure in the Chicago baseball market.
Most experts predicted a second half fall off for Lowell as they have been largely paced by young, inexperienced players. Young talent will often succumb to the pressure cooker that is an integral part of the stretch run in Hockey East. Fortunately for Lowell, their young guns have flourished down the stretch and seem unfazed by the big stage. Kudos to Norm Bazin for bringing these kids along and to his recruiting acumen which the success has been ultimately predicated on. From Oakville, Ontario to Atlanta Georgia, Bazin’s crop of recruits have changed the tide in a hurry. Freshman Scott Wilson (Penguins draft pick) has led the way with 13 goals and 15 assists and Riley Wetmore and Derek Arnold have also put up impressive numbers as well.
The most intriguing part of the Lowell/Merrimack success in 2011-2012 is the potential for a Merrimack Valley rivalry moving forward. The league already boasts some storied rivalries in BU/BC and Maine/UNH but some budding animosity between Merrimack and Lowell will bode well for the league as a whole. The two school’s have much in common including their geographic proximity to one another and their elite status at the D2 level before they transitioned into HE. The recipe has all the making of an intense rivalry as long as both schools can remain somewhat competitive which is a necessary ingredient for some future hype.
Lowell has dominated the all time series with a record of 67-34-8 against Merrimack before last night’s battle. As a side note, how meaningless is the all time series stat when it comes to predicting the outcomes of present day games…this stat is bullshit for the most part. BUT in this instance, in order for a rivalry to sustain itself, the success must even itself out a bit and have some give and take. As long as Bazin and Dennehy can remain at the helm of these programs, the talent should be there for years to come. Let’s hope this is the first of many great games between Merrimack and Lowell as HE needs another relevant rivalry.