NORTH ANDOVER, Mass. — Surviving one of the craziest offensive periods in recent memory, the Merrimack Warriors snapped a two-game losing streak by beating the UMass-Lowell River Hawks, 5-4, before a loud and raucous crowd at Merrimack’s Volpe Complex.
Junior Ryan Kiley, notching his third goal of the season with a hard snapshot over the blocker of Jimi St. John (20 saves) with 5:20 remaining, broke a 4-4 tie to give Merrimack the victory.
“The goalie showed me a lot of room on the blocker side,” said Kiley. “Coach always tells us to put the puck to the net, so I did and it went in.”
Kiley, though, gave more credit rookie Marco Rosa for the goal.
“Rosa made the game-winning goal,” Kiley said. “He went to the net and took the back-checker and the defenseman with him. He made the goal.”
The story in the game had to be the third period. Merrimack entered the period with a 2-1 lead, in what, to that point, was a relatively quiet offensive game. But the teams traded goals three times in the third, culminating with Kiley’s game-winner.
“There were so many momentum changes in the third period,” said Merrimack coach Chris Serino. “Ryan’s goal was so big because it came the next shift after Lowell had tied the game.”
The win snapped a two-game losing streak for the Warriors, and kept them undefeated at home this season.
“We finally have a sense of confidence playing in our own building,” said Serino, commenting on Merrimack’s less-than-spectacular home record in the past. “I remember right after I took the job a couple of years ago, and I read a quote by on of our players saying that they would rather play on the road than at home.”
Lowell head coach Tim Whitehead noted that he thought his team made “solid strides” this weekend, but still came up on the short end Sunday.
“Even though we allowed two [power-play goals] today, I thought the penalty kill was better,” noted Whitehead of a unit that had operated at a dismal 69 percent entering the game. “We’ve made some strides this weekend, but still have a long way to go.”
The River Hawks came out of the gate fast, pressuring the Merrimack net from the opening draw, resulting in a Merrimack penalty just 17 seconds into the game.
On the resulting power play, Lowell drew first blood. Ron Hainsey’s wrist shot from the right post was deflected in front by Ed McGrane. The puck hopped over to the stick of Tom Rouleau, who pushed it into the empty net to score his first of two goals on the day and give the Hawks a 1-0 lead.
At 6:02, Merrimack evened the game when Nick Cammarata’s shot from the slot broke off the glove of St. John and floated to the back of the net. It was the second goal of the season for Cammarata, a defenseman converted to forward to take the place of an injured Joey Gray.
The excitement of the first period came during the last minute of play when Anthony Aquino broke in alone shorthanded on St. John. The sophomore’s shot beat St. John to the glove side, but was ruled to have struck the crossbar. After lengthy discussion by the officials and the goal judge, it was ruled no goal, keeping the game tied at one through 20 minutes.
The second period began with a barrage of shots from Lowell, but Merrimack goaltender Joe Exter (23 saves) stood tall. His point-blank saves on Yorick Treille at 3:53 and Brad Rooney at 8:15 kept the game tied.
But at 9:23, one bad line change for Lowell proved costly. Tony Johnson’s home-run pass found Vince Clevenger at the far blue line and allowed him a partial breakaway on St. John. Clevenger ripped a shot just inside the far post and under the crossbar to give the Warriors their first lead of the game at 2-1.
“We had been hemmed in our end for about four minutes straight,” said Serino. “Then Clevenger gets a long pass and takes a perfect shot, and we suddenly have the lead. That was the kind of game it was.”
The second half of the period saw plenty of up and down action, but few quality shots. Lowell’s McGrane posted the only point-blank shot at 14:35 that Exter turned aside with a blocker save.
The third period was, simply put, crazy. Every time that one team scored to get a little momentum, the other team responded.
It was early in the third that Lowell drew even. Jeff Boulanger, camped out at the post to the right of Exter, deflected home a drive by Darryl Green at 2:01 to tie the game at two.
Less than two and a half minutes later, though, Merrimack regained the lead. After a marginal call for obstruction-interference on Lowell’s Steve Slonina by referee John Gravallese, Merrimack converted on the power play. Nick Parillo banged home the rebound of a Stephen Moon shot from the left point over the glove of St. John to give Merrimack back the lead at 3-2.
Things looked to be heading south for the Hawks as a barrage of penalties, including a five-minute major to Laurent Meunier, left Lowell shorthanded for nearly four minutes.
But junior Yorick Treille turned that around, blasting a shot between the pads of Exter to finish a shorthanded rush at 12:09 to even the game at three.
The mayhem, though, wasn’t close to over.
At 12:40, this time with a 5-on-3 man advantage, Merrimack regained the lead, as Parillo wristed a shot from the slot over the glove of St. John for his second of the game, giving Merrimack a 4-3 lead.
But the ‘Hawks fought back once again on Rouleau’s second of the game, knocking home the rebound of Dan Fontas’ shot at 14:18.
After Kiley’s goal just 22 seconds later gave the Warriors the lead back, it was time for the Merrimack defense to make its stand. The Warriors held the River Hawks to just one shot in the final five minutes, including none in the final minute when Lowell’s tender was pulled.
The win improves Merrimack’s record to 4-5-1 (2-3-0 Hockey East), while Lowell falls to 3-5-0 (1-5-0 Hockey East). Both teams are home next Friday night, as Merrimack hosts No. 2 Boston College, while Lowell faces off with No. 10 Maine.