NORTH ANDOVER, Mass. — What do you do after suffering a humiliating 10-1 loss and then see the number five team in the country as your next opponent? Giving a senior goaltender his first career start doesn’t rank high on the list of conventional solutions.
Nonetheless, Jason Wolfe’s inaugural performance proved to be just what the doctor ordered for Merrimack as it tied UMass-Lowell, 2-2. Wolfe was facing not only the fifth-ranked River Hawks, but also Cam McCormick, their goaltender who has statistically been head and shoulders above every other netminder in the country.
Wolfe stopped 32 shots, including four in overtime, to backbone the tie along with freshman Matt Foy, who scored two goals prior to suffering a concussion and leaving the game.
The tie came just three days after New Hampshire blew out Merrimack, 10-1. The embarrassing result had been a rallying cry in the Warrior locker room since the defeat.
“We talked about it quite frequently,” said Merrimack interim head coach Mike Doneghey. “On the bus ride home, Sunday morning, Monday morning, Monday afternoon [and] today.
“Guys came out with a little fire in their belly. They were a little embarrassed about what happened on Saturday night and wanted to show the league and the country that that’s not what our program is all about.”
Lowell coach Blaise MacDonald had been concerned over Merrimack’s likely response to its UNH debacle.
“We had a little bit of a wounded dog we were facing tonight,” he said. “We want and expect their best and I think we got that. Kudos to Merrimack and their coaching staff. I think they did a great job of creating a bounce-back atmosphere to get their team back on track.”
As a result of the tie, Merrimack (7-12-1, 2-7-1 HEA) moves out of a tie with UMass-Amherst for the Hockey East cellar and into eighth place. UMass-Lowell (14-3-1, 6-2-1 HEA) now trails first place New Hampshire by three points, but holds a game in hand.
The tie represents the first blemish to the River Hawks’ league record since a loss to UNH on Nov. 9.
“The bottom line is that we just didn’t make enough plays,” said MacDonald. “I found myself on the bench continually thinking, ‘Jeez, c’mon guys, let’s make some plays. Let’s make some plays.’ I’m not sure we made three passes in a row. That clearly hurt us.
“I thought on the other side they played very well, but I felt they got an awful lot of puck luck tonight, too. But you make your own luck and that’s a credit to them.
“I liked our will. I liked our energy level. I liked our effort. I just didn’t like our execution. Why was that? I don’t know. We weren’t nervous. We weren’t jumpy. Perhaps it was just one of those games.”
Merrimack came out looking like anything but a pushover. By the end of the first period, the Warriors had taken a 1-0 lead on a 10-5 shot advantage.
Ironically, the first of their 10 shots didn’t come until the 9:25 mark, but it began an exceptional half-period. Nick Parillo and Anthony Aquino collaborated on a two-on-one give-and-go while on the power play, forcing a strong McCormick save.
Two and a half minutes later, Marco Rosa picked the pocket of UML defenseman Chris Gustafson at the point and raced off on a breakaway. The senior captain recovered enough to stop Rosa with a hook, but was whistled for the penalty.
On the resulting power play, Ryan Cordeiro threatened on the rebound of a Foy shot, but McCormick again made the save. Soon after the man advantage ended, however, Foy made it 1-0 on a rebound of a Cordeiro wraparound stuff attempt.
At the 17:00 mark, Lowell countered with an Ed McGrane shot that hit the inside of the post and slid across the crease but not in.
McCormick then kept the River Hawks from falling further behind with a splendid glove save on Ryan Kiley after Stephen Crusco created a turnover that led to a two-on-one with Kiley and Lou Eyster.
The River Hawks held an advantage in the second period and evened the score, but both sides had strong chances.
Wolfe made a big save in the opening minute on a McGrane shot from the doorstop following a Stephen Slonina setup.
Midway through the period, Cordeiro set up Rosa nicely in front but McCormick came up big.
The best chances, however, began at the 13:00 mark when the teams swapped not only breakaways, but also clanged posts.
McCormick foiled Eyster on a breakaway. Wolfe then answered with a big stop on a Tom Rouleau breakaway and Peter Tormey on the rebound. Soon after, Merrimack’s Tony Johnson hit iron; minutes later, Baptiste Amar followed suit.
McGrane scored a huge momentum-turner while shorthanded at 18:53. Stealing the puck just inside the offensive zone, he broke in and roofed a perfect backhander past Wolfe short side.
Having traded breakaways and goalposts-struck in the second period, the Merrimack Valley rivals traded goals off slapshots early in the third. In the opening minute, Foy’s slapper from the high slot caromed off McCormick’s blocker and into the net. Foy paid the price, however, taking a huge hit from Treille; he would eventually leave for the locker room, having suffered a mild concussion. He is expected to play next weekend.
Seconds later Alex Sikatchev threatened to break the game open with another Merrimack tally, but McCormick made the big save.
Less than a minute after Foy’s strike, Lowell retaliated on an Anders Strome
slapper just after he came over the blue line.
The 2-2 score held through the rest of the third period and overtime, despite excellent chances by both sides. Sikatchev had a great opportunity in front in the opening minute of OT, but McCormick made the save. Wolfe countered with a flashy glove save on Rouleau at 2:08.
Less than a minute later, Nick Parillo almost ended it. He collected a puck on the right wing, flew up ice, cut to the middle and ripped a shot that clanged off the crossbar.
However, the first overtime action of the season for both teams resulted only in a tie.
Both teams return to action next weekend with home-and-home series, UMass-Lowell facing BC while Merrimack takes on UMass-Amherst.