LOWELL, Mass. — Winning the close ones has been a challenge this season for the Mass.-Lowell River Hawks. Blowouts have been no problem — the River Hawks are 6-0 in games decided by three or more goals — but coming into Thursday night’s game against the Merrimack Warriors, the River Hawks were 3-12-0 in games decided by two goals or less.
Thursday night’s contest was another close one, but the River Hawks (10-12-0, 7-8-0 HE) managed to pull out a 3-2 win over the Warriors (5-13-3, 2-11-2 HE) at the Tsongas Arena, with a little help from the stanchions.
Trailing 2-1 four and a half minutes into the third period, Jeremy Dehner played the puck off the glass to keep the puck deep in the Warriors’ zone. However, a fluke bounce off a stanchion caught Warriors goalie Joe Cannata off guard. Cannata had come out of net to play the puck behind the net, but when he looked up, the puck was coming at him through the circle rather than along the boards. Cannata tried to adjust, but couldn’t get in position well enough to steer the puck away from his own net, tying the game with 15:22 to play.
“I was just trying to get it off the glass and get it behind the defenders and make them go 200 feet,” said Dehner. “I could probably stand there a hundred more times and try to do that and it wouldn’t happen again.”
“I went to go wrap it, I went out to play it, it hit the stanchion, and it just went in. It just got an unlucky bounce for us,” said Cannata.
The stanchions didn’t help the Warriors out, and neither did special teams. The Warriors took seven penalties throughout the game, including five in the second period. The River Hawks scored both of their other two goals in the game on the power play, as they went 2-for-6 on the power play for the night.
“It’s always disappointing to take a lot of penalties,” said Warriors coach Mark Dennehy. “Five penalties in the second period wears you out and I thought we kind of ran out of steam.”
“I thought we played a pretty disciplined game,” said River Hawks coach Blaise MacDonald. “In the third period I thought we really outchanced them by quite a bit and the power plays helped give us some momentum and helped us move a little bit quicker.”
Jesse Todd scored the only goal of the first period to give the Warriors the 1-0 lead. He got past the River Hawks defense as he passed the blue line and scored a breakaway goal on Carter Hutton at 10:52 in the period. As Todd came in on Hutton, Todd held on to the puck for as long as possible and when Hutton went down to try and make a play for the puck, Todd chipped it up and over Hutton for the goal.
The River Hawks tied the game at one at 7:56 in the second stanza when Dehner scored his first goal of the evening on a 5-on-3 power play.
“I walked [the puck] past the top. I was switching with my D-partner there to get back on our normal sides and as I was walking, there was just an open lane there and nobody covered [me] so I sent it in on net,” said Dehner, describing his goal.
The Warriors took the lead back at 3:50 in the third period, when Jeff Velleca beat Hutton top shelf out of a 2-on-1, assisted by Karl Stollery and Pat Bowen. However, their 2-1 lead only lasted 48 seconds, when Dehner’s deflected shot off the glass tied the game at 2.
Clearly energized by the lucky bounce, the River Hawks scored another power play goal at 11:40 of the third. Nick Schaus sent the puck from the top of the offensive zone down to Michael Budd, who tapped it in from in front of the net, to give the River Hawks the 3-2 lead, which would prove to be the final.
The two Merrimack Valley rivals will meet again on Saturday night at Lawler Arena in North Andover to finish their home-and-home series. That game will mark the beginning of a five game road trip for the River Hawks, who will also play eight of their next nine games on the road, but MacDonald won’t look past Saturday night’s contest.
“In my opinion, and I’m not being dramatic, I think Saturday’s the biggest game of our season, and I think it’ll be the most difficult game of our season.”