NORTH ANDOVER, Mass. — After a late third period comeback victory the night before for Merrimack, the Merrimack Warriors and Massachusetts-Lowell River Hawks went toe-to-toe once more with each looking for two more Hockey East points.
“You want points every weekend in this league and anytime you get four is a bonus,” said Merrimack captain Chris Barton after the 3-2 victory.
There was little action in the first five minutes with both teams playing it safe with simple passes and tight defensive formations.
Merrimack was the first to get some offensive rhythm in the offensive zone and UML goaltender Doug Carr stayed strong with his defense and robbed Merrimack’s Brandon Brodhag on the doorstep.
Less than a minute later, Merrimack got re-entry and confused UML’s defense with some great cycles in and out of the slot. Merrimack capitalized on the confusion with Brendan Ellis finding Shawn Bates in the slot and sliding the puck towards the net and past everyone. Rhett Bly gave the Warriors the 1-0 lead at 8:04 stuffing the puck in the net from the Bates assist.
A minute later, the River Hawks believed that the tables were turned when Merrimack took a hooking penalty but a miscommunication on a line change sent Merrimack’s Elliot Sheen in the clear and he sent the puck past Carr’s blocker for a 2-0 lead shorthanded.
Things went from bad to worse towards the end of the first period for the River Hawks where they believed they were about to redeem themselves on a 5-on-3 power play, only to have a defenseman lose an edge and spring Chris Barton loose for him to slip the puck under Carr to make it 3-0 shorthanded.
“Anytime you get a 3-on-5 goal is pretty good. We’ve been killing good all year and it’s nice to get a few chances, and we ended up putting in two shorthanded goals tonight,” said Barton.
The second period could have been more of the same for UML who looked demoralized and showed little defensive resistance, but a nice stick deflection from Joe Caveney to make the score 3-1 restored his team’s confidence.
UML also buckled down defensively and blocked and deflected shot after shot protecting their new netminder Marc Boulanger who made solid positional saves on 12 shots and holding the pressing Warriors scoreless.
With 14 seconds left and with Merrimack on the penalty kill again, the luck for Merrimack’s outstanding penalty killers ran out as UML finally got into an offensive flow. Making the score 3-2 just before the second period horn, UML’s points leader Riley Wetmore made a great close range pass in front of Joe Cannata to David Vallorani who zipped it past the Merrimack netminder.
UMass Lowell head coach Blaise MacDonald complimented his young team:
“Merrimack’s a very stingy defensive team and we battled back after a disastrous first period. We have to learn from this and move on.”
Merrimack’s offense controlled the puck most of the time in the third period and the River Hawks were forced to play more in the defensive zone to keep their deficit to one goal.
“I thought we worked incredibly hard especially in the second and third. It didn’t take much encouragement to get our guys to keep playing hard. I thought it was a real good 60 minutes, and they never quit,” said Merrimack head coach Mark Dennehy.
Despite Boulanger holding the Warriors scoreless once more in the third period on 11 saves, the extended time in their own zone prevented the River Hawks from getting enough time in the offensive zone, and they only mustered one shot in the third period.
They also did not take enough preemptive action to take the puck from Merrimack due to their fatigue and both factors led to Merrimack slipping away with the 3-2 victory.