NORTH ANDOVER, Mass. — The UMass-Lowell River Hawks entered Lawler Rink on a disappointing 13-game losing streak, but opened their outing against local rival Merrimack sporting a strong workmanlike attitude which led to a 6-4 victory over the Warriors.
The victory for the River Hawks ended their 13-game losing streak along with Merrimack’s six-game winning streak.
UMass-Lowell head coach Blaise MacDonald was very happy with his team’s performance.
“We had everybody going and a lot of guys playing hard. When you’re executing the game plan and what you want to do, it’s like a good virus that runs through your entire team.”
Entering the second period in a 1-1 tie, the River Hawks brought too much offensive heat for Merrimack’s defense to handle and scored three goals along with outshooting the Warriors 14 to 9.
Two of UML’s three goals came on the power play with the first goal coming from Maury Edwards who pinched low, got a lucky bounce off a leg, and ripped the puck into an open near-side.
After a boarding call to Merrimack’s Ryan Flanigan, UML’s puck and player movement caught Merrimack’s penalty killing unit out of position too many times and Chris Ickert was found on a back-door feed.
Ickert found the near-side goalpost but Matt Ferreira slipped down the middle and finished at the net for a 3-1 lead.
Soon after Merrimack head coach Mark Dennehy called a quick timeout and UML’s Derek Arnold was called for hooking, the Warriors answered UML’s offensive flurry on the power play when Mike Collins found Stephane Da Costa uncontested at the blue line and he blasted a rocket past Doug Carr to cut the lead in half 3-2.
UML however caught the Warriors napping 17 seconds later when Joseph Pendenza sidestepped Joe Cannata and made the score 4-2 after the Warriors goaltender left a rebound.
In the final minute of the second period Da Costa, who recorded three points on the night, blasted another rocket on the power play past Carr to again reduce Merrimack’s deficit to only a goal.
After Carr’s crossbar prevented a Shawn Bates wrist shot from tying the game, UML’s top line of Riley Wetmore, David Vallorani, and Patrick Cey took matters into their own hands and stormed Cannata’s crease with Cey jamming the puck past the goal line for a 5-3 lead.
With less than three minutes remaining, the Warriors capitalized on a key power play with Collins crashing the net and hacking the puck past Carr to make the score 5-4 and give Merrimack a chance to tie the game.
The valiant effort was not to be for the Warriors as Vallorani, with Cannata pulled for the extra attacker, won the race to the puck and swept it into the open cage to seal the 6-4 victory.
“The team that wanted it more, won. At the end of the day, man-to-man they (UML) just wanted it more,” said a disappointed Dennehy.
The River Hawks set the tone early on Cannata who leads Hockey East in Goals Against Average and is tied for the lead in Wins.
The Merrimack netminder was forced to make huge saves early robbing Cey from the dot and Ferreira from point blank range.
The Warriors struck first with Adam Ross finding Elliot Sheen speeding into the UML zone and giving the Warriors a 1-0 lead just over halfway into the first period on a backhand wraparound that snuck just past Carr’s pads.
The early deficit did not slow down the River Hawks who kept doing the little things in all three zones including scrapping along the boards, playing physical in open ice, and blocking many early chances from the blue line.
Their efforts were rewarded when Merrimack made a costly turnover in their own zone to UML points leader Wetmore, who quickly zipped the puck to the slot to a waiting Vallorani and his quick wrist shot leveled the playing field at 1-1, which gave the River Hawks tremendous confidence going into the intermission.