NORTH ANDOVER, Mass. — In a classic rivalry of Hockey East foes less than 20 minutes from each other, Merrimack and the University of Massachusetts-Lowell battled toe-to-toe for 60 minutes. The No. 13 River Hawks, who were unbeaten in their last 11 games to start the second half, came into Lawler expecting two points, but were shocked, 1-0, by an upstart Merrimack team that had a rousing home rink on its side.
The win was the 100th victory of coach Mark Dennehy’s career in just his eighth season at the helm.
Sold out for the fourth consecutive game, Lawler Arena was packed to capacity and then some, as fans packed the arena to watch their Warriors televised game on NESN.
Through the first 47 minutes of play, everything on the ice was even. If Merrimack turned the puck over, Mass.-Lowell followed with its own turnover. Mass.-Lowell would fire flurries of pucks on net, and then Merrimack would take its turn controlling the puck. From the moment the teams stepped onto the ice, Merrimack was making a statement. Not only could they play with the River Hawks, they intended to.
Defense was the early story, as both Merrimack junior Sam Marotta and Lowell junior Doug Carr made save after tremendous save. Through two periods, Marotta had saved 21 shots while Carr had stopped 20. They weren’t the only ones playing well though, as both defenses gave up their bodies and dove all over the ice. At one point in the first period, it appeared Merrimack had a wide-open net as Carr had been drawn out, but as the puck neared the line, a Mass.-Lowell defenseman dove and never let the puck cross the line. It was a perfect microcosm of the game this was.
The effort didn’t go unnoticed to Marotta, who says he couldn’t have played so well with out his defense.
“They [Lowell] did a great job all night getting in front of me, and I couldn’t see many shots, but my D-men, all they did was block shots,” said Marotta. “They might’ve had more saves than I did. They were a huge part of that win tonight.”
After two scoreless periods, Merrimack’s gritty third line came through with a big play. After the puck was dumped into the corner, freshman Ben Bahe managed to get it free and find junior Rhett Bly, who in turn made a beautiful pass to find freshman Justin Hussar on the left wing, who sent a one-timer over Carr’s shoulder into the back of the net for the game-winner 7:40 into the final frame.
“When you’re not sharp and you’re not winning battles, you don’t deserve to win,” said Lowell coach Norm Bazin. “Tonight obviously wasn’t good enough. Now it’s time to start something new.”