LOWELL, Mass. – Less than a year removed from the worst season in program history, UMass-Lowell is now first in both the Hockey East standings and the PairWise thanks to a 3-0 win over Merrimack on Friday. Derek Arnold scored two goals in the victory, Riley Wetmore tallied a goal and two assists, and Doug Carr stopped all 31 shots he faced.
Arnold’s first goal, which came 55 seconds into the third, was initially waved off, as the referee indicated he had knocked in a rebound with his arm. The call was overturned after video review, and Arnold said after the game that the puck did go in off his shoulder, but that he hadn’t moved his arm at all to redirect it.
Arnold’s second goal came on a power play with 2:57 to go when he blasted a one-timer through Joe Cannata’s (39 saves) five-hole from the top of the left circle. Wetmore sealed the victory with 1:34 left when he slid a backhander into an empty net from the neutral zone.
What I saw
-Merrimack had a power-play goal waved off with 4:24 left in the second. Dan Kolomatis threw a shot on net from the right point and Josh Myers tipped it past Carr, but video review showed that Myers’ stick was above the crossbar. It would’ve been a huge goal not just because it would’ve broken a scoreless tie, but also because it would’ve given the Warriors some much-needed momentum after Lowell dominated play for most of the second.
-Lowell’s top line of Arnold, Wetmore and Scott Wilson continued to dominate. Since being put together two weeks ago in the wake of a 1-0 loss to Providence, the trio has combined for nine goals and 17 assists in five games. They look dangerous in every situation. They cycle well, they make things happen on the rush, and Wilson and Wetmore both play physical as well. All year long, the River Hawks have had tremendous depth up front — they have nine forwards with 13 points or more. Now they have an elite top line to headline that group.
What I thought
-The first period was one of the best periods of hockey I’ve seen all season. The teams traded chances all period and there was very little down time. Both teams tallied 15 shots on goal and seven grade-A chances, but Carr and Cannata each made several great saves to keep the game scoreless. The Warriors had the only two power plays of the period and registered several scoring chances on them, while the River Hawks were able to set up a few extended possessions in the offensive zone while the Warriors employed their trademark stretch strategy.
-Both goalies were great. They were the only two reasons the game was scoreless after one, as they each faced seven grade-A shots that period. Carr wasn’t tested much in the second, but Cannata stood on his head. The River Hawks outshot the Warriors 19-5 in the middle frame, and nine of the saves Cannata made were from the grade-A area. Cannata couldn’t have done much on Arnold’s first goal, as he was down and out after getting hit, but he could’ve done a better job squaring up to Arnold’s second. Still, that was really the only mistake all night by either netminder. These two were already battling for Hockey East first-team honors, as well as a possible Hobey finalist nod, and Friday night showed why.
What they said
-Merrimack coach Mark Dennehy: “That was one of those games, a bounce either way. Against a team of that quality in their barn, I thought we showed pretty well tonight. We played hard. I thought we played intelligently. You know, bouncing puck.”
If that bouncing puck hadn’t gone in off Arnold’s shoulder, it might have been a completely different game. Dennehy is right not to be upset with his team’s effort. The Warriors got outplayed in the second, but they went toe-to-toe with Lowell in the first and third, and the game was definitely closer than the score indicated.
-Lowell coach Norm Bazin on being in first: “I don’t pay much attention to that quite honestly. If you tell me that after the regular season’s over, I’ll be very happy and I’ll be smiling. But right now it’s kind of irrelevant. There’s still a lot of hockey to be played here.”
It’s a cliché, but Bazin has stressed taking it one game at a time all season. Even in interviews, he won’t talk about anything beyond the next game. His players said they took a couple glances at the scoreboard when they showed the out-of-town scores and that being in first came up a couple times in the dressing room, but that no one got too excited because they all know they could just as quickly fall out of first if they lose to Maine on Saturday.
What else you should know
-With the loss, the Warriors are now fourth in Hockey East with 25 points, three back of Lowell. They are eighth in the PairWise.
-The River Hawks host Maine on Saturday, while Merrimack hosts New Hampshire.
-These two rivals, whose campuses are just 13 miles apart, conclude their season series in two weeks with a weekend home-and-home.