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Merrimack, Lowell draw in "playoff type" Hockey East opener

UMass Lowell and Merrimack played to a 1-1 tie in a Hockey East opener that had a playoff feel on Friday night at Lawler Arena.

Matt Dewkett

NORTH ANDOVER, Mass. -- It may only be October, but Merrimack and UMass Lowell certainly played a playoff-style Hockey East game on Friday night at Lawler Arena.

The 19th-ranked Warriors held the visitors to just 15 shots on goal, but neither team could crack the scoreboard after the second period and finished a 1-1 tie in their first meeting of a weekend series.

"Another little playoff type atmosphere game," Merrimack head coach Mark Dennehy said. "I know how much they pay attention to details and I thought we did a good job after the first period of doing the same thing. I think they're a really good team, but I think they are too."

The best offensive chances of the first period came during its first 90 seconds and the teams combined for just seven shots at its conclusion.

UMass Lowell senior Kevin Boyle made a great save on Merrimack junior Chris LeBlanc streaking in from the wing to keep the game scoreless for a short time, but the visitors drew first blood at 1:26.

After Boyle stopped the Ottawa Senators product with his glove but could not catch the puck, sophomore Chris Forney sprung classmate C.J. Smith for a partial breakaway and he cashed after switching to the forehand at the crease of Merrimack's Collin Delia.

"You score first, you're 100 percent on the penalty kill. Those are the positives," UML head coach Norm Bazin said. "The downside is you get outshot 2-1 but you can't find a way to get that second goal when it counts."

The teams sped up and down the ice a mile a minute during the early stages of the game, but the pace slowed a bit as time ticked on in the opening stanza.

Things picked back up as the second got underway and the Warriors leveled the score at the 3:36 mark. Senior Ben Bahe stayed with a net mouth scramble in front of Boyle and tucked home a rebound that trickled loose.

Bahe's goal was the sixth by a member of Merrimack's senior class this year, and his third goal and fourth point in the first three games. Sophomore defenseman Aaron Titcomb and fellow senior Brian Christie notched the assists.

Lowell's best chance of the night came in the late stages of the second period as juniors Hampus Gustafsson and Jonathan Lashyn were called for penalties in the 16th and 17th minutes, but could not cash in against Delia and a stout Warrior defense.

The Warriors hunkered down and killed it off, keeping their stance as one of eight perfect penalty-killing teams in the country. Lowell was also perfect in its first three games and continued the trend by holding Merrimack scoreless on its two man-up chances.

"I think it was a 'special team' because our power play needs a little work," Dennehy said. "Our penalty kill is excellent. ... It begins and ends with our goalie. I thought Deals was excellent, and there was some great play by our defensemen."

The ice was tilted heavily in Merrimack's favor in the third period as it held a 15-1 shots on goal advantage. The Warriors threw the kitchen sink at Boyle, but the River Hawks' senior stopper did his job and kept the game scoreless.

His biggest saves of the night came with less than 3:30 to go as he robbed Gustafsson and his senior brother John in quick succession from in tight. Hampus' attempt was a quick rebound attempt from in tight on Boyle's right side, but it turned out to be one of his 34 saves on the night.

"I think we have a lot of things we can improve upon, but it wasn't a total disaster by any means," Bazin said. "I thought Mr. Boyle played well in net, and I thought we did some things offensively, but not enough to generate good scoring opportunities."

The teams will conclude their home-and-home set on Saturday night when the scene shifts to Tsongas Center at UMass Lowell.