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“Opportunistic” River Hawks Finish Off Sweep at Merrimack, 5-1

UMass Lowell freshman defenseman Mattias Goransson had two assists in Saturday’s 5-1 win at Merrimack.
John Corneau/SB Nation

NORTH ANDOVER, Mass. -- Against UMass Lowell, a team’s quality chances are likely to be few and far between.

Merrimack had the better of the play numerically ― a 29-23 shot advantage and 62 total attempts ― against the seventh-ranked River Hawks Saturday night at Lawler Rink.

Still, the Warriors found themselves on the short end of the stick for the second consecutive game as five Lowell players scored goals in a 5-1 win, with four coming over the final two periods.

“We’re pleased to come out with two points and a weekend sweep,” Lowell head coach Norm Bazin said after his team jumped to 10-5-3 on the season and 6-3-1 in Hockey East play. “It’s tough to get sweeps in Hockey East, so whenever you can get them you’ve got to take advantage.

“It thought it was a great game. Tight in the first, but fortunately for us, we were able to score first, which takes some of the burden off on the road.”

The teams played to an even first period for the second straight night, but Lowell jumped out to a 1-0 lead this time. Its goal was the only difference in a 9-8 shooting advantage.

After the Warriors surged back with some offense and Metcalf came up with a series of saves in the middle stages, senior Joe Gambardella’s 101st career point as a River Hawk was the opening goal at the 16:02 mark. Junior defenseman Chris Forney jumped into the play on the right side and sent Gambardella a perfect pass across the crease for his eighth goal of the season.

“They’re an incredibly opportunistic team,” Merrimack head coach Mark Dennehy said. “They had one shot on their power play, and they’re 1-for-2.”

Lowell took just six shots on goal in the second period, but made them count, scoring twice to take a commanding 3-0 lead. Freshman Kenny Hausinger doubled the visitors’ advantage 5:20 in, taking a perfect feed through center ice from defenseman Mattias Goransson.

At the 5:49 mark, senior defenseman Dylan Zink scored his third goal of the weekend for the River Hawks. After defense partner Michael Kapla fed the puck to Zink in the slot, he working toe-dragged around his defenseman to the outside of the circle and shot home a wrister.

All three goals in the third period came in the latter half. Forney’s first goal of the season was the period’s first, coming on a one-time shot from Goransson at 12:19.

The Warriors finally cracked the scoreboard at 13:11 as junior Jace Hennig tipped home freshman Jonathan Kovacevic’s shot through traffic, and then again saw an uptick in offensive opportunities as the game came to a conclusion.

“They’re as good a transition team as I think we’ve played this year, and I said that again yesterday,” Dennehy said. “I thought we played hard, I thought we played well for large stretches. I didn’t think we got very many bounces tonight, but I think you earn those too and earn those over time.”

Metcalf held the fort late as the hosts had a 6-on-4 skating advantage in the final five minutes for the second straight night. Zink iced Friday’s 4-1 decision with an empty-netter, but this night ended with the River Hawks scoring shorthanded.

After UML killed off a late penalty, junior Tommy Panico fired his first goal of the season in from the point with 17.8 seconds left, following a feed from Jake Kamrass.

Making just his second start as a River Hawk, Metcalf made 28 saves to earn his first collegiate win, including 11 stops in the third period. He is one of four goaltenders Bazin’s club has used already this year, a first in the program’s Division 1 era.

“I liked his game. I thought he was real solid, looked big,” Bazin said of Metcalf, a Ducks prospect. “It’s a real positive point for us because that’s only his second game. He gets his first win, and we go into a long break now with two guys who feel good about themselves.”

Both teams return to action the week after Christmas, with Merrimack’s break extending all the way until Dec. 28 when it faces Colorado College in the Florida College Classic in Estero.

Although this weekend was a net negative for Dennehy’s club as it fell to 6-8-3 on the season, there are positives to take in the team’s strong finish to the game.

“It just wasn’t a good weekend for us ― we had injuries, but no excuses. It’s a reality,” Dennehy said. “We’ll have some time, and I think it will be good for us. I think we can be a good team. I think we’ve shown signs of it and anybody who was here tonight saw us play really well at times.”