LOWELL, Mass. -- Tied through two periods, on the road.
Merrimack head coach Mark Dennehy was happy in that place Friday night at the Tsongas Center. Against UMass Lowell though, things change in an instant.
Led by senior defenseman Dylan Zink’s two goals and Joe Gambardella’s 100th career point, the River Hawks posted a 4-1 win over the rival Warriors after scoring three times in the third period on just four shots on goal.
“I thought it was a very evenly played game,” said Lowell head coach Norm Bazin, whose team held Merrimack to just four shots over five scoreless power plays. “Thankfully for us, we were able to kill off a lot of penalties and we used that as momentum.”
Despite the Warriors’ struggles on the power play and only generating 17 shots on goal for the game in total, Dennehy liked where his team was at ― until a turnover sent sophomore Ryan Dmowski in as part of an odd-man rush for the game-winning goal 11:45 into the third.
“With two pretty sound defensive teams, the first team that blinks is the one that might end up with the bullet in their head, and we were the first one to blink,” Dennehy said. “We turned a puck over, chased it, gave them a 2-on-1 and they scored. Then, you’re chasing Lowell with under seven minutes left, in their building. That’s not a place you want to be.”
Less than three minutes after Dmowski used classmate Nick Master’s cross-ice feed to score for the fourth time this season, Gambardella became the 23rd player in Lowell’s Division 1 history to reach the career century marker with an assist on junior C.J. Smith’s goal at 14:44.
Smith fired a wrist shot past Merrimack sophomore Drew Vogler after taking a feed from Gambardella and cutting through the left wing circle for his tenth goal of the season, then Zink increased Lowell’s lead to 4-1 with an empty-net strike at 18:11.
A senior from Staten Island, N.Y., Gambardella is UML’s player to reach the 100-point mark since Joe Pendenza in 2013-14, achieving the mark on 36 goals and 64 assists.
“I’ve had the opportunity and privilege to play with some unbelievable guys over the years with Derek Arnold and Ryan McGrath showing me the ropes freshman year, and C.J. Smith, John Edwardh, and Michael Louria over the last few,” Gambardella said. “Just good chemistry, so I owe all my compliments to them. Without them, I don’t get anything. They’re really great players.”
For Bazin, Gambardella is more than just a key point producer, and his contributions are measured in more ways than what shows up on the stat sheet.
“He reminded me I should recruit more Italians before we came in here, and I agree with him because Joe Pendenza and Joseph Gambardella are two of the best we’ve had here,” Bazin said.
“Points are one thing with Joe, but they really don’t tell half his story. He’s a substance player. When you get one of those they’re great in the locker room and make teammates better, and whoever you play him with it’s a good line.”
After a scoreless first period in which the River Hawks posted nine of their 20 shots on goal, the visitors actually drew first blood 66 seconds into the middle frame as junior Brett Seney fed Jared Kolquist for a wrister from the top of the left circle.
Kolquist’s goal was the lone UML freshman Tyler Wall allowed in the contest as he made 16 stops, including seven in the first period. Wall, a New York Rangers prospect, has all nine wins for the River Hawks this season.
Zink netted the game-tying goal for the hosts at 10:59 of the second, stepping into a wrister from between the circles after freshmen Colin O’Neill and Kenny Hausinger exchanged passes.
Hausinger also provided the secondary assist on Smith’s goal, doubling his career point total on the night.
“You need to find ways to manufacture offense against (Merrimack) because they block shots and are structured defensively,” Bazin said.
The loss hurts even more for Merrimack after Seney and starting goaltender Collin Delia both left the game with injuries in the third period.
Dellia, who stopped 16 of the 17 shots he faced, did not appear to be injured on contact in the midst of play. He came up slow and skated to the bench hunched over with assistance from the training staff. Dennehy termed it a lower-body injury.
“You have to shuffle the deck,” Dennehy said. “You lost your goalie and then your leading scorer goes down, and he’s also on your first power-play unit. I thought our players did a good job of reeling it in.”