River Hawks Set to Clash with Old Rival
LOWELL -- Motivation should not be an issue for the UMass Lowell hockey team this weekend against longtime rival Merrimack.
UML hockey notes
First, the River Hawks are coming off 6-1 and 1-0 losses to Providence, ending UML’s 10-game (9-0-1) unbeaten run.
Second, the last time UML and Merrimack squared off, it was last March in the Hockey East opening round of the playoffs when the Warriors ended the River Hawks’ season with 2-1 and 3-2 overtime wins.
“That’s all the motivation you need,” UML senior captain Connor Wilson said. “It stings a lot because everything just ends like that. It still hurts.”
Wilson said the playoff losses were even more painful because of geography -- the campuses of UMass Lowell and Merrimack are a mere 12 miles apart.
Merrimack (7-21-2, 4-15-1) sits in last place in Hockey East and the Warriors are on a seven-game winless (0-6-1) slide. Merrimack has already been eliminated from the Hockey East playoff race.
The Warriors, however, led by first-year head coach Scott Borek, played Maine very tough last weekend.
Goaltender Craig Pantano sports a 3.43 goals against average this season, but the River Hawks learned first hand how tough he can be between the pipes when he stopped 62 of 65 shots in the two-game playoff sweep last season.
Chase Gresock (9-11-20) leads the Warriors in scoring.
UML (17-10-2, 11-6-2) is coming off a disastrous effort Friday night. The effort was better Saturday against Providence, but a one-goal loss in which they were blanked still added up to a lost weekend.
Providence is now tied with UML for second in Hockey East, though the River Hawks have played one fewer game than the Friars.
“I was happy with our response. Obviously, I’m not pleased with the weekend,” head coach Norm Bazin said. “I didn’t have any inkling that we were going to go unbeaten for the rest of the season.”
Bazin calls Merrimack a dangerous opponent.
“They’ve got seven seniors. They’ve got a goaltender who had a great playoffs here last year,” he said.
Bazin said he hopes his returning players remember the sting of being bounced from the playoffs by the Warriors.
“It would certainly be front and center on my mind. We need to bring back the urgency. They’re very similar to Providence,” Bazin said of Merrimack. “Their coach came from Providence.”
Friday’s game (7:15 p.m.) is in Lowell, Saturday’s (7 p.m.) in North Andover.
This will be the 130th meeting between the rivals -- UML holds a 78-40-11 advantage.
TEWKSBURY TOUGH: An interesting subplot this weekend will be the play of UML’s Connor Sodergren and Merrimack’s Derek Petti.
Both forwards grew up in Tewksbury, although only Petti played for Tewksbury High.
Sodergren is second on UML in scoring (5-14-19) as a sophomore. Petti is tied for fourth on Merrimack in points (5-7-12) as a senior.
Sodergren scored UML’s lone goal last weekend on a nifty move in which he faked inside, cut outside on a Providence defenseman and quickly fired a wrist shot past Hayden Hawkey.
BRINGING THE SPEED: In UML’s first 17 games this season, junior Nick Marin dressed for only six and didn’t have a point to show for his efforts.
Then came a Jan. 4 game at second-ranked UMass when Bazin inserted Marin into the lineup and paired him with Sodergren and senior Ryan Dmowski.
The trio clicked in a 2-1 victory in Amherst and in the 12 games they’ve been together, Marin (1-4-5), Sodergren (3-7-10) and Dmowski (7-3-10) have combined for 11 goals and 14 assists.
“From game one we’ve just kind of clicked,” said Marin, a Shrewsbury native.
Dmowski has a lethal shot. Sodergren relentlessly digs pucks out of corners. Marin is one of the fastest skaters on the team.
“We work well together,” Marin said.
Follow Barry Scanlon on Twitter@BarryScanlonSun