Rasmus Tirronen made 51 saves, stealing two points and the show, as Merrimack beat Lowell 2-1.
NORTH ANDOVER – The 2,549 fans in attendance at Lawler Rink last night witnessed grand larceny. Merrimack College goaltender Rasmus Tirronen stole the show, and two points, as he stopped 51 shots to help the Warriors beat No. 10 UMass Lowell, 2-1, in the first game of a home-and-home series. The teams will flip venues tonight, closing the season series at the Tsongas Center.
Tirronen’s 51 saves was a career high. The River Hawks outshot the Warriors 52-17 in the game and out-attempted the Warriors 94-29, including the River Hawks holding an advantage in shot attempts of 43-8 in the third period.
(Ed. Note — portions of this story will appear in Saturday’s Eagle Tribune)
“So much much for analytics,” said Merrimack head coach Mark Dennehy. Hockey analytics generally enforce the idea of shot attempts being indicative of overall performance.
And in this case that was still true. The River Hawks dominated possession for the entire 60 minutes, but analytics couldn’t account for Tirronen playing the part of a magician.
“At the end of the day it’s about scoring goals,” Dennehy said. “We scored two, they scored one. I thought our guys played hard. We didn’t play well but we played hard and I’ll take hard any day. You play hard and you get good goaltending, you’re going to win a lot of hockey games, especially in this building.”
The Warriors improved to 14-8-3 on the season and picked up two critical Hockey East points after earning just one of a possible four against last-place UMass last weekend. The Warriors are now tied for eighth in the conference with Connecticut, holding on to the final home-ice spot in the first round of the Hockey East playoffs.
Dennehy has often said a good indicator of a goalie performance is whether or not they are making saves on pucks they don’t see.
“There was a ton of those I didn’t see,” Tirronen admitted. “Either that or I ended up seeing a D pick it up. It’s just one of those nights where the puck seems to hit you.”
Merrimack’s penalty kill didn’t allow a goal on six UMass Lowell chances, including killing a two-minute minor with 2:33 left in the game, clearing the puck four games. Clayton Jardine put an exclamation point on the game with a huge block in the slot as the penalty expired.
“Our D was either taking sticks away or getting to the pucks in front,” said Tirronen. “I can’t say enough about those guys. Especially on the penalty kill, you can really tell that when we’re on we’re blocking shots. When we play hard, we block shots. That’s a good indicator of how our game is going to go.”
Chris LeBlanc scored first to give the Warriors the lead late in the first period. Justin Mansfield flipped a puck into the neutral zone and LeBlanc was able to beat Dylan Zink to the loose puck and found himself on a breakaway, beating Kevin Boyle five-hole.
The Warriors made the score 2-0 in the second period, when Marc Biega poked in a Brian Christie rebound.
Adam Chapie gave Lowell life early in the third, tipping a shot from Zink through traffic past Tirronen, but it would be the only time the River Hawks, who have lost four games in a row, would find a solution for Tirronen.
“I thought we did a good job around the net picking up guys and Ras did a good job making sure there were no second chances,” Dennehy said.
UMass Lowell head coach Norm Bazin added, “We took a step in our game. That’s the best hockey game we’ve played in a while. Our goal was to come here and improve and I thought we did that tonight.”
Merrimack 2, UMass Lowell 1
at Lawler Rink, Merrimack College
UMass Lowell (15-8-3, 8-5-2 HE): 0-0-1–1
Merrimack College (14-8-3, 5-6-2 HE): 1-1-0–2
First Period: 1. MC Chris LeBlanc 5 (Justin Mansfield, Vinny Scotti), ev, 15:37.
Second Period: 2. MC Marc Biega 3 (Brian Christie), ev, 13:42.
Third Period: 3. UML Adam Chapie 8 (Dylan Zink, Tyler Mueller), ev, 4:39.
Shots: Merrimack 6-7-4–17; UMass Lowell 12-19-21–52
Saves: MC Tirronen 51 of 52; UML Boyle 15 of 17
Power Play: Merrimack 0 for 2 (1 shot); UMass Lowell o for 6 (13 shots)
Faceoffs: 41-33 Merrimack
Next: at Lowell tonight, 7 p.m.
Mike McMahon covers Merrimack College for The Eagle Tribune and is the founder and managing editor of The Mack Report as well as on staff as a senior writer at College Hockey News. Follow him on Twitter @MikeMcMahonCHN