Merrimack comes from behind again to sweep UMass Lowell
It’s been almost 11 years since a Merrimack men’s hockey team has been as hot as this current rendition of the Warriors.
With Saturday’s 3-2 come-from-behind victory over UMass Lowell at the Tsongas Center, the Warriors extended their winning streak to five games. Four of those games came against nationally-ranked opponents (Lowell and Providence).
The last time a Merrimack team was on such a streak was Oct. 15-29, 2011, when the Warriors started the season 9-0-1 and were ranked No. 1 in the nation in late November.
Merrimack improved to 12-10-1 on the season, and the Warriors are 12-6-1 in games decided in regulation (0-4 in 3-on-3 overtime games). The last time a Merrimack team was at least two games over .500 at this stage of the season was 2015.
Most importantly, Merrimack moved up to No. 14 in the Pairwise Rankings, which at the moment would have them potentially qualify for the NCAA Tournament (pending not too many upsets in the conference tournaments). Two weeks ago, before this five-game winning streak, the Warriors were ranked No. 29 and were as many as 14 spots outside of a bid.
“I’m really proud of our team,” said Merrimack head coach Scott Borek. “To be down 2-0, and then find a way to come through and get the win, was really fun to see. It was a whole team effort.
“We’ve felt that we have a strong team. They stuck together. There were a few situations that happened during the game that were stressful, but our guys played for each other. Our confidence is high, individually and collectively. Every game is a grind, and this wno’t change anything. Our next game will be a grind as well, but we have some momentum, which is good.”
Perhaps even more impressive than just the streak is who the Warriors have beaten as a part of it.
It started with Bentley two weeks ago, which snapped a five-game winning streak for the Falcons.
Then, over the course of the last eight days, the Warriors picked up four wins over Providence and UMass Lowell, two nationally-ranked programs that Borek has continually used as an example for the type of program he wanted to build at Merrimack.
“It’s given us an identity,” he said. “We’ve been trying to find that for a while. To have success against those two teams, knowing how hard they play, those are hard games. …Providence and Lowell are the same, in that you know going into the game it’s going to be a fight. I love the way that they play, and I’m really pleased with how we played and how we continued to be aggressive in that type of game.”
The Warriors experienced a few would-be back-breakers on Saturday. After an evenly played first period, Reid Stefanson put the River Hawks on the board with just two seconds left in the opening frame to take a 1-0 lead into the locker room.
“It was just a miscue,” Borek said. “It wasn’t a problem of effort. We didn’t do a good job of covering the reload. Our third forward was diving down too low and being too aggressive. But we knew we weren’t out of it. Our guys believe we can score.”
Blake Wells doubled Lowell’s lead midway through the second period.
The Warriors, believing they could score, just kept with it. Three minutes after going down 2-0, Liam Walsh scored his first of two power-play goals to make it 2-1. Jake Durflinger re-directed a puck from Filip Forsmark three minutes after that to tie the game and then Walsh’s second power-play tally early in the third period gave the Warriors the lead.
Walsh finished the weekend with four points.
Still, the adversity wasn’t over.
Just 1:18 after taking the lead, Merrimack goaltender Zachary Borgiel was hit from behind in his crease by Lowell forward Andre Lee. It didn’t look like malicious contact, but Borgiel didn’t see it coming and had to leave the game.
Minutes before the injury, Borgiel made one of the best saves of the season, sprawling from post to post to turn aside a Carl Berglund shot with his blocker.
Hugo Ollas made four saves in the final 11:14 to seal the victory.
“His neck was bothering him,” Borek said. “We knew he wouldn’t be able to finish the game, that’s for sure.
“I didn’t really see what happened. From what I was told by the officials, their player came up from behind him and it wasn’t intentional, but Zach didn’t know the player was behind him. He hit his head, but there was some whiplash there. He was stunned. I don’t know if we’ll know where he’s at until probably Monday. Hugo entered in a tough spot but played great.”
The Warriors won’t have much time to smell the roses. After off days on Sunday and Monday, Merrimack will travel to Hartford to take on Connecticut on Tuesday night at the XL Center.
“We always just look at the next opponent,” Borek said. “You’ll get overwhelmed looking at the whole schedule, especially in our league. Now, we just focus on the next one.”
Portions of this story will appear in Sunday’s Eagle Tribune
Merrimack 3, No. 10 UMass Lowell 2 at Tsongas Center Merrimack (12-10-1): 0-2-1--3 UMass Lowell (13-4-3): 1-1-0--2 First Period: 1. UML Reid Stefanson 5 (Andre Lee, Carl Berglund), ev, 19:58. Second Period: 2. UML Blake Wells 2 (Brian Chambers, Connor Sodergren), ev, 8:20; 3. MC Liam Walsh 4 (Ben Brar, Filip Forsmark), pp, 11:49; 4. MC Jake Durflinger 2 (Filip Forsmark, Adam Arvedsson), ev, 14:41. Third Period: 5. MC Liam Walsh 5 (Zach Uens, Declan Carlile), pp, 7:28. Shots: Merrimack 7-15-7--29; UMass Lowell 8-9-7--24 Saves: MC Borgiel (48:46) 18/20; Ollas (11:14) 4/4; UML Henry Welsch (59:12) 26/29 Penalties: Merrimack 3-6:00; UMass Lowell 4-8:00 Power Play: Merrimack 2 for 4; UMass Lowell 0 for 3 Attendance: 5,471
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