LOWELL, Mass. - Freshman G Connor Hellebuyck (Commerce, Mich.) stopped 31 shots for his fourth shutout of the year as No. 10/12 UMass Lowell defeated No. 17 Merrimack, 4-0, Friday night in a Hockey East clash in front of 6,717 at the Tsongas Center.
UMass Lowell became Hockey East's first 20-game winner of the season as the victory - its sixth straight - lifted it to 20-9-2 overall and 14-8-2 in Hockey East, good for a share of first place with Boston College.
The victory also marked UMass Lowell's first consecutive 20-win seasons since the 1992-93 and 1993-94 teams led by current head coach Norm Bazin. The River Hawks finished 24-13-1 last year.
Merrimack slipped to 14-13-6 overall and 12-9-3 in Hockey East. The two rivals close out the series Sunday at 4:00 on CBS Sports Network.
The win was Hellebuyck's 12th straight as he improved to 12-1-0 this season. It also marked his second shutout in four games (he posted a clean sheet in a 3-0 win at Boston University Feb. 22). Junior F Derek Arnold (Foxboro, Mass.) scored two goals with freshman F Ryan McGrath (O'Fallon, Mo.) assisting on both.
UMass Lowell scored all four goals in the third period, including a pair of empty net goals as Merrimack pulled junior G Sam Marotta with 3:33 remaining in the third period.
Leading 2-0, the River Hawks took full advantage. Under pressure, junior D Joe Houk (Richboro, Pa.) cleared out of the corner to McGrath who spotted Arnold at center ice and flicked home at 17:21 into the third period.
Senior Colin Wright (Burlington, Ont.) added a second empty netter 1:12 later when he took a centering pass from junior F Joe Pendenza (Wilmington, Mass.) who had beaten a defender to a loose puck.
Freshman winger Adam Chapie (Oxford, Mich.) opened the scoring 5:50 into the third period when sophomore D Jake Suter (Lac du Flambeau, Wis.) found Chapie in front who finished nicely over Marotta.
The River Hawks doubled their lead at 8:30, when McGrath dumped in the Merrimack zone, but picked up the clearance and fired home for Arnold to redirect in mid-air.
Merrimack had a 21-13 shots-on-target advantage after two periods, but Hellebuyck held firm. His biggest test came with roughly four minutes left in the second period on a Warrior power play, when freshman C Vinny Scotti had a shot blocked, but sophomore winger Quinn Gould snatched the rebound and got off three shots in quick succession, each thwarted by Hellebuyck.
Merrimack outshot UMass Lowell, 31-25. Marotta had 21 saves.