NORTH ANDOVER, Mass. - Junior forward Shawn Bates (Saskatchewan, Alb.), tallied his seventh marker of the year early in the third period, but the Merrimack men's ice hockey team could not generate enough offense after that, as three early goals propelled UMass Lowell to a 3-1 victory in a key Hockey East tilt on Sunday afternoon at Lawler Arena.
Seeing its winless streak grow to five consecutive contests, the Warriors sink to 14-14-6 on the season and remain alone in sixth place by means of their 12-10-3 mark in league play, while the River Hawks move to 21-9-2 on the year and move into first place with a 15-8-2 conference record.
Merrimack returns to action next Friday (March 8) to round out its home slate on Senior Night against the University of Massachusetts. Tickets for the game are available online (www.merrimackathletics.com) and by calling the Merrimack Box Score at 978-837-5324.
With the rest of the conference off on Sunday, the River Hawks leapfrog New Hampshire to move into first place by themselves, while the Warriors saw their hopes of claiming their first-ever Hockey East regular-season title dashed with the loss.
With two games to go for every league squad, Merrimack can still finish as high as second, sitting four points back of second-place New Hampshire (31). Boston College and Providence remain tied for third with 30 points apiece, while Boston University remains a point ahead of the Warriors for fifth place with 28 total points.
Junior winger Josh Holmstrom led the visitors with a pair of markers in the first period, while Bates tallied Merrimack's lone goal 22 seconds into the third frame. Sophomore blueliner Dan Kolomatis (Basking Ridge, N.J.) and junior center Rhett Bly (Regina, Sask.) also tallied points for the Warriors, who sank to 0-4-1 in their last five games since a dramatic overtime win against Boston College back on Feb. 15.
Rookie netminder Connor Hellebuyck was solid for the visitors, improving to 13-1-0 on the season while registering 31 saves in net to help the River Hawks take the season series against Merrimack. Making his first start since Jan. 11 - a span of 13 games - sophomore Rasmus Tirronen (Espoo, Finland) surrendered all three goals and fell to 3-6-2 on the season despite recording an identical 31 saves.
Merrimack failed to capitalize on six power play chances, finishing 0-for-6 with the man advantage, while the River Hawks finished the afternoon 1-for-5, potting a power play strike midway through the first stanza.
UMass Lowell opened the scoring nearly seven minutes into the contest. After Joseph Pendenza fed Joe Houk, the puck found the stick of Holmstrom, who beat Tirronen from the left circle to give the visitors a 1-0 lead at the 6:58 mark of the first.
After the Warriors came up empty on two early power play chances, the River Hawks went a man up near the midway point of the first stanza, setting up their second tally of the contest. It was Holmstrom again punching in his 10th marker of the year, cleaning up a rebound play in front of Tirronen to give the River Hawks a 2-0 advantage. Both Scott Wilson and Riley Metmore earned assists on the play.
The goal snapped a streak of 35 consecutive penalties that Merrimack had killed off, and also marked the first power play goal surrendered by the Warriors on their own home ice since the beginning of 2013.
In the second, Gregory Amlong made it a three-goal game after maneuvering around a Merrimack skater and beating Tirronen over the blocker at 7:09. Both Pendenza and defenseman Zachary Kamrass assisted on the score, Lowell's final of the game.
Merrimack wasted little time to get on the board early in the third, as Kolomatis stole the puck from a River Hawk skater and fed it to Bly. The junior skated in on a 2-on-0 rush with Bates to his left before feeding the latter for a tap-in goal 22 seconds into the final stanza, slicing the deficit to 3-1.
But despite two more power play chances the rest of the way, Merrimack's offense would only generate that lone strike, as the Warriors lost just their third season series against Hockey East foes by virtue of the defeat.
The Warriors return to action next Friday, March 8, when they welcome the University of Massachusetts to conclude the home portion of the 2012-13 season with much still on the line in the race for home ice in the Hockey East Tournament. Puck drop against the Minutemen is set for 7:30 p.m. Before the game, the program will honor its four graduating seniors as part of Senior Night.