By Mike McMahon
---- — NORTH ANDOVER — Two weeks ago the mood inside Lawler Rink was vastly different than it was yesterday.
Instead of battling Boston College with first place on the line, the Warriors were trying to stop a tailspin yesterday that has seen them plummet from the top spot in Hockey East down to sixth.
They did themselves no favors yesterday, falling to UMass Lowell, 3-1, at Lawler Arena. They’re now 0-4-1 in their last five games, scoring just six goals over that span.
Josh Holmstrom put the River Hawks on the board twice in the first period. First, sneaking out from behind the net as Joseph Pendenza fired a puck towards the crease off the left-wing wall and tipping the incoming puck past Rasmus Tirronen.
Then 4:22 later, he stood on the doorstep and had both the opportunity to tip an incoming Scott Wilson shot, and then whack away at the rebound before finding a hole through Tirronen.
“The start is extremely important against these guys,” Lowell head coach Norm Bazin said. “That was a major point. Scoring on the power play was a major point and being 100 percent on our penalty kill was a big deal.”
The River Hawks killed all three Merrimack power plays in the first period.
“Different guys came to the forefront on those PKs to give us some life,” Bazin said. “We used that PK as momentum shifts for our game, but I can’t tell you it was easy. It was a very difficult came to play.”
Merrimack head coach Mark Dennehy agreed, but didn’t believe that his team “joined the battle” until the midway point, saying, “It took took long for us to join the battle. Once we did, we made a game of it, but you have to play hard.”
Shawn Bates scored the Warriors’ lone goal. Rhett Bly picked the pocket of a Lowell defender and raced in with Bates, feeding him the puck as they entered the offensive zone and Bates rifled it past Lowell goaltender Connor Hellebuyck, who won his 12th straight game.
It was Merrimack’s only goal on the weekend.
The Warriors were in danger of being shutout in back-to-back games for just the third time in program history, having previously laid goose eggs in back-to-back games in 2005 (Boston College and Vermont) and 1999 (Boston College and Niagara).
“How many blocked shots did they have?” Dennehy said. “How many times did they have five guys in the paint? You can’t put a bazooka through that. They did a great job. They did it to us on Friday, they had five guys in the paint. It’s hard to score, but you have to join the battle before we did. The goals they scored were too easy.”
Rasmus Tirronen got the start in goal — his first since Jan. 11 — and Brandon Brodhag saw his first action since Dec. 29 for the Warriors.
When asked if he could elaborate on the changes postgame, Dennehy said, “No. You have to ask the question, but no.”
Frustration rising for the Warriors
Merrimack enters the final weekend of regular-season play in sixth place in Hockey East, three points behind Providence and Boston College, who are tied for the final home-ice position in the league.
The Warriors are 0-4-1 in their last five games, scoring just six goals.
“At least (the players) got to hit people,” Dennehy said, “how frustrated am I? (The players) are pretty frustrated. They’re working hard, but not working hard enough.”
Bigos possibly facing suspension
Merrimack senior defenseman Kyle Bigos may have played his last game at Lawler Arena, but there’s some confusion.
Bigos was assessed, as announced, a “game misconduct” for contact-to-the-head roughing. The box score reads a 10-minute misconduct. If it is in fact a game misconduct, it would be Bigos’ third of the season, resulting in an automatic one-game suspension.
The Warriors wrap up their home schedule on Friday against Massachusetts, unless the host a playoff series at Lawler, which seems increasingly unlikely.
agateHed:Lowell 3, Merrimack 1
agateText:at Lawler Arena
Lowell (21-9-2, 15-8-2 HE): 2-1-0--3
Merrimack (14-14-6, 12-10-3 HE): 0-0-1--1
agateText:First Period:@zzAgate:agateText: 1. UML Josh Holmstrom 9 (Joe Houk, Joseph Pendenza), ev, 6:58; 2. UML Josh Holmstrom 10 (Scott Wilson, Riley Wetmore), pp, 11:20.
agateText:Second Period:@zzAgate:agateText: 3. UML Gregory Amlong 1 (Joseph Pendenza, Zack Kamrass), ev, 7:09.
agateText:Third Period:@zzAgate:agateText: 4. MC Shawn Bates 7 (Rhett Bly, Dan Kolomatis), ev, 0:22.
agateText:Shots:@zzAgate:agateText: Merrimack 7-6-19--32; Lowell 14-10-10--34
agateText:Goalies:@zzAgate:agateText: MC Tirronen 34 shots, 31 saves; UML Hellebuyck 32 shots, 31 saves
agateText:Power Play:@zzAgate:agateText: Merrimack 0-6; Lowell 1-5
agateText:Penalties:@zzAgate:agateText: Merrimack 10-31, Lowell 11-22
agateText:Faceoffs:@zzAgate:agateText: 41-38 Lowell
agateText:Attendance:@zzAgate:agateText: 2,489 (2,489)
agateText:Next:@zzAgate:agateText: Hosts UMass Friday, 7