Marcus Antonelli – Sports Editor
Merrimack and UMass Lowell. A tale that continuously flows among the river that entwines these two schools. What settles their differences is a duel as old as time, the good ol’ Hockey game. The Riverhawks came into Lawler Rink having lost their last four games against both Boston University and Boston College. Merrimack was in a lull of their own, losing their last three of four competitions. Both teams needed a win and you could feel the intensity in the atmosphere before puck drop.
Coach Borek right away called it a ‘typical Lowell, Merrimack game,’ and kept it real. “I mean, it was just a grind. They play so hard and so structured defensively,” told Borek, “They made it really hard on us to get anything through.”
Coach Borek was correct, Lowell came in playing strong and physical like Merrimack anticipated. The score went into a deadlock for two straight periods. You could tell from both teams’ playstyle that no one was there to make an acquaintance, the first mistake made would be costly to whichever team faltered.
The Riverhawks lead the shots for the first 40 minutes, bombarding Senior netminder Zachary Borgiel. For those 40 minutes, he faced 27 shots and made 27 saves. Merrimack had only shot the puck 13 times in that span.
In the third period, The Riverhawks struck first. Lowell forward Nick Rheaume scored 24 seconds into the frame. Down low, UML took advantage of their unbreakable forecheck and it resulted in a snuck-in slot goal. Borgiel covered as much as he could in close but the puck trickled its way through.
Merrimack took a too-many men penalty with around five minutes left in the third. Things once again seemed as if the Warriors were doomed to succumb to defeat.
But then with three seconds to go on the penalty kill, Matt Copponi blocked a point shot from Lowell defenseman Adam Cardona. As Copponi corralled the puck in the neutral zone, Mike Citara exited out of the penalty box. Copponi fired a low shot that was redirected by Riverhawk Goaltender Henry Welsch to a wide-open Mike Citara, who banged it home to tie it 1-1.
We went on to the shootout and my goodness did the late stages have Lawler on its feet. The building was bumping as overtime approached. The whole post-regulation period consisted of the Jefferies, Copponi, and Bookman show, holding possession of the puck and waiting for the perfect shot. Nonetheless, the opportunity didn’t present itself and the game was going to the shootout.
If you missed this shootout I’ll put the highlights from the fan perspective below. Zachary Borgiel stoned Lowell’s first shooter, Mark Cooper, making it easy for his roommate, Mike Citara, to sneak in the lone goal. “I did that shootout move a few times in practice and I used it a few years ago too,” said Citara, “Just kind of my go to, and luckily it went in.”
Borgiel denied the other two Riverhawks that came his way and the day was won. Merrimack received a tie for their overall record but also gained a shootout win. The result tallies two points for the Warriors to join Boston College, UConn, and Vermont in 4th place in the Hockey East with 8 points.
“It’s always better going into Game 2 having won Game 1. I can’t even tell you the way I’ll sleep vs how I would’ve slept,” says Coach Borek, “But it’s still gonna be difficult cause you’re playing Lowell. It gave us confidence, we needed the momentum.”
The Warriors have some much-needed rest before they head into the Hawks nest this weekend. Lowell will host Merrimack on Saturday at 6:05 pm at the Tsongas Center. For the foreseeable future, this will be the last game between these two rivals as they won’t play again in the 2023-24 regular season. Let’s hope these teams close another chapter with a bang.