LOWELL, Mass. - Behind the strength of a five-point night by Chris Auger (Belleville, Ont.), the fourth-ranked UMass Lowell River Hawks beat valley rival Merrimack 6-3 on Saturday night. In front of a crowd of 4,735, the River Hawks picked up their sixth consecutive win over the Warriors dating back three seasons.
Merrimack nabbed the first of its three scores early as J.C. Robitaille (Des Ruisseaux, Que.) found the net just 6:44 into the contest. Jesse Todd (Calgary, Alb.) and Chris Barton (Calgary, Alb.) set up Robitaille for the quick strike that landed UMass Lowell in a 1-0 hole.
The River Hawks responded in style as Paul Worthington (Langhorne, PA) chipped the puck up ice on what appeared to be a dump, but Auger had other plans. Auger beat the Warriors to the corner, controlled the puck and set up a trailing Jeremy Dehner (Madison, WI) for a one-timer that seared past Joe Cannata (Wakefield, MA). The score evened the game at the 10:28 mark.
The Belleville native wasn't done as he scored his third goal of the season just under two minutes later. David Vallorani (Hamilton, Ont.) sent the puck from the far boards down to Scott Campbell (Navan, Ont.) on the far post. Campbell's shot deflected off of Cannata's leg pad to Auger for the easy put-back, giving UMass Lowell a 2-1 advantage.
The River Hawks got one more score before the period was over, a five-on-three power play goal with five minutes left in the stanza. Off of the face-off, Nick Schaus (Buffalo, NY) sent the puck to Auger who ripped a shot from the point. The puck was redirected by Campbell at the net front and into the goal for a 3-1 UMass Lowell lead.
Campbell scored again midway through the second period, an unassisted goal at 12:33. Merrimack's defense tried to pin the puck against the boards in their own zone, but Campbell snuck in from behind and reclaimed it. The junior forward then skated to the net front and beat Cannata for the score.
The fifth UMass Lowell goal came with four minutes remaining in the second. Schaus and Auger sent the puck up ice to Worthington on a breakaway, who beat Cannata for his fifth goal of the season. The tally gave the River Hawks a 5-1 advantage on the scoreboard.
The Warriors came alive at the end of the second period, scoring a power play goal with 31 seconds left. Justin Bonitatibus (Arlington, MA) took a shot from the left side of the net and the puck hit Nevin Hamilton's (Ashland, Ont.) leg and deflected into the mesh to bring the game back within three.
Merrimack scored again midway through the third period to cut UMass Lowell's lead to two. Jeff Velleca (Waterbury, CT) skated up the left side and ripped a shot over Hamilton's shoulder at 8:38 into the third stanza.
The River Hawks put the game on ice just a few minutes later as Worthington notched his second goal of the game. Ben Holmstrom (Colorado Springs, CO) set up Auger for a shot which was redirected by Worthington to secure the UMass Lowell win.
Auger picked up five points on the night, the most since Campbell completed the feat last season against RIT. In addition, Holmstrom's assist in the third period marked the 50th of his career.
Hamilton improved to 6-0-0 against Merrimack all-time and 4-0-1 overall this season. Hamilton stopped 30-of-33 shots on net. Cannata stopped 20-of-26 shots to fall to 3-4-0.
The River Hawks now turn their attention to Providence as they travel to Rhode Island on Tuesday for a 7 p.m. showdown with the Friars.