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men's hockey east semifinals: merrimack 2, umass lowell 1 (2 ot)

Matt Copponi wins it in double overtime, lifts Merrimack over UMass Lowell and into men’s Hockey East final

Merrimack's Matt Copponi celebrated after scoring in the second overtime.Barry Chin/Globe Staff

Merrimack’s surging and stubborn varsity outlasted UMass Lowell, 2-1, on Matt Copponi’s goal midway through the second overtime in Friday night’s Hockey East semifinal at the Garden to advance to the championship game for the first time in a dozen years.

The Warriors (23-12-1), who’ve won seven in a row after a January slump, will meet Boston University on Saturday night and will earn an automatic NCAA bid with a victory. The River Hawks (18-15-3), who needed to win this tournament to make the nationals, had their season terminated just before midnight.

It was the second straight double-overtime triumph for Merrimack, which eliminated Boston College, 1-0, in the quarterfinals, and it put the Warriors in the title match for the first time since 2011 when they were beaten by BC.


Frustrated by Latvian goalie Gustavs Davis Grigals for the first two periods, Merrimack finally broke through at 9:34 of the third with a home-run play off a faceoff in its own end.

With first-line wing Jordan Seyfert streaking up ice, defenseman Slava Demin lofted a long clearing pass that Seyfert knocked down. Then, after corralling the puck he swooped down the left side and beat Grigals with a forehand.

With half a minute to play and the UMass Lowell cage vacant, Scout Truman, a fourth-line freshman wing, scored the equalizer on a wrister from between the circles that went past goalie Zachary Borgiel and kept his mates alive.

Merrimack had a golden chance to win with 3:50 remaining in the first 20-minute overtime but Coppini’s breakaway bid was stuffed by Grigals. So two weary teams went to a second extra session with their seasons on the line.

And this time Copponi, a sophomore from Mansfield, got to be the hero, taking a feed from Ottoville Leppanen and putting it away.


UMass Lowell, which stood 25th in the PairWise rankings that essentially determine the 16-team field for next week’s NCAA championships, had to win the title to earn an automatic berth.

And Merrimack, which was on the bubble in 14th, needed to make the final to stay in the mix for what would be its first national appearance since 2011.

The River Hawks, who’d reached the championship game half a dozen times in the past decade and won a trio of titles, were familiar with every angle of the Garden playpen, having made it to the semis 20 previous times.

Yet while the Warriors were making only their third appearance in the semis they came in riding a six-game winning streak which included sweeps of regular-season victor Boston University and UMass Lowell and a 1-0 double-overtime triumph over Boston College in what was the longest scoreless contest (88 minutes and 20 seconds) in tournament history.

Merrimack came out vigorously, outshooting the River Hawks 9-3 in the opening period and had a superb chance to get on the board first when Filip Forsmark found himself alone on the doorstep in front of Grigals at 14:20. But the Swedish senior couldn’t convert and the first period ended scoreless.

Merrimack kept the pressure on in the second period, outshooting UMass Lowell by a 13-4 count and producing two sterling chances. But Mick Messner’s breakaway bid at 14:15 was stoned by Grigals, who also denied Ben Brar’s power-play shot from the left circle a few minutes later.


So the team that had scored seven goals in its two recent victories over the River Hawks hadn’t managed one after 40 minutes. Not that UMass Lowell was doing anything productive.

Its best chance for a breakthrough came when Merrimack first-liner Ryan Leibold was whistled for roughing midway through the period. But the River Hawks couldn’t get off a shot and only managed one more before the second intermission.

John Powers can be reached at john.powers@globe.com.