The Massachusetts Lowell and Merrimack men’s hockey programs both currently reside within Hockey East. The River Hawks and Warriors have been members since the 1980s yet the rivalry between the two Massachusetts schools predates Division I. In 1981 the two teams were Division II hockey schools and faced off in the ECAC 2 championship game. Massachusetts Lowell had been a member of ECAC 2 since 1968 while Merrimack had joined at the onset in 1964.
Several years earlier, Merrimack won the inaugural Division II national championship in 1978. Massachusetts Lowell won the following season in 1979. The two teams played in the Third Place game in 1980 with Massachusetts Lowell coming out on top in a high scoring affair 8-7. These two successful – and familiar – Division II foes met on the ice again in 1981 for another playoff game.
The Massachusetts Lowell River Hawks were known as the Lowell Chiefs at the time. The school changed its nickname in 1991 when it joined the University of Massachusetts system. The 1981 ECAC 2 championship game was played March 7, 1981, and it turned out to be a high scoring affair. Lowell outlasted Merrimack 6-4. It was the program’s second conference title in three years and the 14th win in a row at the time. In fact, the team never lost another game that season and ended up winning the Division II national championship. Lowell defended its title by completing the feat the following season as well and even defeated Merrimack in the semifinals en route to the second trophy in a row. Lowell made the leap to Division I hockey prior to the 1983-84 season and Merrimack did so later in the decade prior to the 1989-90 season. Both joined Hockey East and continue to be a part of the conference to this day.
The River Hawks and Warriors will meet this weekend in the Hockey East semifinals at TD Garden in Boston. It is the first Hockey East semifinals appearance for Merrimack since 2011. UMass Lowell made the semifinals last season. The River Hawks have won the Hockey East tournament three times (2013, 2014, 2017) while Merrimack is in search of its first Hockey East tournament title.
Photo Credit: 1981 Lowell Sojourn Yearbook