NORTH ANDOVER, Mass. – The last time the Northeastern Huskies made the trek north to Lawler Arena just a couple weeks ago, the end result was a 4-1 loss to the currently No. 7 Merrimack Warriors.
This time around, Northeastern improved in all facets of the game and came back for a hard-fought and well-played 1-1 tie on Friday night in front of Merrimack’s ninth-straight sellout crowd of 2,489.
The draw snaps Merrimack’s six-game winning streak to open the season and left Colorado College as the lone team in the nation without a loss or tie before the Tigers fell 7-5 at Nebraska-Omaha.
“I thought our compete level was really good tonight,” said Northeastern head coach Jim Madigan. “The players really responded…Winning some one-on-one battles, blocking shots, sacrifice was a lot better.”
“The way we played we were really happy with. The effort was there from the beginning to the end.”
Merrimack head coach Mark Dennehy – despite not coming out with a victory for the first time since losing to Notre Dame in the NCAA Regionals in Manchester, N.H. last March – was still proud of the way his team competed against a strong squad that was in search of breaking a three-game skid.
“That was a hard-fought game,” Dennehy said. “Coming off three losses, Northeastern was going to be fired up and I thought they played a great game. They did a lot of things that gave us problems. I am proud of our guys. We found a way to get a point.”
“It’s a little bit early for playoff hockey, but that’s what we played tonight.”
After a slow start to the season on defense over the first six games, the Huskies seemed to have found a bit of momentum on the other side of the puck but could not find the back of senior Joe Cannata’s net for much of the game.
Merrimack received a quality scoring chance with 14:27 left in the opening period as sophomore Brendan Ellis found his way through the Huskies defense, but junior Chris Rawlings was there to flash the pad and keep the Warriors off the scoreboard.
A few minutes later at the other end of the ice, Garrett Vermeersch was able to deke around the Merrimack defense and fire a pretty wide-open shot from the slot, beating Cannata despite hitting the left post.
The Huskies closed the period by giving MC a pair of successive power plays, but the nation’s top power play – clicking at 25.7 percent entering the game – was held at bay.
In the first period, the Warriors held a 10-8 shots advantage in the shots category and 18-14 in overall chances.
Merrimack received a scare early on in the second period as sophomore Shawn Bates, who skated at the center spot on the top line, was laid out in the far corner on what looked like an upper-body injury. Later in the game, he was spotted dressed in a suit amongst the crowd after having a sling placed on his arm.
Northeastern’s defense proved huge when freshman defender Adam Reid was called for a hit to the head at the 6:54 mark of the second, but Merrimack was unable to muster any shots on goal during the entirety of the major infraction.
“It was big,” Madigan said. “We were able to kill off seven [total] minutes in that period and that five-minute major…was a good momentum boost for us.”
It was not until the 14:20 mark of the second period that Merrimack drew first blood, sending sophomore Rhett Bly into the offensive zone on a partial break for his first goal of the season that beat Rawlings clean in front on a backhander.
Ryan Flanigan’s second-period assist extended the senior’s point streak to seven games on the season and 14 dating back to last year.
“It’s just something we’ve kind of been working on,” Bly said. “Finding the weak-side…[Flanigan] was the guy who chipped it to Todd and he flipped it to me, so I pretty much had a breakaway there. Most of the other guys did all the work; I just got the chance to score I guess.”
“It still goes to show you,” Madigan said. “You can not let up in this league. We had one defensive breakdown that cost us a goal…As hard as we worked and as smart as we played tonight, this league is not forgiving.”
Over the second period, the Huskies were badly out-chanced by a 25-7 mark, including 14-6 in shots on goal.
Northeastern came out jumping in the third period, tying the game in quick fashion with just 57 seconds gone by in the final stanza.
Junior Justin Daniels was the beneficiary of his team-leading fifth goal of the season, poking a low rebound past Cannata for the equalizing score. The Suffern, N.Y. native is also in the midst of a five-game point streak, which dates back to NU’s only victory of the season on Oct. 14 against UNH and also extends a career-best mark.
After Northeastern held a 15-10 shots advantage in the final period, neither side had much offense in the overtime session despite a 5-2 edge for the Warriors in total chances.
The Huskies received “really sharp” goaltending from Rawlings as he made 34 saves for his third 30-plus outing in a row.
Tomorrow night, the three-game season series is on the line at Matthews Arena as the teams meet for the final time already on this young campaign. Tonight’s contest was the first game that entered an extra session since Merrimack found a 4-3 win on Feb. 4.