DURHAM, N.H. - On the brink of earning its longest winning streak of the season, UNH crumbled under the pressure, losing 4-2 to conference rival Merrimack.
Opening the home-and-home series at the Whittemore Center, as the No. 6 Wildcats (17-6-4) saw their four-game winning streak snapped coming off series sweeps of Maine and Providence. On the other hand, Merrimack earned its fifth consecutive win and improved to 18-5-4 overall.
The loss puts UNH back in a tie for first in the Hockey East standings with Boston College–who defeated Providence Friday–with 32 points, while Merrimack remains in a tie for third with Boston University–after defeating UMass-Amherst–with 27 points.
Merrimack took an early lead as sophomore Brandon Brodhag scoring at 3:08. UNH quickly answered with a goal of their own, scored by sophomore defenseman Brett Kostolansky, just 13 seconds after.
Merrimack then pulled ahead in the second with two goals from Adam Ross and Carter Madsen just 50 seconds apart at 12:31 and 13:21, respectively. Junior Stevie Moses pulled the ‘Cats back within one late in the second period (at 17:31) scored off a feed from fellow classmates Mike Borisenok and defenseman Damon Kipp.
Tensions were high enetering the third period, each team skating one man short due to “hitting after the whistle” calls for a tussle at the end of the second, landing Ross and UNH sophomore Austin Block in the box to start the period.
With sophomore Dalton Speelman in the box for hooking, Merrimack was able to capitalize on the opportunity and score its first (and only) power play goal of the game as Seniors Chris Barton and Joe Cucci fed the puck to freshman forward Mike Collins to give Merrimack that all important two-goal lead at 6:57 of the final stanza.
The two teams meet again Saturday night in Merrimack to cap off the home and home series at 7 p.m.
“They beat us in our house tonight,” said UNH head coach Dick Umile. “So, tomorrow night we’ll have to go down and beat them in theirs.”