The Providence College Friars have made a habit of playing narrow games. Seven of the team’s ten games have been decided by two goals or less.
Hockey East is known for thrilling games and on Friday night at Schneider Arena, the Friars were in for another duel, this time against the Merrimack College Warriors. The guests from North Andover, MA, may be in last place in Hockey East, but it did not look that way the whole night.
Merrimack dominated the Friars in the first period, outshooting the Friars 19-10. And the Warriors jumped on the scoreboard early. Brandon Duhaime was called for interference at 5:39 of the period. Eight seconds into the period, Merrimack claimed a 1-0 lead when Ludvig Larsson put the puck by Hayden Hawkey.
Providence got some chances on an Alfred Larsson holding penalty, but could not beat Warriors goalie Craig Pantano, who made 10 saves in the period. The end of the second got ugly when Vimal Sukumaran hit Logan Coomes hard at his defensive blue line. Coomes’ head hit the ice and the trainer came out to look at him.
The sophomore winger was fine, but Sukumaran was called for a five-minute major penalty and a game misconduct. Merrimack peppered Hawkey with near chances, but Hawkey kept all the chances out and kept his team alive. Despite a plethora of great shots, Merrimack only led 1-0 going into the intermission.
Providence killed off the remainder of the major and changed the momentum on two power plays. Logan Coomes went to the box at 12:07 for high sticking. The Friars didn’t score on that power play, but they changed the complexion of the game on that sequence.
They paid off their momentum when Coomes returned to the penalty box at 16:25 for slashing. Josh Wilkins got his first of the night on a scrum around Pantano and the Friars tied the game 1-1 just before the second intermission.
Merrimack resumed shot dominance in the third period, outshooting Providence 13-3 in the final frame. Hayden Hawkey was at his best and kept the game even. Providence evaded Warrior chances and looked for a killing blow. With 9:03 left in the game, they got it. Alex Carle turned over the puck when trying to carry it out of his defensive corner. Josh Wilkins got to the puck, lugged it into the crease, and deeked past Pantano for a 2-1 Friars lead. The goal gave Wilkins the first multi-goal game of his career.
From there, Providence held on for dear life. Merrimack got magnificent chances, especially following a second five minute major and misconduct penalty. Ben Mirageas drew the call and ejection for the final two minutes on a hitting from behind call.
Merrimack pulled Pantano from the net to get an extra attacker. The Warriors almost beat Hawkey, but just barely missed. Brian Pinho came up with a great defensive play to help clear the puck away and Hawkey poke-checked the final Merrimack possession into neutral ice to end the game and give Providence a 2-1 victory.
Warriors head coach Mark Dennehy remained optimistic in defeat.
“We’re eleven games in and we’ve not gotten many bounces. We were the better team tonight for long stretches and we couldn’t get the goals needed to win. But if we keep playing the way we did tonight, we’ll be rewarded with more wins.”
RECAP: Two goals by Josh Wilkins and a career-high 40 saves from Hayden Hawkey lead the Friars past Merrimack, 2-1, on Friday at Schneider Arena. https://t.co/xOXI4vBbFW
Friars Coach Nate Leaman was pleased with his team and complimentary of Merrimack, while not complimentary of early polls.
“We just found a way to win tonight. Hawkey and Wilkins were great tonight and we just found a way to win. I know the standings say that Merrimack is in last place and the polls say we’re the only Hockey East team in the top ten, but the polls don’t mean anything to us. That’s not a last place team we played tonight.”
Hawkey set a career high with 40 saves on the night. His previous high was 27 against New Hampshire on January 27th, 2017.
The teams will rematch at Lawler Rink in North Andover, MA, on Saturday night. Puck drops at 7 pm. Following that, Merrimack is done for November, while Providence travels to Belfast to play Maine and either Clarkson or RPI in the Friendship Four Tournament in Belfast, Ireland.