On a cold Friday night in North Andover Massachusetts, fans filed into Lawler Rink for the opening game of the Hockey East Tournament. They were treated to an entertaining and physical game between the 10th seeded New Hampshire Wildcats and their 7th seeded Merrimack Warriors. New Hampshire beat and tied Merrimack in the two meetings earlier this season. They did not produce similar results tonight as Merrimack dominated play from the opening whistle and forced UNH into a hole they could never dig themselves out of.
Merrimack got started early, peppering New Hampshire goaltender Danny Tirone with 10 shots in the first period. They played well in their 1-3-1 trap scheme to stop New Hampshire in the neutral zone. Nearing the six-minute mark of the period, New Hampshire made a critical mistake and Merrimack made them pay. Brett Seney won a defensive zone faceoff and sent the puck high off the glass. Anthony Wyse tried to keep the puck at the blue line for New Hampshire but didn’t. Sami Tavernier got to the puck and put it by Tirone to open the scoring.
Ten minutes later, New Hampshire turned the puck over again, and Merrimack scored again. Derek Petti put the puck by a diving Tirone to put Merrimack up 2-0 at the intermission.
Merrimack picked up where they left off in the second, driving into the Wildcat zone and netting their third goal on a one-timer from Jace Hennig to Chris LeBlanc to go up 3-0.
Through the first two periods, New Hampshire had plenty of chances to get on the board, putting 16 shots on Warriors netminder Collin Delia, but he saved every shot. New Hampshire also had three power plays through the first two periods and had five shots on the power play, but failed to score. They went into the second intermission down 3-0.
The Wildcats never let up their physical play. The officials had to separate players at almost every whistle in the first two periods and the intensity only went up in the third period. Unfortunately for the dedicated New Hampshire fans who made the trek from Durham, the Wildcats never found their offensive rhythm. They got nine more shots on Delia, but he saved all of them, recording his third shutout of the season.
When the clock wound down to 3:36 left in the game, New Hampshire coach Dick Umile pulled Tirone to get a 6th skater on the ice. Only eight seconds later, Tyler Irvine got an empty net goal to make the score 4-0 and put the Wildcats away. New Hampshire fought through the last minutes of the game, but their physicality did nothing on the scoreboard.
Umile was disappointed with his team’s performance in their first postseason game. He credited Merrimack for playing well on their home ice but admitted that his team gave the Warriors their first two goals of the night. He hopes to right the ship tomorrow while Merrimack looks to repeat their performance and knock out the Wildcats for the second consecutive tournament on their home ice. Puck drops for game 2 of the opening round matchup at Lawler Rink on Saturday at 7 PM.