Hartford, CT — Hockey Night in Hartford featured a Hockey East match-up between the 10th place Merrimack Warriors and the 7th place Connecticut Huskies at the XL Center in downtown Hartford. A solid forecheck by the Warriors coupled with an uninspired Huskies performance gradually turned from a close game after one period to a blowout in front of 2,953 after three.
The Warriors controlled play for a majority of the opening period. Just seconds into the game a UConn turnover in the defensive zone led to Merrimack’s Ben Brar feeding Sami Tavernier alone in front of Huskies goalie Tomas Vomacka. Fortunately for UConn Tavernier’s shot was high.
In what seemed like a repeated scene, Mac Welsher was all alone in front of Vomacka and managed to put a shot on goal that the sophomore from the Czech Republic was able to turn away.
The Warriors pressure paid off at 6:01 when Hugo Esselin tipped a pass from Regan Kimens past Vomacka for the 1-0 Merrimack lead. Esselin was all alone in front of the Connecticut net as Kimens skated down the wing into the corner.
The Huskies first sustained pressure came roughly halfway through the period but Jere Huhtamaa was solid for the Warriors in goal.
A wide-open net bid for Vladisav Firstov was broken up by the back-checking of Welsher, who was able to impede the Russian sophomore’s shooting motion enough to cause him to flub the shot. It was that kind of night for both teams.
The Warriors controlled the period while outshooting the Huskies 15-5 and leading 1-0 after twenty-minutes of play.
Just forty-six seconds into the middle frame Merrimack’s Chase Gresock set up Logan Drevitch in front of Vormacka for the 2-0 Warriors lead.
UConn answered at 2:16 when Justin Howell wristed the puck through traffic from the top of the left circle that found its way past Huhtamaa cutting the lead to 2-1. Howell’s goal was his second of the year. Jordan Timmons and Wyatt Newpower were credited with the assists.
Merrimack’s Zac Uens was assessed a 10-minute Game Misconduct when he cross-checked a UConn player into the boards in front of the Huskies bench at 2:34. Freshman Ryan Nolan served the five minute major for Cross-Checking.
During the Huskies power play the Merrimack penalty kill kept the play to the perimeter for a majority of the UConn man advantage. Carter Turnbull had a rush in on Huhtamaa from the sideboards that the Finn made a pad save on.
An Interference call on UConn’s Marc Gatcomb at 6:34 negated the last minute of the Huskies power play.
At 9:19 Welsher banged home a Gresock pass to make it 3-1 Warriors. Welsher’s goal was his third of the season
A two on one for Brar and Tyler Irvine led to Irvine firing his own rebound past Vomacka for a 4-1 Merrimack lead at 15:59. The goal was Irvine’s eighth of the season.
UConn made it a game again as time wound down in the period. Huskies sophomore Gatcomb crashed the net for a loose puck that he put past Huhtamaa making it a 4-2 game heading into the third period. Connecticut outshot Merrimack 13-10 for the period while the Warriors maintained their two-period advantage 25-17.
Merrimack built on their lead just 2:09 into the third on a three on two rush. Tavernier dropped the puck for Brar who was trailing. The freshman’s slapshot was blocked by UConn’sNewpower but Brar quickly grabbed the loose puck and wristed past Vomacka making it 5-2 Warriors.
Junior defenseman Patrick Holway closed out the scoring at 10:19 when he walked in from the blue line and sniped a shot through traffic that found the back of the net making it 6-2. Declan Carlile and Kimens were credited with the assists.
Merrimack outshot the Huskies 31-28 on the evening. A positive for Connecticut was that they won the face-off battle 31-27.
The mood of both coaches reflected their teams’ play on the ice.
“This hasn’t been a good week for UConn hockey,” said coach Mike Cavanaugh. “I apologize to all those fans that came out tonight because they didn’t see a team customary to what we put on the ice.”
“We did not compete for sixty minutes. They (Merrimack) were the better team, they deserved to win,” said the seventh-year coach of his team’s performance.
“I would say it was all Merrimack,” when asked about his team’s defensive zone play compared to the Warriors forecheck. “They simply outworked us.”
“We feel really good about the way the game played out,” said Merrimack coach Scott Borek. “I was really pleased with the way we played without the puck.”
Borek credited the penalty kill on the penalty to Uens to helping to solidify his team’s play. “The biggest part of the game was that five minute major that we killed. I thought we got a lot of momentum out of that and they lost a lot of momentum on it. Just the way the whole power play went, where they didn’t get a lot of threatening chances and that gave our team a lot more confidence moving forward.”
Connecticut travels to Providence to take on the Friars on Saturday, January 11 at 5:00 pm.
Merrimack plays next against Boston University at home on January 17. Puck drop against the Terriers is at 7:00 pm.