Merrimack College has a well earned reputation as Hockey East’s spoiler. They swept Boston University last season and crushed Boston College 6-3 in Conte when few expected so much as a tie. That reputation has carried into this season.
Last weekend saw the Warriors defeat New Hampshire in Durham to sour the Wildcat’s first half ending. They had a chance to continue that reputation with a Saturday matinee against the Northeastern University Huskies at Lawler Rink. Northeastern came into North Andover looking to sweep the Warriors and tie Boston College for first place in Hockey East. Merrimack again played spoiler, but not in the usual way.
The first period was slow and plodding. It felt more like a scrum than clean skating. Merrimack outshot Northeastern only 7-5 and pucks frequently got caught under skates while the officials let scrums ensue.
Merrimack Head Coach Mark Dennehey did not approve of the style.
“People say it slows the game down. That’s not quite right. It limits the amount of time we get to play.”
Despite that, Merrimack walked out of the period with the game’s first goal. Brett Seney won the faceoff in the left circle to Jace Henig at the high slot. The senior lasered it by Husky netminder Cayden Primeau and Merrimack held a 1-0 lead after the first.
The teams were even in the second. Each team got ten shots on goal and took two penalties each. While Primeau stopped the Warriors’ attack, Northeastern’s offense capitalized on a chance to tie the game. Alfred Larsson was called for tripping 12:42 into the second.
Twenty-six seconds into the ensuing power play, Adam Gaudette netted his 12th goal of the season in funky fashion. Nolan Stevens fired a puck from the high slot that clanged off the glass behind the net. The puck careened back over the net and Gaudette tipped the puck clean out of the air for the equalizer. Merrimack fans thought it was high sticking, but after review, the game was tied 1-1.
Northeastern came out in attack mode for the final period. They outshot the Warriors 16-9 and tried to get the lead for first place in Hockey East. Craig Pantano stood his ground and saved all 16 shots he faced, including a two on one in the final seconds by Adam Gaudette and Dylan Sikura. Cayden Primeau also stared down the chances Merrimack got at the other end and the game went into overtime.
Merrimack controlled the overtime, outshooting Northeastern 4-2. Brett Seney had the puck on his stick with Cayden Primeau out of position. Unfortunately, he whiffed on the shot and Primeau recovered to make 4 of his 29 saves in the extra session and keep Merrimack from winning. Northeastern had some chances, but Pantano made the final 2 of his 32 saves in the extra frame.
The game ended in a 1-1 tie. Each team got a point in the Hockey East standings. Northeastern could have tied BC, but instead land one point short of the Eagles. Merrimack successfully played spoiler once again.
Warriors’ coach Mark Dennehy was pleased with his team’s progression and strong end to the semester, especially his goaltender’s performance.
“That’s five out of six points in the last three games. We’ve got momentum we can carry into the second half. We’re sticking with what we need to do and we’re getting rewarded. Our four wins are not our best played games. I wish I could explain that, but that’s hockey. I’m happy for Craig. Everyone, Millennials, Generation X, Generation Fossil, which I’m in, wants instant gratification. He stuck with it for two years without getting many chances and he’s getting rewarded now.”
Pantano has started 10 games this season after backing up Colin Delia the last two years. He has rewarded his coach’s confidence with a 2.38 GAA and a .915 save percentage, good for 19th and 25th nationally. The Warriors record goes to 4-9-4 overall and their conference record sits at 2-6-2. With today’s point, they tie the UMass Amherst Minutemen for 9th in Hockey East.
After exams, the Warriors return to the ice on December 29th and 30th with a Colorado road trip. Merrimack plays against The University of Denver and Colorado College on the trip. Puck drops at 7 pm MT in Magness Arena on the 29th and at 6 pm MT at World Arena on the 30th.
Northeastern closes out an excellent first half with a bittersweet note. Head Coach Jim Madigan commented on that after the game.
“We had the goal of winning and tying for first place and we did not accomplish it. But, it’s hard to get a point in this building. You’ve got to battle for every inch in this building. I liked how we came back. I told the kids that at 8-3-1, the record is good, but don’t be satisfied. We left points on the table.”
The Huskies go into break with a 10-5-2 overall record and an 8-3-1 conference record, one point behind BC for first place.
Northeastern also has some personnel concerns to sort out. Decorated senior defenseman Garrett Cockerill left the school before the game. The Huskies have to move on without one of their best defensemen. Ryan Ruck was not in uniform either because of concussion protocol. Ryan Shea was also blasted into the ice and limped off the ice.
With the break, Northeastern will get to recover and regroup. They return to the ice on December 30th with a home game against American International College. Puck drops at 7pm ET at Matthews Arena against the Yellow Jackets.