NORTH ANDOVER, Mass. — Six different goal-scorers lit the lamp for Merrimack College, including a shorthander and a power-play tally, as the Warriors cruised past the University of Connecticut, 6-2, Friday at the Volpe Complex in the Warriors’ home opener.
Despite the victory, Merrimack head coach Chris Serino was none too enthusiastic about his team’s execution in the game. The Warriors entered the contest having played two strong games against nationally-ranked Michigan and Michigan State last weekend, which Serino credited not just to good effort, but good execution.
Friday night, he thought, was different.
“We’re a defensive team that creates offense from defense,” said Serino. “But tonight we didn’t play any defense. We usually have backcheckers swing back, but tonight they’d just stop and wait for someone to pass them the puck.”
Serino continued that “we’re a team that plays defense by preventing the other teams coming through the neutral zone. Tonight we did whatever we wanted and wasted a lot of energy.
“Overall, I was happy with the effort, happy with the fact that we won, just not happy with the way we played.”
On the other side, UConn coach Bruce Marshall knew what cost his Huskies.
“We made mistakes and they ended up in the net,” said Marshall. “On top of it, we took opportunities away from ourselves by taking bad penalties. When you’re playing teams like Merrimack, you need to take every opportunity you get.”
Marshall was referring to the fact that three times while on the power play, the Huskies took penalties of their own to kill the man-advantage. That, along with an inability to capitalize, left UConn 0-for-9 with the extra skater.
“We didn’t have a lot of time to set up and generate plays [five-on-four],” said Marshall. “[Merrimack is] probably a little bit bigger and faster and they get in your face faster than we’re used to.”
Both teams used two goaltenders in the game. UConn started junior John Chain (23 saves), but replaced him after the sixth goal with freshman Artie Imbriano (11 saves). In his first collegiate action, Imbriano impressed the coaching staff, and Marshall said that he is seriously considering giving him the start tomorrow night when the two clubs rematch.
Serino started senior Tom Welby (18 saves) for the Warriors and replaced him with backup Jason Wolfe (three saves) late in the third.
Merrimack struck first just seven minutes into the first period. Senior Jayson Philbin scored his first goal in nearly two years when he one-timed a pass from Ron Mongeau just under the crossbar to give the Warriors a 1-0 lead. Philbin, who sat out the entire 1999-2000 season, last tallied on November 13, 1998, against Army.
The Warriors extended the lead at 13:27 as John Pyliotis attempted a wraparound near the post to Chain’s right. The junior netminder made the original stop, but couldn’t corral the rebound and Pyliotis stuffed the puck into the corner of the net.
In the second period, UConn appeared to have drawn closer at 1:37 on the power play. Michael Goldkind buried his own rebound past Welby, but referee Bill Doiron disallowed the goal, saying that he lost the puck.
Merrimack took advantage of the call, scoring a shorthanded tally just 39 seconds later. An errant breakout pass ended up on the stick of the Warriors’ Nick Cammarata, who found a streaking Anthony Aquino in the slot. With Chain sliding across, Aquino roofed the puck into the net to give Merrimack a 3-0 lead.
Territorially, the second period was much more even than the first, which saw the Warriors earn an 18-3 lead in shots. Besides UConn’s disallowed goal, the Huskies created much better offensive chances, including an Eric Goclowski bid at 8:30.
While on the power play, a UConn defenseman feathered a pass from the point to the high slot that Charles Ridolf deflected to Goclowski. The senior forward looked to have made a move around Welby, but the senior netminder somehow stopped the shot with his left foot to maintain the three-goal lead.
At 11:17, though, it was Merrimack that struck. Just seconds after beginning a power play created by a cross-checking penalty to UConn’s Anthony Switek, Cammarata beat Chain with a wrist shot that seemed to catch the goalie off his angle. The shot from the right point sailed directly past Chain to the blocker side, banked of the left post and into the net for the 4-0 lead.
This time, though, UConn responded — 76 seconds later. Matt Herhal got the Huskies on the board when tipped home the rebound of a Bret Bostock shot. Welby looked like he would cover the puck, but Herhal was able to get a blade on it first.
Early in the third, Merrimack put the game away. Alex Sikatchev scored his second goal of the season at 1:28 when a misguided shot by Vince Clevenger wound up on his stick in the slot. Just 15 seconds later, Merrimack ended the night for UConn goaltender Chain when Ryan Kiley’s blast on a break down the right wing beat Chain between the right arm and body to give Merrimack a 6-1 lead.
At 10:43, Serino decided to give third-string goaltender Wolfe some playing time, replacing Welby. Unfortunately, the Warriors’ defense did not give him much of a greeting. Just 27 seconds after entering the game, defenseman Eric Pedersen allowed UConn’s D.J. Miller to walk in all alone on Wolfe, and the sophomore winger beat him five-hole for his first career goal.
From there, though, Wolfe settled down and held the Huskies at bay as they threatened late thanks to three consecutive power plays.
The win for Merrimack improves its record to 1-1-1, while UConn drops to 0-2-0. The two clubs will rematch Saturday night in North Andover at 7:00 P.M. Joe Exter, a sophomore who was forced to miss last season due to ineligibility for playing major junior hockey, is probable to make his first career start for the Warriors.