PROVIDENCE, R.I. — Merrimack has not had success against Providence over the years, having posted a 15-60-1 mark versus the Friars coming into the teams’ first meeting of the season Friday at Schneider Arena.
The Warriors’ woes had to have made Merrimack’s 4-1 win over the eighth-ranked Friars all the more special, since it snapped the Friars’ undefeated home winning streak and boasted strong goaltending from Rhode Island native Joe Exter, who made his return visit to the Ocean State one to remember.
The Warriors raced out to a strong start and never looked back on a sluggish PC team that appeared fatigued during even the opening period.
Merrimack got on the board at 7:18 when Stephen Moon and Anthony Aquino worked the puck down low in the Friar end. Moon slid a pass out to the left point, where Ryan Kiley sent a screen shot home that PC goaltender Nolan Schaefer never saw. The goal, Kiley’s sixth of the season, put Merrimack on the board, 1-0.
The goal seemed to rattle Schaefer just a bit, since the sophomore goalie had trouble on a Warrior rush just a short time later. Kiley again scored at 11:04, this time taking a 2-on-1 feed from Moon and lifting a wrist shot over Schaefer’s shoulder for a 2-0 Merrimack lead.
The Friars got one back on a 5-on-3 power-play at 14:48, when Jay Leach slapped one past Merrimack goalie Joe Exter from the left faceoff circle.
The goal cut the Merrimack lead to 2-1 but the Friars couldn’t capitalize on the second half of the power play, and despite having outshot the Warriors by an 11-8 margin, Providence trailed at the end of the period.
The second period found the Warriors in a defensive mode, and the Friar offense unable to get anything going.
Coming off a Colorado road trip that found Providence skating to a pair of overtime ties with WCHA foes Colorado College and Denver, the Friars were slow to react throughout Friday’s contest, failing to click on passes and consistently having trouble moving past center ice.
Certainly part of that could be attributed to the Merrimack defense, which did what it had to do in physically outplaying Providence and beating the Friars around the boards. The second stanza was anything but pretty — Merrimack outshot the Friars by a 7-4 margin — but the Warriors kept Providence in check.
Any hopes of a Providence comeback were extinguished quickly in the third. On a late penalty to Jay Leach that carried over into the period, Nick Parillo put a rebound of an Aquino shot past Schaefer at :28 to give the Warriors what seemed like a comfortable 3-1 lead.
The Friars scrapped and clawed their way back in the remainder of the period, outshooting MC 14-9 and managing to muster some chances on a dormant Warrior defense late in the game.
However, the effort was too little, too late for the Friars, who seemed to have one of those nights against a determined Merrimack team that took full advantage of the lackadaisical PC play.
While Friars desperately tried to get back in the game by blitzing Exter, Friar forward Peter Fregoe made a poor decision at the point and coughed up the puck to Kiley, who rushed down the ice and sent one through Schaefer’s five-hole at 16:50 to put the cap on his hat trick, and on a solid 4-1 Merrimack win.
The win lifts Merrimack back into the middle of the Hockey East pack with a 3-5 record (7-7-1 overall), while the Friars drop their second of the season in the league. Providence is now 4-2-1 in the league, 7-3-3 overall.
The two teams meet again at the Volpe Complex on Saturday.