NORTH ANDOVER, Mass. — Once Dartmouth got into overtime, the game was in the bag.
Six times this season, Big Green games have ended in regulation; they lost all six. Three times — including this first-half finale — they’ve taken teams into overtime. And won all three.
On Friday evening, the Dartmouth overtime hero was Kent Gillings, who took advantage of a poor Merrimack defensive decision to break two-on-one with linemate Mike Murray for the OT goal in a 4-3 victory over the Warriors.
“I was dead tired, but I got a burst of energy when I saw [the puck chipped off the boards],” Gillings said. “I had Mike Murray with me, but the D-man took away the pass so I just shot and it trickled in.”
Arguably it was a soft goal allowed by Tom Welby, starting for the first time in seven games after being supplanted by rookie Joe Exter as the Warriors’ top goaltender.
While Dartmouth moved to 3-6 on the season, Merrimack fell to 9-9-1. Both teams now enter the holiday break.
“What disappoints me is that it was an off night and we could have won,” Merrimack coach Chris Serino said. “I’m proud of the way that we came back, but just so disappointed in some of the mental things we did out there tonight that really hurt us. …
“We were trying to make plays that weren’t there, we had guys skating into areas where it was impossible to get them the puck, looking for home-run passes instead of supporting the puck with short, quick passes, overhandling the puck and things like that.
“Those are the things that bother me. It’s one thing if [the other team] works to get goals. That’s one thing. That happens. But for us to just turn it over and hand it to them. …”
Dartmouth built a 3-0 lead in the second period on the strength of two power-play goals and a shorthander by Jamie Herrington. Although Merrimack got one back in the period’s final minute, the stanza was still a frustrating one for the Warriors given their 19-10 shot advantage and numerous missed open nets.
Five minutes into a scoreless second period, Dartmouth went on a 1:20 five-on-three advantage and came out of it with a 2-0 lead. The first goal took only eight seconds with captain Mike Maturo tipping a shot by Peter Summerfelt. The second came 37 seconds later on a Trevor Byrne shot through a Murray screen.
At 9:58, Herrington scored a potential shorthanded backbreaker to make it 3-0. Herrington stole the puck from a defender, broke in all alone and then deked Welby and lifted a backhander into the net.
The Warriors did not fold, however, climbing back the same way they got in the hole, namely special teams.
“We never thought that it was in hand,” Dartmouth coach Bob Gaudet said. “We got into penalty trouble and it really hurt us. They worked hard and got momentum.”
The Big Green already had one man in the box when Trevor Byrne, who had been punishing Ryan Kiley in front, was called for a clear cross-check. Gaudet complained to referee Tim Benedetto and when the official turned to leave the bench, Gaudet made a mock “OK” hand gesture.
When linesman Bob Bernard informed the referee about the gesture behind his back, Benedetto motioned that he was throwing Gaudet out of the game. After further consultation with the other linesman, Kevin Shea, Gaudet remained, but a bench minor was still assessed. Following the game, the Dartmouth mentor defended his actions.
“I gave him an OK sign and evidently from across the ice the linesman thought it was too much,” he said. “I’m not a guy who is going to disgrace his team or himself at all.
“As a hockey coach, I care a lot for this team. These guys are very close; they’re like family to me. I thought there was a point where we maybe weren’t getting the benefit of the doubt. It’s my job, just like for a basketball coach or a football coach or [another] hockey coach, to voice his disapproval.
“I can’t sit there like a monk. I was just voicing my displeasure and I had every right to voice my displeasure. That’s my prerogative.”
Nonetheless, as the pre-existing minors and the additional bench minor ticked off, Joey Gray tipped a Greg Lauze shot for a vital five-on-three goal at 19:35 to make it 3-1. During the ensuing five-on-four advantage, Gray had two other excellent chances before the buzzer, but couldn’t beat the stellar netminding of Nick Boucher.
At 6:17 of the third period, Anthony Aquino succeeded where other Warriors had been failing, namely in putting the puck into an open net off a Jeff State shot. Like all three Merrimack goals, it came on the power play.
At the midpoint of the period, Merrimack cashed in on another man advantage. This time, defensive specialist Ron Mongeau roofed a rebound for his third career goal in his 90th game.
With the score suddenly tied, the combatants bypassed playing for a safe point and continued to press until Gillings’ overtime strike.
Merrimack resumes play on Dec. 28 against Minnesota-Duluth at the Silverado Shootout. One day later, Dartmouth follows suit against New Hampshire in the Auld Lang Syne Classic.