DURHAM, N.H. — Joey Gray scored the only two goals of the third period, including one with 1:10 remaining, to pull Merrimack even with New Hampshire, 3-3, Saturday night at the Whittemore Center Arena.
“Obviously we’re pretty pleased, being down two goals in the third period in this building [and coming back to tie]“, Merrimack coach Chris Serino said.
With New Hampshire leading 3-2 and seemingly in good shape with a power play at 17:30 of the third period, Wildcat Nathan Martz was whistled for a controversial unsportsmanlike conduct penalty at 18:06 after being checked into the boards in front of the Merrimack bench and getting into a scuffle with a player on the bench.
The penalty negated the Wildcats’ power play. With a faceoff inside the New Hampshire zone, Serino called a timeout and pulled goaltender Tom Welby. With a five-on-four advantage, Gray scored his second goal of the period at 18:50 to knot the score at 3.
“It was a four-on-four situation, and we had a faceoff in their zone”, said Gray. “Coach decided to pull the goalie. The faceoff came over to me on the right wing. I threw it back to the point and tried to get to the net. [Defenseman Stephen] Moon threw it to the net, there was a rebound and a scramble in front of the net. I saw the loose puck, and was just lucky enough to poke it in the corner.
“It was a huge tie. We had three tough games coming up with UNH and BC, and we didn’t want to get into a mid-season slide like in the past. Like Coach said, this is a tough barn to play in. Everyone in the league knows that. Not everyone’s used to playing on an ice surface that big, and with the fans, it’s like a sixth man out there. In [the seniors'] four years, we’ve never really won up here, but we’ll settle for the tie.”
Said New Hampshire coach Dick Umile: “Obviously I was disappointed we gave up that point in the third period. I don’t think it had anything to do with losing momentum. I think it happened because a couple of pucks went in the net and there was a tough call on the penalty at the end. For that reason, they can make it five-on-four. We lost the draw, they threw it to the net. That’s a bad play on our part to get a penalty at the end. It was a tough call.”
Merrimack (10-12-2, 2-8-1 Hockey East) got on the board first at 5:03 of the first period when Marco Rosa wristed a shot past goalie Matt Carney, who started in place of a sick Ty Conklin. Rosa took a pass on a break in on the left wing from Nick Parillo. Anthony Aquino added an assist on the goal.
Merrimack had two superb chances turned away by Carney in the frame. About 9:30 into the period, Carney gloved a point-blank shot from Tim Reidy in the slot, and with about 5:30 remaining, Tim Foster skated out from behind the net alone, faked once, and fired a shot that Carney turned away with stacked pads.
New Hampshire (15-4-5, 6-2-4) got the equalizer with just over two minutes remaining in the period. Welby made the initial save on a Kevin Truelson shot. The puck was left uncleared in the crease, and Matt Swain tipped it into the empty net. Lanny Gare added an assist.
“I thought after the first period, it could have been three or four goals [for us]“, said Serino. “We had some great chances, and Carney made some fabulous saves”.
New Hampshire came out flying in the second period and took the lead at 8:17. Colin Hemingway won an offensive-zone draw back to Mick Mounsey, who fired a shot at the net. Welby again made the initial save, but the puck was left out in front, and Corey-Joe Ficek slid it into the net, giving the Wildcats a 2-1 lead.
The Wildcats upped the lead to 3-1 with a two-man advantage at 13:12. Jim Abbott and Garrett Stafford played catch with the puck at the point, and when Abbott saw an opening, he wristed a shot that beat Welby to the high blocker side. Darren Haydar picked up an assist on the goal. The goal was the only power-play goal out of nine chances on the night, and the final goal for the Wildcats.
“Our guys did a great job killing penalties”, said Serino. “All of those penalties in the second period didn’t help us. It was a great effort by our guy to get that straightened away and come back in the third period.
“After the second period we talked about last night’s third period. We had a game last night that had momentum going into the third period and we let it get away from us. Tonight we had a game where momentum was going with [New Hampshire] into the third period, so the first five minutes of the period were real important for us to come out and establish something and let them know we weren’t just going to go away.”
Gray beat Carney at 6:32 of the third period to bring the Warriors within one at 3-2. The stages were set for the exciting late period heroics.
“It’s a game we should have won and gave it up”, said Umile.
“I was very disappointed with the way things unfolded at the end,” said Abbott. “Especially for a goal like that to go in, it’s tough to watch.
“It’s like the 0-0 tie against UMass-Lowell. It’s tough, we’re going to need all these points in the end. We’re disappointed we only got three of four points this weekend.”
Merrimack returns to action Tuesday night when they host Boston College. New Hampshire hosts Northeastern Friday night.