NORTH ANDOVER, Mass. — Scott Horvath’s goal early in the third period was the difference as UMass-Amherst defeated Merrimack, 2-1, at the Volpe Center on Saturday night. UMass was able to gain a split of the weekend series, with both teams winning on each other’s home ice.
With the win, UMass (7-15-2, 6-8-0 Hockey East) moved ahead of Merrimack (12-13-2, 5-9-1) into a fifth-place tie in Hockey East with Boston University.
“It was a hard-fought game and a good win for us,” said UMass coach Don Cahoon. “We got puck luck tonight. We haven’t had our share this year. We have had 10 goals scored against us this year by hitting a piece of our equipment.”
UMass put itself in an early hole by taking a hooking penalty in the first minute of the game. Merrimack couldn’t capitalize on the man advantage and UMass would make them pay for it.
UMass got Coach Cahoon’s “puck luck” for their first goal. Randy Drohan’s slapshot went wide on Merrimack goalie Joe Exter, but rebounded off the end boards right on the stick of Mike Warner. Warner took the bounce and roofed the puck over a helpless Exter for his fourth goal on the season to give UMass the early 1-0 lead.
Merrimack dominated the play for the first 10 minutes of the opening period with the exception of the goal, but had nothing to show for it. UMass goalie Markus Helanen was there to stop every quality scoring opportunity Merrimack had, and kept it off of the scoreboard through the first period.
Merrimack came out of the dressing room for the second period with fire, and it showed in the first minute of play. Ron Mongeau broke in alone on Helanen but wasn’t able to get the shot on net. Merrimack kept up the pressure and would tie the game minutes later. Joel Gray fed John Pyliotis in the left slot, who beat Helanen short side to tie the game at one.
Both teams would continue to keep up the pressure. UMass forward Kris Wallas stole a Merrimack clearing pass and went in 2-on-1 on Exter, who robbed Wallis with a diving shoulder save. Seconds later, Merrimack broke out on a 3-on-2 opportunity and Gray, who was trailing the play, took the back pass before being stoned by Helanen at the top of the crease.
The game remained deadlocked because of the goalies. Exter made 16 saves in the second period and kept Merrimack in the game. Down the other end of the ice, Helanen made 11 second-period saves to give his team a chance to win the game in the final period.
A little over a minute into the third period, Merrimack defenseman Eric Pederson was sent to the penalty box for tripping. On the power play, UMass would regain the lead for good. Pock took a slapshot from the point that was deflected in front by Scott Horvath past Exter for the eventual game winner.
Merrimack wouldn’t go away so easily though. In the final 10 minutes of the game, the Warriors had several quality opportunities to score but couldn’t get the puck past Helanen. Marco Rosa walked in alone off of a faceoff and was stopped by Helanen, who also gloved a slap shot from Stephen Moon seconds later.
“Helanen made several great saves,” said Cahoon. “You get a feeling when he is in a zone. He is a tough guy to beat. He is a great competitor and you don’t need to sound off to get him to play good.”
Merrimack would pull its goalie in the last 1:19 of the game but could manage only one shot on net. Helanen would end the game with 32 saves while his counterpart Exter made 34 saves for Merrimack.
“I thought we played hard,” said Merrimack coach Chris Serino. “We didn’t play smart tonight. We know how to play but we continued to turn the puck over.
“We need to play consistent to win in this league. There are too many good teams.”
Both teams return to action on Thursday with key league games. Merrimack travels to Northeastern, while UMass is at home to entertain UMass-Lowell. Both games face off at 7 p.m.