NORTH ANDOVER, Mass. — Anthony Aquino scored two third-period goals and assisted on another as Merrimack stormed back to tie New Hampshire 5-5 on Friday night at the Volpe Center.
Aquino finished the night with his first career hat trick and also assisted on two other goals for Merrimack, which raised its record to 12-14-3 (5-10-2 Hockey East). UNH fell to 16-7-6 (7-5-5 Hockey East) and remained winless in its last four games (0-3-1).
Aquino was the story of the night, helping Merrimack twice come back from big deficits to help salvage the tie. His heroics also stopped Ty Conklin from tying UNH’s all-time record for wins by a goalie.
“The puck was finding me and the puck was going in,” Aquino said of his five-point performance. “My line’s job is to score goals.”
“Aquino was making great plays,” said UNH coach Dick Umile. “We outshoot them 2-to-1 and only get a tie. We didn’t do a good job of protecting the lead.”
UNH opened the scoring in the first period. Eric Lind took a slap shot from the point that was tipped home by Josh Prudden. Prudden’s fifth goal of the season came at 10:43 of the opening period.
UNH extended its lead less than two minutes later. A Merrimack defenseman fell down while Kevin Truelson walked in and blasted a slap shot past Joe Exter. Truelson’s third goal of the year put UNH up 2-0 at the 12:09 mark of the first period.
Merrimack closed the period strong. Aquino fed a streaking Tony Johnson, who beat Conklin to cut the lead in half with just 56 seconds left in the period.
Seconds later on the same shift, Aquino took a weak shot from the top of the slot that managed to sneak by Conklin to tie the game at 2. Aquino’s first goal of the night came with only 33 seconds left in the first period.
UNH opened the second period with a flurry and quickly regained the lead. Garrett Stafford picked up a loose puck in front of Exter and scored his fourth goal of the season.
Darren Haydar extended the lead for UNH two minutes later. Lanny Gare fed Truelson, who was stoned by Exter. Darren Haydar picked up the rebound and beat Exter to score his 14th goal of the season.
UNH continued to pin Merrimack deep in their zone and carry the play most of the period. UNH outshot Merrimack 21-6 in the period.
With five minutes left in the period, Jim Abbott found himself alone in front of the net and beat a helpless Exter. Abbott pocketed his ninth goal of the season to continue the onslaught on Exter.
Now was the time for a big speech by Merrimack coach Chris Serino.
“It was the worst period of my coaching career but it wasn’t time to blast the team. It was time to regroup the team and right the ship,” he said.
Aquino would save the sinking ship in the final period. He picked up a loose puck at center ice and was able to walk in alone to beat Conklin top shelf. His goal at the 4:27 mark of the third period cut the UNH lead to only two goals.
Minutes later, Aquino took the puck deep in the UNH zone and found Marco Rosa open in front of the net. Rosa beat Conklin for his sixth goal of the season.
Aquino finished his storybook night with just under four minutes left in regulation. He broke in on the right side and beat Conklin with a wrist shot just under his shoulder. Aquino’s third goal of the night was also his 15th goal of the season.
Neither team could muster any quality scoring chances late in regulation or in overtime. Exter ended the game with 36 saves while Conklin turned 17 shots aside.
“We were lucky to be in the game in the third period,” said Serino. “This was a big point for us but the way we got the point was even bigger for us.
“The Rosa/Aquino line is a good line and they have their best hockey ahead of them. Rosa is only a freshman and Aquino is a sophomore. He is just a kid but Anthony does everything well out on the ice.”
Rosa ended the night with a goal and three assists.
Merrimack is on the road Saturday night in Providence while UNH travels up to Maine for a Sunday afternoon showdown.