NORTH ANDOVER, MASS. — UNH carried the play and defeated Merrimack, 6-3, spoiling the opening of the newly-renovated Volpe Athletic Complex for most of the 2,882 spectators.
“We did a lot of things well tonight,” said UNH coach Dick Umile.
And they certainly did. The Wildcats skated well, they hit well, all the lines played together well, and, most importantly, they capitalized well on their man-up opportunities.
Special teams were the difference in the first Hockey East action of the season for each team. The Wildcats scored three power-play goals and a shorthanded goal in the effort.
“We’re a team that plays hard but not necessarily smart all of the time,” said Merrimack associate head coach Mike Donneghy.
Donneghy was frustrated because the loss did not happen as a result of a lack of talent.
“We can skate with anybody in the country. It’s just a matter of how smart you play,” he said.
UNH controlled the entire game save for a few minutes in the second period when Merrimack seemed to gather some momentum.
The first period was sloppy in the early going as the two teams battled between the blue lines and struggled to control the play. Neither team could sustain any type of offense, and the first shot on net was not recorded until almost four minutes into the contest, by UNH from just outside the blueline.
After getting the rust out in the early going, UNH took control, not allowing Merrimack its first shot until 13:25 of the first and outshooting them 15-4 in the period. The only problem for UNH was that, for the second straight game, Merrimack scored on their first shot.
Anthony Aquino was the star of the night for Merrimack.
“Anthony played well as usual,” said coach Chris Serino. Aquino had two goals and was one of the three stars of the game.
After a faceoff just outside the UNH zone the puck squirted out to a breaking Aquino who blasted a slapper from the top of the right circle. Aquino beat Wildcat goalie Matt Carney over his right shoulder and off the pipe to take the 1-0 lead.
UNH responded soon after. An errant Merrimack shot from the point resulted in a deflection and the puck bouncing out to center ice. Wildcat forward Lanny Gare reigned the puck in and went in on the breakaway where he promptly beat Warrior goaltender Joe Exter (41 saves on the night) five-hole to tie the game at 1-1 at 14:28 of the first.
Just minutes later, UNH was on the board again, this time with a beautiful tic-tac-toe, one-time goal on the 5-on-3 advantage. Freshman Sean Collins was the beneficiary of some beautiful passing by linemates David Busch and Darren Haydar as he deposited his second goal of the young season.
After Haydar and Aquino traded goals in the early part of the second period, a big kill by Merrimack seemed to turn things around. Ryan Cordeiro pulled the Warriors within one on a fantastic tape-to-tape-to-tape play at 10:09 of the second. Ryan Kiley and Matthew Foy both made excellent passes to set up the powerplay goal.
But UNH would take control back after Colin Hemingway scored his second goal of the night and UNH’s sixth on yet another 5-on-3 Wildcat advantage.
The highlight goal of the night would pretty much be the nail in the coffin for the Warriors. Darren Haydar had the puck deep in the Warrior zone. As he cut behind the net he had a defenseman draped all over him. Just before he went behind the net, Haydar made a picturesque backhand pass to a breaking David Busch who buried it low to the short side.
“UNH is number six in the country,” said Donneghy. “They capitalize on mistakes. If you continuously give them five on threes its going to hurt you.”