PROVIDENCE, R.I. — The Providence Friars evened their Hockey East record (2-2-0) with a 3-2 win over Merrimack on Saturday night. The win propelled the Friars back into the thick of things in Hockey East after coming into this weekend winless in league play.
“Tonight was a huge win for us. We aren’t exactly where we want to be, but we’re headed in the right direction and we’re going there as a team,” said Providence captain Devin Rask.
The Friars started strong for the first time this season, opening the scoring in the first period. Providence defenseman Eric Lundberg pinched along the boards, controlled the puck, and found Drew Omicioli streaking through the slot. Omicioli gathered the puck and fired a wrist shot through Merrimack goaltender Joe Exter at the 14:53 mark.
“Eric made a great play there and Drew was able to put it home. It was the second time in two nights that Lundberg stepped up to hold a puck in and it led to a goal. He is starting to learn when to be aggressive and tonight’s effort was the result of a quick, smart decision on Eric’s part,” said Friar coach Paul Pooley.
Merrimack responded well to the goal, skating hard and eventually knotting the score at one. Marco Rosa won a faceoff in the Providence zone to linemate Ryan Cordeiro who was able to sneak a backhanded shot past netminder Nolan Schaefer. Jon DiSalvatore slid through the crease in an attempt to stop the puck, but it had already crossed the line.
Schaefer said, “I saw the puck. He won the draw and threw a backhand on net. I thought I had it trapped between my arm and body, but it trickled through. Jon [DiSalvatore] saw the puck fall and tried to slide it away, but it just barely crossed the line.”
Providence seemed to struggle after surrendering a goal. Stephen Wood took a slashing penalty at 18:30 with Merrimack threatening to score two quick goals. Merrimack ended the first period with a flurry of shots on the man advantage, resulting in outshooting the Friars 15-5 in the first period.
The second period was a territorial battle with neither team being able to gain much momentum. The Warrior power play couldn’t gain the zone and the Friars couldn’t put two passes together against a tough Merrimack forecheck.
Nick Parillo was able to shake things up, skating off on a breakaway before losing the puck. Providence gained possession and broke out the other way. Peter Fregoe led a three-on-one and dropped a pass back to Cody Loughlean, but the sophomore winger fired just wide. Exter pounced on the loose puck.
Merrimack defenseman Tony Johnson took exception to some swipes at Exter with the puck and was whistled for hitting after the play at 10:11.
Providence capitalized on the situation, scoring a power-play goal at 11:57. Regan Kelly, Fregoe, and Rask executed a perfect diagonal passing play. Exter dove in an attempt to beak up the pass on the doorstep and was left watching helplessly as Rask roofed one to the short side.
“Our power play was very good tonight. I told the guys that we needed to score a power-play goal and they responded. If we can move the puck like that, our team should be very successful,” said Pooley.
The Friars skated with a 2-1 advantage, but Merrimack refused to give up so early in the contest. Again, they responded to the score positively, creating some very good chances later in the second.
Matthew Foy found himself all alone in front after the Warriors had successfully cycled the puck. He attempted to flip a shot over Schaefer’s left shoulder, but the goalie swiped at the puck and knocked it down. A scramble ensued and Schaefer was able to go into a split and freeze the puck between his legs.
Marco Rosa and Kelly took matching penalties on the play for roughing. The squads went to a 4-4, threatening at both ends of the ice with speedy exchanges. Shortly after, Johnson was whistled for another penalty and the Friars would be 4-3 for the rest of the second.
“Our guys needed to be tougher mentally. We took some bad penalties this game and a lack of discipline just can’t be tolerated,” said Merrimack coach Stu Irving.
Providence seemed to control the puck to open the third , but an errant pass left Wood sprawled out on the ice to hold the zone. His attempt failed and Anthony Aquino raced the other way with no one but Schaefer in sight. He faked up high with his stick and slid a shot low to the glove side. Schaefer was able to kick the shot aside, keeping the Friars ahead.
At 9:17 Friar freshman Chris Chaput skated into the zone one on two. He stickhandled through the double team, flipping the puck through a defender’s legs. Chaput regained the puck on his backhand and was able to slide a shot through Exter’s pads. The eventual game-winner gave Providence a 3-1 edge halfway through the final period.
Merrimack’s tenacity finally paid off at the 14:48 mark. Alex Sikatchev netted a power-play goal to bring the Warriors within one. Nick Cammarata walked in from the point and flipped a nifty backhand pass to Sikatchev in the low slot. He tipped the pass past Schaefer, setting the table for a dramatic end to the game.
The Warriors, down a goal, desperately attempted to gain the Providence zone, but the Friar defense stood strong, forcing an icing call with a little more than a minute to play. Merrimack called timeout to discuss strategy, specifically when to bring on the extra attacker.
Merrimack won the draw and dumped the puck deep in the Providence end. Exter hesitated toward the bench, fearing that his team would not control the puck. The miscommunication only gave the Warriors an extra skater for 20 seconds.
“It was a miscommunication. We wanted Joe off of the ice as soon as we gained the zone. He was worried about a pass being broken up and was late getting to the bench,” described Irving.
Merrimack cycled the puck and fired shots from the point, but Schaefer was able to stand strong and end the threat.
Providence improved to 3-4-0 (2-2-0) and Merrimack dropped to 2-5-0 (0-4-0). Both teams will continue Hockey East play next weekend.