SYRACUSE, N.Y. — In a showdown of Russian unknowns, Merrimack junior Alex Sikatchev was the clear winner.
With just two goals in three seasons, the Warriors’ version of the Russian Rocket accounted for four goals and assisted on two others, as Merrimack awoke from a first-period slumber to outgun Syracuse Invitational Tournament host Colgate, 9-5, Friday in the opening-round matinee at the Onondaga County War Memorial.
Scoring their most goals since hanging nine on Air Force four years ago, the Warriors will face defending tourney champion Niagara in Saturday’s final. The Purple Eagles, who split a two-game series at home with Merrimack last weekend, defeated Mercyhurst, 4-1, in Friday’s nightcap.
On the other side of the ledger, Colgate freshman Dmitry Yashin looked like he would be the Russian to carry his team into the tourney final early on. The younger brother of New York Islanders star Alexei Yashin posted the first multiple-goal game of his career, as the Raiders owned the first half of a rather bizarre game.
Sikatchev busting out, however, was the highlight of several bizarre unexpected occurrences in this wide-open affair.
“When you’re into the game like that, when you get the puck you can just feel [the confidence],” said Sikatchev, whose second goal five minutes into the third period tied the game at 4-4, erasing a second three-goal Colgate lead. “My third goal, I could just feel that we were going to score on the power play.
“You score two goals, you just pop up and keep going,” added Sikatchev, not aware of Yashin’s family legacy. “You score four, and who just keep going. Never stop.”
Want a few other strange happenings from this one?
Take, for instance, Merrimack senior goaltender Jason Wolfe earning the first win of his career behind 16 saves after replacing starter Joe Exter following a pair of first-period soft goals. The Warriors trailed at the first intermission, 3-0.
Then there was Sikatchev fanning on a rare penalty shot late in the second period just 42 seconds before netting his first of the game on the exact same move. And it doesn’t end there.
Merrimack senior Nick Parillo, who was second on the team last year with 16 goals, finally broke his season-long scoring drought with two goals to go along with two assists. Junior Anthony Aquino changed roles by setting up five goals instead of scoring them. And mild-mannered freshman Matt Foy received a 10-minute misconduct in the third period for gesturing to referee John Murphy, who otherwise stuck his whistle firmly in his pocket throughout the chippy 60 minutes.
On the Colgate side, working on a shutout for the first 22 minutes, senior goalie Jason Lefevre eventually was lifted at the 8:59 mark of the third period following six straight Merrimack goals, including three in a span of 3:59. That’s when Merrimack sophomore Marco Rosa, who was scoreless since the season opener at Miami, netted the eventual game-winner, his second of the game.
Finally, Raiders leading scorer Scooter Smith was forced out of the game early in the opening period with a knee injury. The junior’s status for Saturday’s consolation game was immediately unknown.
In all, the kind of game better suited to be played around Halloween than Thanksgiving. But no one from Merrimack is complaining.
“It’s a big win for us. Any time you get to play in a championship game, it’s a big win,” said Warriors associate head coach Mike Doneghey, whose club entered the tournament losing five of its last six. “But it doesn’t mean anything if we lose [Saturday]. We’re here to win.
“If we win [Saturday],” Doneghey added, “that will show me this team is ready to do something. We’ve got some line combinations that are working pretty good right now. We just have to stick with it.”
Specifically the Sikatchev-Parillo-Aquino combination, which tallied 15 of Merrimack’s 25 points on the afternoon.
Yashin, Adam Mitchell and P.J. Yedon built a three-goal lead for Colgate by the 16:02 mark of the opening period, leading to Doneghey replacing Exter with Wolfe.
After Rosa put Merrimack on the board at 2:31 into the second period, Yashin followed just over two minutes later with his second of the game off a beautiful backhander move around Wolfe after beating the Warriors defense to the puck.
After Parillo scored his first of the year at 13:52 to cut the Colgate lead to 4-2, that’s when Sikatchev heated up, but only after he whiffed on the backhand while coming down on a penalty shot against Lefevre.
The St. Petersburg native sent Merrimack into the second intermission trailing by one with his third of the season coming on 3-on-2 break and pretty drop pass by Aquino. With the Warriors holding all the momentum, he tied the score at 5:00 of the third on a one-timer blast in the slot from 25 feet out.
Warriors scoring leader Ryan Cordeiro gave Merrimack its first lead just a minute later, raising havoc out in front of Lefevre and having a Darren Clarke wrist shot from the point deflect off him into the net.
Following Rosa’s second goal, Sikatchev scored his first power-play goal of his career at 12:32, tucking a Parillo cross-crease pass inside the right post. After Colgate’s Ben Bryce scored just 2:16 later to make it a two-goal game again, Sikatchev deposited his final one at 15:17 with a little help from Raiders freshman goalie Steve Silverthorn, who knocked the puck over the goal line while trying to jump on it.
Parillo, who enjoyed a four-point game, capped this wild one with on a 3-on-1 rush with Aquino and Sikatchev, slamming home Aquino’s pass from behind in the net.