NORTH ANDOVER, Mass. — Few teams in the country are worrying about pivotal games on the last day of November. That is, unless you ask Providence and Merrimack.
With Providence off to a lackluster start after being picked in the preseason to win Hockey East, and Merrimack winless in its first five league games, the weekend home-and-home series between the clubs held plenty of late-November meaning.
Credit round one to the Warriors.
Thanks to three-point nights by Anthony Aquino and Ryan Cordeiro, the Warriors edged the Friars, 3-2, in front of 1,924 at the Volpe Center on Friday night.
Cordeiro played the role of hero, breaking a 2-2 tie in the third period with 13:08 remaining. Providence goaltender Nolan Schaefer (16 saves) stopped two shots on the play by Greg Lauze and Aquino but couldn’t get back into position to stop Cordeiro.
Cordeiro, a junior on the Merrimack squad who entered the game with 17 points on the season, has already nearly matched the 18 points he had in two years at New Hampshire before transferring to Merrimack. On Friday, Cordeiro had the chance to play on Merrimack’s top line due to an injury to Nick Parillo.
“It’s sad that Parillo is out, but it gave me a shot [to play on the first line],” said Cordeiro. “We were able to get things going tonight. I’m glad to be matched with Anthony [Aquino] and Alex [Sikatchev].”
Fellow junior Aquino scored his 10th and 11th goals of the season in the game, netting the first two Warrior goals in the second period. The scoring burst came just days after Aquino learned that the Canadian World Junior team snubbed him for the upcoming tournament. According to Aquino, that served as motivation.
“I’m not surprised. [The Canadian Hockey Association] has never picked me for any of their teams,” said Aquino. “I know I should’ve been picked deep down. Tonight that was definitely motivation.
“The hell with them, though. I’m just going to play hockey … I’m not going to get mad. I’ll get even.”
Aquino’s first goal opened the scoring 2:06 into the second period. After losing control of the puck on a partial breakaway, Aquino peeled off to the right of the net and, instead of looking for someone to pass the puck to, fired a shot along the ice that surprised Schaefer, beating him near post.
Schaefer only faced 19 shots on the night and admitted that goal was part of a lackluster effort.
“It was a different game than I’m used to seeing,” said Schaefer, referring to the low shot total for Merrimack. “I guess I wasn’t quite ready for it.”
Even though the Friars fell behind, they responded before the halfway point of the second period to take the lead.
Drew Omicioli got the Friars on the board, netting a shorthanded goal after taking a breakaway pass from Michael Lucci at 6:07. John Luszcz put the Friars on top at 9:44 when, similarly to Aquino’s effort, he surprised Merrimack goalie Joe Exter (29 shots) with a shot from the right half-boards that beat the tender under the arm.
Before the end of the second, though, Aquino pulled the Warriors even. After Cordeiro won a faceoff to Schaefer’s right, Aquino cut across from the left wing, picked up the loose puck and fired a wrister through a screen, beating Schaefer over the right shoulder.
After Cordeiro scored the eventual game-winner at 6:52 of the third, he wasn’t done yet. Though he was unable to muster any more offense, he put a key block on an Omicioli one-timer from 60 feet as time expired.
Cordeiro made light of a potential injury on the play, saying, “If we’d have lost the game, it would’ve hurt. But we won and I don’t feel anything.”
And don’t think that there isn’t some bad blood stirring. Providence coach Paul Pooley said that his team “found a way to lose the game.”
The comment came much to the dismay of Merrimack interim and associate coach Mike Doneghey.
“I’m glad that Paul [Pooley] doesn’t think that we beat him,” said Doneghey. “I thought we played a great game and I think that’s wrong for him to say that.”
The two teams will rematch on Saturday night in Providence.