NORTH ANDOVER, Mass. — He waited… and waited… and waited.
Just when you thought that Alex Sikatchev had committed the cardinal sin of not even getting a shot off during a golden opportunity in the third period of a 1-1 game, he reached back and flipped the puck into the net.
That game-winner, which came at the 1:26 mark, arose out of a two-on-one with Nick Parillo. Parillo fed Sikatchev, who cut across to the left into the low slot but didn’t shoot when dead-on with the net. Instead, having overskated the slot, he reached back and put in his eighth goal of the year.
“I just took my time and [was] patient and I scored,” said the native of St. Petersburg, Russia. “When I made the first move, the defense fell down and the goalie was moving so I didn’t know where to shoot. He blocked the short side, so I decided to move on the [other] side and just shoot it and the puck went through.”
The 2-1 win in a tight game that could have gone either way improved Merrimack’s record to 6-9-0 overall and 2-6-0 in Hockey East. As a result, the Warriors moved out of the league basement and into a tie with UMass-Amherst for eighth place, one point behind Northeastern, which fell to 7-7-2 and 2-5-1, respectively.
“We played with a certain grit tonight,” said Merrimack interim coach Mike Doneghey. “We kept the motor running. It was a grind [but] every game someone is stepping to the forefront.
“Lately we’ve made our own breaks. Things aren’t just happening for us. We’re working hard for 60 minutes and sticking together. Whether we get up or down or tied, the guys are coming together great as a team.”
The game was the final league contest for both teams before the holiday break, although both face a nonconference foe next Saturday. Merrimack travels to Dartmouth while Northeastern hosts Iona.
In knocking off a team with a four-game win streak, albeit one compiled in nonconference games, Merrimack continued an eight-game streak of its own in which it has consistently alternated wins and losses. In addition to that statistical anomaly, the Warriors also won their first Saturday night game of the season.
For Northeastern, it was a disappointing loss in a road game in which it generated at least 10 shots each period and got good goaltending from Keni Gibson. Its foe, however, also got strong netminding from Joe Exter and was just a bit more opportunistic in its scoring.
“I thought we had some pretty good jump,” said NU coach Bruce Crowder. “I’ve got no complaints with the way we played. There may have been some individuals who didn’t have their A game, but all in all the effort and the intensity was there. We got some good goaltending when we needed it.
“[But] any time you don’t win in Hockey East, it’s a downer. Whether it’s right before Christmas or even if we played right through the fourth of July…. It was one of those games that you wished you were on the other end of the score.”
A scoreless first period included scattered opportunities for both sides with Northeastern holding a 10-8 edge in shots. Merrimack’s best opportunities came in the later stretches, first by Lou Eyster and soon after by Ryan Kiley. In the closing minutes, an odd-man rush created a Matthew Foy shot in front, but Gibson made the save.
The Huskies’ best chances came on a Chris Lynch shot off a two-on-one midway through the period, Lynch again late in the period with a backhander in front followed by a Jaron Herriman opportunity on the weak-side post and finally a Jason Guerriero breakaway with three seconds left. Merrimack goaltender Joe Exter made all the big stops, however, with some help from Tony Johnson on Guerriero’s breakaway. Johnson took down the freshman, but earned Merrimack’s only penalty of the period for his actions.
Opening the second period shorthanded, the Warriors not only killed the penalty without incident, they scored soon after it was over. Marco Rosa took a pass from Ryan Cordeiro, broke in alone and beat Gibson with a deke.
The lead lasted all of seven minutes. Two seconds after a Northeastern man advantage ended, the Huskies scored a de facto power-play goal when Brian Tudrick fed an uncovered Leon Hayward in front and the senior roofed it glove side.
After Sikatchev gave Merrimack the 2-1 lead early in the third, play continued to be even with both sides generating opportunities, only to be foiled by the strong goaltending.
Northeastern pulled Gibson for an extra attacker with 1:13 remaining, but Merrimack defended well with blocked shots and cleared pucks to hold the Huskies to a Jim Fahey shot with 45 seconds left and a Mike Ryan chance with 10 seconds remaining. Exter made both saves, however, to finish with 30 on the evening.