BURLINGTON, Vt. — Junior Anthony Aquino recorded his second career hat trick and senior Ryan Kiley netted a pair of goals, as Merrimack broke open a close game with a four-goal third period to claim the runner-up trophy of the Sheraton/Howard Bank Classic with a 6-3 win over host Vermont.
Reunited with his “Ba-Da-Bing” line brethren Nick Parillo and Marco Rosa, Aquino scored back-to-back goals 2:35 apart — the first on a 4-on-4 situation and second on the power play — early in the third period to snap a 2-2 tie. He also opened the scoring with a tip-in of a pretty Parillo centering feed just 3:36 into the contest.
Merrimack’s fleet-of-foot threesome accounted for nine of the 18 points the Warriors generated last night and 15 out of 27 for the tournament.
“When you play with guys that complement your skills like Nick and Marco do mine, it really helps,” said Aquino, who along with Parillo was named to the all-tournament team. The other members included Lake Superior forwards Jeremy Bachusz (tourney MVP) and Aaron Davis, Dartmouth’s Jamie Herrington and UVM’s Jeff Miles.
“The way Nick hustles creates a lot of scoring chances, and Marco’s got really good hands and sees the ice well, so that creates a lot of scoring chances,” Aquino said. “That’s why we play well together.”
It’s another reason why head coach Chris Serino will forsake balancing his forward lines and keep the trio together as the grind that is the Hockey East season unfolds next week at powerful New Hampshire.
“I keep tinkering with the lines, but you’ve got to put a line out there that can really do something,” Serino said. “I personally think they’re one of the best lines in the country. Although I’d like a little more balance, it’s foolish to break them up.”
Merrimack had Vermont reeling by the 4:20 mark of the game, as freshman Matt Foy buried an Alex Sikatchev pass underneath Catamount goalie Shawn Conschafter (29 saves), stunning the 3,317 packed into the Gutterson Field House.
Surrendering a pair of goals in 44 seconds forced UVM coach Mike Gilligan to call a timeout in an attempt to settle his troops. It worked for a while, as Vermont managed to contain the Warriors until Aquino broke through in the third.
Showing a renewed sense of attention to detail in its defensive zone, Merrimack kept the pressure off goalie Joe Exter (37 saves) for the better part of the first period. UVM’s limited chances came from near the blue line and, unlike against Dartmouth a night earlier, the Warriors immediately cleared any rebounds from danger.
Unlike the first 20 minutes, Exter was called on repeatedly in the chippy second period to prevent the Warriors from falling behind.
With a combined 30 minutes in penalties handed out to both teams, Vermont took advantage of the four power plays to pressure Exter with 15 shots in the period. The only one that got by him was defenseman Patrick Sharp’s slapper from 40 feet on a two-man advantage for the Catamounts just 1:13 into the period, cutting the Merrimack lead to 2-1.
The score stayed that way until UVM forward Bryson Busniuk netted a power-play goal less than four minutes into the final period to tie the score. Following Aquino’s consecutive goals, Kiley scored his first of the night to increase the Merrimack lead to 5-2 at 12:57.
Freshman Scott Mifsud scored the fifth power-play goal given up by the Merrimack on the weekend at 15:51 to cut the margin back to two, but Kiley ended all suspense 2:14 later with a sharp wrister through a screen that beat Conschafter to the stick side.
“We got a 2-0 lead and then we didn’t play well after that,” Serino said. “They tied it up 2-2 and then we took charge again. I liked the fact that showed some character there. We didn’t fold the tent in a strange place with a full house. That’s definitely a character builder for us.”