DURHAM, N.H. — Darren Haydar has been held goal-less only six times all season long for New Hampshire, including the Wildcats’ last game.
That fact did not bode well for Merrimack.
The senior forward, who leads the nation in four offensive categories, came out on a mission from the drop of the puck, and added to his impressive statistics by scoring his 19th goal of the season as New Hampshire defeated Merrimack, 10-1, before a sellout crowd at the Whittemore Center. Haydar has now scored a point in each of his last 12 games, which is a career high.
It didn’t take him long, either.
For the second straight game, the Wildcats scored on their first shot on goal. Just 36 seconds into the first period, Haydar streaked over the Merrimack blue line and fired a laser from the top of the right circle over the arm of junior goaltender Joe Exter. Haydar is tops in the country in points, points per game, assists and assists per game. He also added two assists on the night.
Coming into the game, Haydar had recorded 18 goals and 27 assists for 45 points through 19 games. Former Wildcat Jason Krog, who won the Hobey Baker Award in the 1998-1999 season, had 13-23-36 totals through the same number of games.
Speaking of Hobey Baker, the Wildcat fans began chanting “Hobey Baker” in earnest after Haydar’s tally.
“I think we’re stronger this year,” Haydar said when asked how this team compares to the team that Krog led all the way to the national championship game. “We’re proving that we have four lines that can score.”
UNH improved to 15-3-2 on the season and won its sixth in a row, and 11th out of its last 12. Merrimack fell to 7-12-0. New Hampshire is now 20-0-3 in its last 23 games against the Warriors. Merrimack has not defeated UNH since the 1995-1996 season.
“Obviously, I thought we played well for three full periods. We moved the puck well. A lot of people contributed tonight,” UNH head coach Dick Umile said.
UNH continued to put the pressure on in the Merrimack zone, and at the 3:17 mark, Haydar again got the Wildcat offense on the board. Freshman Sean Collins outworked a Merrimack defender behind the Warrior net. He tapped the puck to Haydar, who circled in front and fed a pass through the crease to sophomore Steve Saviano, who directed the puck past Exter for a 2-0 New Hampshire lead. Collins, the top rookie point producer in the nation, recorded his 17th assist on the year.
Lanny Gare went off for tripping at the 6:46 mark, and Merrimack was able to cash in on the ensuing power play. When the Wildcats failed to clear the puck out of their own end, Junior Ryan Cordeiro banged home a rebound past sprawled UNH sophomore netminder Michael Ayers to cut the ‘Cat lead to 2-1.
It was a bit of a homecoming for Cordeiro, who transferred to Merrimack from UNH a year ago. It was the 12th goal of the year for Cordeiro, who is second on the team in scoring.
“The first game was tough earlier in the year, playing against my old team,” said Cordeiro. “This time I treated it like any other game. The puck happened to bounce my way for our goal.”
When asked about Haydar, Cordeiro responded: “He’s a great playmaker. He’s got great puck patience. For a kid who’s 160 pounds, no one can take him off his skates. I remember when I came here and first saw him, I was like, ‘What the heck is up with him? He’ll never make it.’ Man, was I wrong.”
UNH regained its two-goal lead at the 12:29 mark when David Busch displayed a great individual effort. The senior forward broke down the middle of the ice and across the blue line, flipped the puck through a Merrimack defenders legs, regained it, then beat Exter high for his eighth goal of the season.
The Wildcats outshot the Warriors 17-10 in the first period.
“It was an overall team effort tonight,” said Busch. “Coach has spread things out on the lines, especially since Christmas. We’ve been doing well offensively.”
It was also homecoming for Merrimack coach Chris Serino, who served behind the UNH bench for seven years as an assistant. Serino has been battling throat cancer since being diagnosed in August. In November, he handed the head coaching duties to assistant coach Mike Doneghey. While not behind the Merrimack bench tonight, Serino was in attendance in the Whittemore Center stands. He received a standing ovation from the 6,501 fans.
“It was a great ovation from the fans. It’s always good to see Chris. He’s part of our ‘family’ up here, and he always will be,” said Umile.
The second period began exactly the same way that the first period began. … Well, almost exactly. Just 36 seconds in, UNH found the back of the twine to make it 4-1. And, as in the first period, it was the first shot on goal in the period for New Hampshire.
This time, however, it was junior defenseman Garrett Stafford who got the goal, his fourth of the season. Just a little over two minutes later, Collins bagged his 15th of the season on an odd-man UNH rush. Haydar recorded his second point of the night with his 28th assist, and Colin Hemingway garnered his 20th to make it 5-1.
Jim Abbott finished out the scoring for the Wildcats in the second period. Sophomore defenseman Mike Lubesnick sent Abbott in on a partial breakaway. The Mars, Pa. native and St. Louis draft pick wristed a shot past Exter for his second goal of the season. Lubesnick’s two points on the night were a career high. UNH outshot Merrimack 15-7 for the period.
Senior Jason Wolfe replaced Exter in goal for Merrimack to start the third period, but the results weren’t much better for the Warriors. This time it was the Wildcats second shot on goal to start the period that went in, as a wide-open Hemingway wristed a shot to Wolfe’s glove side for 7-1 UNH lead. David Busch’s second of the night at 6:37 increased the carnage to 8-1.
Patrick Foley scored his third of the season to make it 9-1, and with just 3.7 seconds left, sophomore Tim Horst got his second career goal (and second in as many games) to close out scoring, 10-1, UNH.
“The scoreboard says it all. You saw the same thing we did out there,” said Merrimack head coach Mike Doneghey. “We just didn’t commit ourselves out there. We didn’t finish, we didn’t execute. It was men against boys out there tonight.”
The Wildcats, who came into the game having outshot their opponents in 15 of 19 games, added to that by laying a 51-25 pasting against Exter and Wolfe.
“It’s always nice when you get four lines scoring,” said Haydar. “We played a strong 60 minutes, and we limited shots on goal in our end. It’s a good feeling.”
New Hampshire hosts Providence next on Sunday, Jan. 13. Merrimack plays next on Tuesday when the Warriors host UMass-Lowell.