NORTH ANDOVER, Mass. — Behind a sparkling five-point performance from Ryan Cordeiro and his linemates, the Merrimack Warriors beat the visiting Black Bears of Maine for the first time since November 14, 1997.
It was also Merrimack’s first win in seven tries. The 5-2 win moves Merrimack a point higher in its quest to capture the final spot in the Hockey East tournament.
“It’s tough to win on the road in Hockey East,” said Maine coach Tim Whitehead. “Sometimes that’s the way life is. You think things are going well and before you know it, you get slapped in the face.”
Quick line changes helped Merrimack, according to the players and coach Mike Doneghey.
“We shortened our shifts,” said the hero of the night, Ryan Cordeiro. “That was huge.”
Added Doneghey, “Yeah, we’ve got a stopwatch on the bench now. The trainer has it and he tells me when 30 seconds have gone by and we start calling them.”
Most of the slapping, as Whitehead characterized it, was done by the line of Anthony Aquino, Cordeiro and Marco Rosa. The line accounted for all five Warrior goals on the night and was given ample ice time as Doneghey shortened the bench in addition to the shortened shifts.
“[Previously] we had our goalscorers sitting on the bench and only getting out there every fourth shift. We tried to get them out there as much as we could.”
Credit Merrimack assistant coach Lou Finnochiaro for the idea of putting the line together.
“Coach Finnochiaro came to me after [last night's] game and said to me, ‘Why don’t we try these guys together?’ Louis Finnochiaro is the one who did it.”
The idea certainly worked out.
Whitehead, meanwhile, didn’t like seeing those guys coming over the boards.
“[That line] is fantastic. They’re a threat every time they’re on the ice. Whether it’s penalty kill, power play or five on five they are absolutely a threat when they are on the ice. They really just played well tonight. That line in particular.”
Merrimack stormed out of the gates early, carrying the play in an intense first period highlighted by strong skating and good puck movement by both sides.
The first goal of the game came at 11:49 of the first when Ryan Cordeiro dug the puck off the left boards and slid a pass to a streaking Aquino on the right post. Aquino snapped one on the ice and to the short side of Maine goalie Matt Yeats. Rosa was also credited with an assist.
Maine began the second period on a power play and cashed in on a beautiful tic-tac-toe goal by Michael Schutte. Crisp passes from Martin Kariya and Peter Metcalf set up the goal that tied the score 1-1 at 1:01 of the first.
The goal that made it 2-1 in Merrimack’s favor came a mere six seconds later.
“I think [the tying goal] was potentially a huge switch [of momentum] in our favor but when they scored right away, that obviously gave them a boost. That was the biggest play in the game by far,” said Whitehead of the Cordeiro backhanded goal at 1:07 of the second period. Again, Aquino and Rosa were credited with assists.
Merrimack made it 3-1 a few minutes later, at 3:32 of the period. This time a long pass from the red line by Eric Pederson sprung Cordeiro on a breakaway. With a Maine defender draped all over him, he put a backhander low, glove side past Yeats for his second goal of the night.
Merrimack started the third period the same way as it did the second, with Maine on a five on four power play. But this time the results were different. Thanks to some very clutch saves from Joe Exter, Maine was unable to cash in on the opportunity. Exter was solid all night long.
“Exter obviously is just great. He’s on top of his game,” said Whitehead. “He played really well tonight. He made five or six saves he shouldn’t have made. Joey hasn’t played that game all year. Tonight he did,” said Doneghey.
“That’s the old Joe,” added Cordeiro.
Maine made things interesting at 17:53 of the third. Paul Lynch got possession of the puck at the blue line, made two quick moves with the puck and, out of options and with nothing else to do, he snapped a shot on net that found its way through a screened Exter. The goal made the score 4-2 but Maine would not get any closer.
Aquino took a pass from, you guessed it, Cordeiro and put home an empty-net goal to seal the deal and keep Merrimack’s playoff hopes alive.
Merrimack will play a pivotal game at Boston College next Friday at 7 p.m. Maine heads to Providence for a game against the sixth-place Friars next Friday at 7 p.m.