NORTH ANDOVER, Mass. — For the first time in months, Merrimack head coach Chris Serino, recovering from cancer treatment, was behind the bench for the Warriors’ game against Northeastern.
“It sure was nice to see him,” said Bruce Crowder. “To me, he looks fantastic.”
Don’t get Serino wrong. It was not some sort of dramatic ploy to inspire his troops. Instead, he made the appearance on the bench for his players, most notably the seniors, for whom a Senior Night ceremony was held before the game.
“[My health] is getting better, but it’s certainly not good enough to coach a game,” said Serino. “I knew I couldn’t finish the season. I was there for one reason and for one reason only — it was our seniors’ last game and I thought I owed it to them that if I could be on the bench, and I gave them my word Wednesday, that I’d give it a shot.
“I didn’t do it thinking it would be a big moral lift for them. I did it out of respect for the seniors on my team who’ve been here and played hard for me over the last four years. I thought that was the least I could do for them on their last game.”
Unfortunately for Merrimack, Northeastern spoiled Senior Night with a three-goal first period that held up the rest of the game. Northeastern forward Chris Lynch, who had two goals on the night, thought getting out to a quick lead was the key to the game.
“I feel we play better when we score the first goal. To start out that first 20 and get the first [few] goals was big. We played a lot looser the rest of the way,” he said.
Lynch’s first goal was of the power play variety and it came at 10:12 of the first period. Mike Ryan led a rush down the left side of the offensive zone and fired a crisp pass out of the corner to Lynch, who snapped it five-hole on Merrimack goalie Jason Wolfe.
His next goal came at the 14-minute mark. This time Lynch passed from behind the net to Eric Ortlip. Ortlip put one on net but Wolfe was there to make the save. Wolfe went down in the effort and couldn’t reposition himself to make the next save as Lynch collected the rebound and fired one that bounced off the post and in to give the Huskies a 2-0 lead.
Northeastern wasn’t through.
Just under four minutes later, Jared Mudryk gained possession of the puck at center ice. He carried it just over the blue and absorbed a hit from a Merrimack defender as he made a sideways pass to Ryan Dudgeon. Dudgeon took a shot and Mudryk crashed the net, pouncing on the rebound and throwing it home for the 3-0 lead at 17:58 of the first period.
Merrimack’s Nick Parillo scored off a beautiful cross-crease pass from Anthony Aquino, who had carried the puck all the way from just outside his own goal line before dishing it to Parillo on the far right post. Parillo’s goal made it 3-1 and snapped an 87:32 goalless streak for Merrimack, dating back to its February 15 game against BC.
That goal seemed to give Merrimack a lift. The Warriors began to mount some momentum and create scoring chances, despite being outshot 21-8 in the second period.
“I thought we had better scoring chances than they did in the second,” said Serino.
Jason Braun, making his first start since November 24, 2001, kept the Warriors in check the rest of the way. He stuffed Ryan Kiley on a breakaway with four minutes on the clock, only a few minutes after stopping a point-blank Parillo shot.
“Jason Braun was fantastic in the nets for us also. [He was] coming in cold, coming off the bench, he deserves a lot of the credit,” said Crowder.
Braun didn’t do it alone, however. In a potentially game-saving play, Ortlip made two stops in the crease after a tricky bounce caught Braun out of position just under two minutes into the third period.
“Maybe we got a little lucky there,” said Crowder. But it wasn’t all luck that allowed the Huskies to come away with the 3-1 win.
“Merrimack’s a team that we’ve seen three times and I’ve seen them a couple times when I was scouting and they don’t quit. They’ve got some great offensive forwards in Aquino and Rosa and we knew it was going to be a tough game tonight. We wanted to increase our intensity level and I thought they brought a lot of intensity to the game tonight. They competed. We didn’t really prepare for Merrimack so much as we concentrated on what we wanted to do to get ready for the playoffs.”
Said Doneghey, “We came out slow in the first period. We didn’t establish our forecheck or our neutral-zone play. We stood around a little bit. I thought we played better and paid a little more attention to detail in the second period and as the game went on.
“[Wolfe] made 46 saves. I thought he played well [considering] he hadn’t played in two weeks. I thought he gave us a chance to win.”
Northeastern’s playoff positioning is set. The Huskies will be heading to Lowell to take on the River Hawks in the opening round of the playoffs.
Merrimack is in as well, but its opponent is up in the air. The Warriors are in eighth place and will play the yet-to-be-determined first seed.