NORTH ANDOVER, Mass. — Merrimack entered Sunday’s contest against Dartmouth 0-for the season — zero goals in 22 chances — on the power play.
Looking for the special teams unit to click, the Warriors picked a perfect night, scoring three goals with the man advantage and adding a shorthanded tally en route to a 4-3 victory in front of 1,149 at the Volpe Center.
Tim Reidy, Matt Johnson and Brent Gough all scored on the power play to lift Merrimack to victory in a game featuring 19 power plays and lacking much flow.
Merrimack head coach Chris Serino felt it was only a matter of time before his power play unit buried the chances.
“I don’t think on the power play that we’ve been that bad,” said Serino, whose Warriors improved to 2-3-1 on the season with a 2-0-1 record at home. “I’ve watched it on film and we’re getting opportunities and we’re not burying them. Tonight, we put them away when we had the chances to put them away.”
The Big Green of Dartmouth nearly matched the power play output for the Warriors as Mike Murray and Eric Przepiorka both tallied on 5-on-3 man advantages in the second period. Those goals, coupled with four in Dartmouth’s season opener on Saturday night against Wayne State made for what head coach Bob Gaudet found as a pleasant aberration.
“You can’t expect to score six power-play goals in back-to-back nights,” said Gaudet. “But if you work hard and draw penalties, something that we’re doing and I like, you can cash in on those power plays.”
Neither coach was enthused at the abundance of power-play opportunities, citing a lack of flow to the game. Gaudet, though, sees this as part of a pattern to the college game.
“Penalties are a part of the game nowadays and I don’t see a lot of undisciplined penalties for either team,” said Gaudet, now in his sixth season at Dartmouth. “There seems to be a lot of obstruction penalties and much like the [NHL], college hockey is trying to crack down. Honestly, I’d like a little more flow to the game.”
Dartmouth started the game slowly, getting outshot, 15-3, in the first period that saw Merrimack jump out to a 2-0 lead. After Reidy buried the rebound of a Ryan Cordeiro shot on the power play at 6:01, Marco Rosa tallied his second of the year 40 seconds later, stealing a pass shorthanded, walking over the blue line and blasting a slap shot through the legs of Dartmouth goaltender Nick Boucher (27 saves) for the two-goal cushion.
Gaudet and Dartmouth walked into the game already at a bit of a disadvantage, having played only one exhibition game and one regular-season game (Saturday’s opener vs. Wayne State) under the Ivy League rule that prohibits regular-season games before Nov. 1. Gaudet felt that contributed to his team’s slow start.
“It’s the rules that we play with,” said Gaudet. “You try to prepare the guys a little in practice but there’s nothing like playing in competition. I wish we had a few more games under our belt.”
With four periods behind them, the Big Green began to click in the second, taking advantage of back-to-back 5-on-3 power plays to pull even at two. Murray got Dartmouth on the board tipping a Pete Summerfelt wrist shot between the legs of Merrimack goaltender Joe Exter (34 saves) at 7:00. And at 12:51, Przepiorka banged home the rebound of a Summerfelt shot to knot the game at two.
Before the second period ended, Merrimack regained the lead. Rookie Matt Johnson notched his first career goal, breaking behind the defense and lifting a shot over the glove to Boucher for the 3-2 edge.
Midway through the third, Merrimack’s Gough looked to all but seal the victory when he finished off a Rosa pass on a 2-on-1 for a 4-2 lead.
But to Dartmouth’s credit, it never quit. And when Merrimack got caught too aggressive late in the game, senior captain Kent Gillings broke in alone and buried a shot under Exter to pull the Big Green within a goal at 4-3.
Dartmouth pulled Boucher for an extra attacker in the final 71 seconds and mustered a good point-blank shot for Gillings with 30 seconds remaining. Exter, though, stayed tight to the near post, blocked the shot and allowed the Warriors to clear the zone and hang on.
The win gives Merrimack momentum into a big Hockey East weekend series against Boston College at home on Thursday and Boston University on the road on Saturday. BU will look to avenge a 5-3 upset loss that Merrimack handed them on Oct. 22 at the Volpe Center.
Dartmouth (1-1-0) will begin league play with games at Harvard and Brown next Friday and Saturday, respectively.