NORTH ANDOVER, Mass. — Tim Reidy and Marco Rosa each scored two goals to lead Merrimack to a 5-3 exhibition win over defending Atlantic University Sport regular season champion St. Thomas University of New Brunswick at the Lawler Arena. It was the first intercollegiate action for both teams.
Rosa added an assist for a three-point night, and Steve Crusco, Brent Gough and Nick Pomponio each chipped in with two assists. Matt Johnson scored a power-play goal, the eventual game-winner, and also had an assist.
Emery Olauson had a goal and two assists for the Tommies, while Brett Lutes scored a goal and set up another in the first-ever meeting between the two schools.
The Warriors, who never trailed, jumped out to a two-goal lead less than three minutes into the game on tallies by Reidy and Rosa, and it looked to be a rout early.
“Crusco made a real nice play, taking a guy to the boards,” said Reidy of his first goal. “I just picked up the puck, no one was on me and I took a shot and it went in.”
Rosa’s shot from the top of the left circle on the power play made it 2-0. But the game became a hard-fought battle. Olauson converted a rebound for St. Thomas just :24 after Rosa’s goal, setting the stage for an entertaining evening of play.
Reidy’s second of the night came midway through the first and was the result of another strong effort by Crusco, as the junior center carried out of traffic in his own end and found his linemate at the left circle to make it 3-1.
“Crusco cut across the ice and dropped it to me, and I just took another shot and it went in,” Reidy said.
Luc Rioux got that one back for St. Thomas on the power play late in the period, with a slapper from the right circle through traffic, and it was 3-2 after one.
Merrimack spent most of the first two periods shorthanded and wound up down a man eight times over that stretch.
“I thought we started out the game plan pretty well, then we got real sloppy,” Serino said.
“Scoring the two quick goals, I think we thought it was going to be easy and started taking the easy way, and taking some penalties. But from the middle of the second period on, I thought we played pretty well. We played much better defensively in the third period.”
The Warriors were penalized 12 times in the first two periods to seven for St. Thomas. On the night Merrimack was 3-for-5 on the power play, while St. Thomas had nine chances, converting one.
“We were lazy,” said Serino. “We deserved it. We were lazy playing defense. We played with our sticks, took a lot of stick penalties, but that’s just from being lazy with your feet.”
Still, Merrimack clung to a 4-3 lead after the teams swapped goals in the second. St. Thomas carried play early in the period and tied the game at 4:16 on a wrist shot through a screen in the slot by Brett Lutes, set up by Olauson. Then at 12:19, Matt Johnson stood at the far post and banged in a centering pass from Brent Gough on the power play, regaining the lead for good for the Warriors.
The third period was all Warriors, as they outshot the Tommies, 11-4, and got an insurance goal from Rosa on the power play at 8:06.
“I made a play to get through the centerman’s legs on the faceoff, then I lost it but it went right to Gough,” said Rosa. “He’s got great eyes and luckily he saw me on the back door, and I just put it in. It was kind of luck, but also being at the right place at the right time.”
“We played better defense with our feet rather than just reaching in with our sticks and trying to do the easy things,” said Serino.
“The third period was more like we can play. Hopefully that’s the way we will play.”
“You can’t really get into a flow when you’re down a man,” said Reidy. “So we talked about staying more disciplined, trying to use our legs to skate and not our sticks.”
It paid off, as the Warriors only went to the box once in the third after a seemingly endless stream of penalties over the first two periods.
Junior goaltender Casey Guenther, the heir apparent to Hockey East Second Team All-Star Joe Exter, went the distance with 16 saves as Merrimack outshot the Tommies, 29-19. After being touched for two goals in the first, Guenther turned aside 10 of 11 the rest of the way.
Guenther had made only three starts in his career before Friday, so getting him as much work as he needed was at the top of Serino’s list.
“I thought he was okay,” said Serino. “I think he can play much better than he played tonight. I thought he was okay tonight for his first game, but he needs to play better than he did tonight. And I’m sure he will.”
“My plan was to play him and get him ready for next week. If it called for him to come out of the game and for us to use another guy, then that was it. But my plan was to play him as much as he needed to play to be ready for next week. It turned out to be the whole game.”
Aaron Molnar stopped six of nine shots in goal for St. Thomas over a period and a half. Andrew Sim played the rest of the game and allowed two goals on 20 shots, taking the loss.
The Warriors were impressed with St. Thomas, even though the Tommies were without their top player, 2003 AUS Rookie of the Year Kyle McAllister. McAllister is battling an injury that has him out of both games for the Tommies this weekend.
“They were one of the better Canadian teams that have come down here,” said Serino.
Rosa thought so too, having seen four different exhibition opponents in his four years of play.
“They were by far the best. In the second and third period when we were up a goal, I told the team, that’s a score we’re going to see a lot this year and that we’ve seen a lot last year and the year before, but we’ve tended to lose it.
“But there’s a lot of character on this team and hopefully we’ll do well.”
The Warriors, who are now 12-0-1 in season-opening exhibitions since 1990, open the regular season with a nonleague game at home against Sacred Heart Oct. 10.
“Obviously we have to work on defense,” Serino said. “I didn’t like the shots that we gave up early in the game. I didn’t like the way they controlled things down low.”
“But I liked the way we bounced back and played the way we could. If we keep the game simple, we’ll be okay.”
St. Thomas visits another Hockey East school, Providence, for an exhibition game Saturday night at 7:00 p.m.