DURHAM, N.H. — And both curses continue.
But when the No. 2 college hockey team in the nation is given 10 power plays to work with — including three two-man advantages — you shouldn’t expect anything less. New Hampshire defenseman Brian Yandle scored twice with the man advantage as the Wildcats broke open a 1-1 game in the third period with three goals to post their first Hockey East win of the season, 4-1, over visiting Merrimack.
With the announced Whittemore Center crowd of 5,514 loudly cheering every fateful early run the Red Sox scored against the dreaded Yankees in Game 7 of the American League Championship Series, UNH made sure its seven-year curse over the Warriors lived on, too. In 29 games dating back to March 2, 1996, the Wildcats are now an inconceivable 26-0-3 against Merrimack.
“We can’t get into a special teams war with a team like that and in this rink,” said six-year Warriors head coach Chris Serino, still winless in 22 games against his former employer. “It’s difficult to kill penalties in this rink anyway. But when we kept it a five-on-five game, we had a chance, but we didn’t keep it that type of game enough.”
UNH forward Preston Callander scored the eventual game-winner on the game’s only even-strength goal 2:43 into the third period, picking up the puck out of a crowd in front of Warriors goalie Casey Guenther and snapping it between the junior’s pads for his first goal of the season.
Nonetheless, the 2-0-0 Wildcats put the game away on the power play. Trailing 2-1, Merrimack was whistled for three penalties in a 1:38 span, creating a pair of five-on-three situations that UNH didn’t waste.
After the Warriors killed off the first two-man advantage, Wildcats defenseman Tim Horst one-timed a Robbie Barker pass into the top left corner past a screened Guenther at the 8:26 mark, giving the hosts a comfortable two-goal cushion.
Inside the last minute of play, Yandle blasted his second goal of the night from the top of the left circle for UNH’s fifth power-play goal out the seven its scored this season.
“Our power play was working well tonight,” Wildcats head coach Dick Umile said. “I thought we played a solid first period and they took the momentum away from us in the second. But what I liked was we came back to play a really good third period and won an important game in Hockey East.”
Despite a handful of chances, Merrimack was denied an official shot on net for the entire first period, relying on Guenther to keep it scoreless. Sophomore Derek Kilduff didn’t record the visitors’ first shot on UNH goalie Mike Ayers until 2:49 had passed in the second period. But their lack of opportunities couldn’t prevent the Warriors from taking the early lead.
With Horst off for tripping, Merrimack sophomore Brent Gough bounced what appeared to be a cross-crease pass to linemate Matt Johnson off the inside of Ayers’ right pad and into the net. Gough’s second of the season snapped Ayers’ scoreless streak at 70:06 to start the year after last season’s Hockey East co-player of the year blanked Vermont in the season opener for his school-record ninth shutout.
Yandle sent the game into the second intermission tied with his second career goal at 13:31 with Merrimack captain Marco Rosa off for hooking. The sophomore collected his own blocked shot, side stepped a sliding Nick Pomponio and blasted a shot through traffic that found the top right corner over Guenther.
“It was really good to get some scoring from the defense, especially against a team that played so well,” Umile said. “I thought their goalie did a really good job. We had a 13 or 14 chances early in the game, and he was really stoning us there.”
Guenther ended the night with 28 saves, half of which came in the first period alone.
“On a couple of those one-timers, I didn’t pick up on until I heard the crowd cheering,” said Guenther. “They did a good job at moving the puck across fast for one-timers and set guys in front of the net well. That’s a credit to their power play.”