NORTH ANDOVER, Mass. — The J. Thom Lawler Arena era at Merrimack is still waiting for its first goal.
Warriors goaltender Casey Guenther and Providence netminder David Cacciola tried their best to show each other up for 65 minutes Saturday night in a back-and-forth, 0-0 overtime tie.
The scoreless duel was the first collegiate shutout for both goalies as Guenther turned aside 24 shots while Cacciola stopped 26, including six in the five-minute overtime.
“It’s a weird feeling,” said Guenther, who’s allowed just 11 goals in five starts. “You’d think after a shutout you’d be all pumped up. To know we could have won, though, it’s kind of a mixed bag of emotions.”
Merrimack (2-2-1, 1-1-1 league) appeared to have won the game with four seconds remaining in overtime when sophomore defenseman Bryan Schmidt charged the net for a backhander of a Marco Rosa rebound only to have Cacciola, making his first start in two years, rob him with a shoulder save.
“We never stopped working at it,” said Serino, whose club posted its first double shutout since Jan. 22, 2000, against UMass. “We faced some adversity tonight, lost a couple of guys and our young kids had to step up. Although I always prefer to win, that’s what makes it gratifying.”
Surprisingly, the 0-0 tie was the first in the history of Providence hockey.
“We had some chances, but it’s always a war in this building,” said Friars coach Paul Pooley, whose club is 4-1-1 overall but still winless in Hockey East (0-1-1). “But it’s better to come out with a tie here than a hard-fought loss.”
Providence couldn’t crack Guenther with several point-blank scoring opportunities in the third period, as a shortened bench due to a game misconduct penalty and injury to center Brendon Clark seemed to start catching up to the Warriors. But the Friars let their best chance slip when they registered just one shot on a five-minute major power play in the second period.
Merrimack defenseman Tony Johnson was called for a hitting from behind major after riding Friars forward Nate Meyers hard into the boards and was ejected from the game. The Warriors had already weathered two minor penalties in the period and were then faced with killing a full five minutes minus one of their top defenseman.
“The difference in the game was the five-minute power play,” said Pooley, whose club scored two goals with the man-advantage plus one shorthanded a night earlier, in a 6-4 loss at Boston University. “We generated just one good shot on it.
“We needed a power-play goal on the road tonight for the victory and we didn’t get it,” he said. “But I think that’s a product of this small building, though I think we played a lot better in our defensive zone tonight.”
With part-time blueliner Derek Kilduff sidelined for precautionary reasons after hitting his head in Friday’s win at Northeastern, Merrimack was forced to play the final 32:33 of the game rotating only five defensemen. That forced rookies Jeff Caron and Ryan Sullivan into roles they had not yet played, such as penalty kill, but the Warriors more than survived.
“We got a lot of flak early about our defense,” said senior captain Eric Pedersen, the game’s No. 1 star. “Everybody said that the weak point of Merrimack was our defense, but we showed tonight — especially on the that (five-minute) penalty kill — that we can play with anyone. It’s kind of getting old now, because everyone can see that.”