NORTH ANDOVER, Mass. — When the new Lawler Arena era magic wore off, it did so in a hurry for Merrimack.
The Warriors refused to surrender a goal for nearly the first 100 minutes of play in their recently dedicated rink, but then gave up five over the final 33:44 Saturday night in a discouraging 5-4 nonleague loss to Rensselaer.
Merrimack allowed leads of 3-0 and 4-2 slip away to the Engineers to extend its winless streak to three games (0-2-1). Meanwhile, RPI ran its unbeaten streak to three (2-0-1) thanks to senior Conrad Barnes’ first goal of the season, which ricocheted off his skate into an open net to snap a 4-4 tie with 4:33 left in regulation.
“It’s very discouraging,” said Merrimack coach Chris Serino, whose club has allowed 11 goals in two games following last week’s scoreless tie against Providence. “We had a 3-0 lead and all we had to do is keep the game simple, do the simple things and we didn’t.
“We gave it away,” fumed Serino, glaring at the final stat sheet, “just gave it away.”
Left wing Tim Reidy scored both a power-play and short-handed goal to help the Warriors (2-4-1) build a two-goal cushion with 17:20 left in the third period. But goals from RPI defensemen Brad Farynuk and Matt McNeely tied the score by the 9:24 mark before Engineers sophomore Kevin Croxton threw a loose puck out front from behind an empty Merrimack net that deflected off Barnes’ right skate and barely crossed the goal line.
“I was just standing there at the post trying to set a pick,” said Barnes, whose last goal came two seasons ago against Princeton in the ECAC playoffs. “I was lucky enough it went in. Like I said, he just fired it at the goal and it went in.”
The loss was just the fifth at home for Merrimack since the start of last season and put a serious damper on “Saugus (Mass.) Night” for the 1,114 on hand. The college was honoring both the Little League World Series U.S. runner-up ballclub as well as the defending Division 2 high school state champion hockey team from Serino’s hometown.
“It’s the same thing what happened (at Maine),” the Warriors coach said, referring to Thursday’s 6-2 loss to the nation’s top-ranked club. “We handled the puck too much and turned it over a hundred times. We won’t keep it simple because we think we’re better than we are.”
Looking disheveled for nearly the entire first period, Merrimack grabbed the initial lead with just 37 seconds remaining before the first intermission.
Captain Marco Rosa collected the puck at center ice and dished it to a streaking Matt Johnson, who broke in with Brent Gough on a 2-on-1 against RPI defenseman Keith McWilliams. Johnson threaded a pass under McWilliams’ stick to Gough, who one-timed a shot inside the left post to the right of senior goalie Nathan Marsters (17 saves).
Less than six minutes into the second period, the hosts increased their advantage 3-0 before the Engineers began to mount their comeback.
Reidy performed an acrobatic move out front to flip in a rebound of an Eric Pedersen shot from the point high under the crossbar, scoring Merrimack’s only power-play goal in six opportunities on the night at 5:09. Off the ensuing faceoff, sophomore Blake Stewart raced into the RPI zone and dished the puck to streaking junior Steve Crusco, who deked Marsters for the Warriors’ second goal in only seven seconds.
Just a minute later, though, Engineers defenseman Scott Basiuk blasted a power-play shot through a screen in front of Merrimack goalie Casey Guenther (15 saves) that stayed along the ice and found the back of the net. RPI’s first goal ended the Hockey East Player of the Week’s home shutout streak at 125:53, dating back to the Oct. 10 season opener against Sacred Heart.
Engineer freshman Kevin Broad sent the visitors into the second intermission owning the momentum, scoring the first goal of his college career with just 14.1 seconds left in the period. The forward snapped a mid-slot wrist shot off Guenther’s glove and into the top right corner, cutting Merrimack’s once comfortable three-goal advantage to 3-2 with a period to go.
Burlington, Mass., native C.J. Hanafin assisted on the goal, the only point of the night for the former Austin Prep School star in his former home rink.
“That first period was tough coming away down 1-0 with us holding an 8-3 advantage in shots,” said RPI coach Dan Fridgen, whose team opens up ECAC play next weekend hosting Clarkson and St. Lawrence. “But the guys stuck with it, did a good job chipping away and pulled it out.”
Reidy scored Merrimack’s first short-handed goal of the year just 2:40 into the third period before the Engineers (2-2-1) took advantage of overanxious puck play by the Warriors to pull off the comeback upset.
Merrimack returns to action next Friday at home against No. 14 Massachusetts.