NORTH ANDOVER, Mass. — They celebrated like they had just won the national championship, and for Merrimack, a 3-2 overtime win against Bemidji State was just as important as any title.
“King Kong,” said head coach Chris Serino when asked if Sunday’s victory got a monkey off his back. The Warriors had not won in nearly a month, posting a 0-6-3 record over the stretch, and had relinquished a 2-0 lead to the Beavers on Sunday — bringing an ominous feeling back to the Warrior bench.
“I said to [the team] after the game that it wasn’t really pretty,” said Serino, “but I don’t really give a [expletive] about pretty at this time.”
Wasn’t pretty might have been the understatement of the night, as Merrimack was outshot, 38-20, on the night, including 16-6 in the third period. But it was defenseman Bryan Schmidt who played the role of hero for the Warriors, ending the frustration and returning his club to the win column.
Schmidt’s OT game-winner came on the power play 30 seconds into the extra frame. He one-timed a blast from the left point that beat Bemidji netminder Layne Sedevie (17 saves) high on the glove side. Jeff Caron held the puck at the right point to draw the defender and the goaltender and then just feathered a perfect pass to Schmidt for the hard one-timed slapper.
“Me and Caron have been working on that play a lot on the power play,” said Schmidt. “You just want to shoot and hope for a good result because if that thing goes in it’s a huge win for us.”
Indeed the win was huge, not only for the Warriors but also for rookie goaltender Jim Healey (36 saves), who made his second start and collected his first career win.
“Winning tonight was a lot more special,” said Healey. “We’ve been coming close here and there so it’s nice for me to be able to come in and be a part of this and help out.”
The dramatic finish for the Warriors, though positive, would not have happened were it not for another collapse after jumping to a two-goal lead. After scoring twice in the first on goals by Marco Rosa and Brent Gough, the Warriors allowed an early goal to start the second when Merrimack defenseman Tony Johnson redirected Riley Riddell’s centering feed past Healey to close the gap to one.
Then a third-period power play goal with 7:59 remaining drew the Beavers even. Working on its third power play of the period, Bemidji’s Ryan Huddy pushed home the rebound of a John Haider shot into an open net to even the score at 2-2.
In the minutes following, the hearts of the sparse Warrior crowd floated to their throats as Bemidji pressed in the Merrimack defensive zone, forcing turnover after turnover to put the Warriors on their heels.
“It’s a matter of guys not wanting to make mistakes with the puck,” said Serino, discussing his club’s turnover woes. “When they press not to make mistakes they end up making them.
“It’s like any sport. When things are going bad for you, they continue to go bad for you.”
The Warriors did sustain some late pressure that led to a Bemidji penalty with 14 seconds left in regulation and the eventual power-play game winner in overtime.
Bemidji coach Tom Serratore was not satisfied with taking at least one road win as part of the two-game set against Merrimack (3-2 BSU win Saturday).
“There’s never a positive when you lose a game,” said Serratore, whose club outmuscled and outplayed Merrimack for two straight nights. “We feel we have a very strong team and we can play with anybody, so we come into games thinking that we’re going to win.”
That said, he did recognize the desperation coming from the Merrimack team.
“We looked at their record and what has happened in the last eight or nine games,” said Serratore, “and we knew they were going to play desperate. They played hard and you could see it when they came out.
“They got a lead and when we tied it up we thought it might deflate them, but it didn’t. They showed a lot of character and it’s a big win for those guys, there’s no question.”
The win is the first for Merrimack since a 4-2 victory over Northeastern, Hockey East’s only winless club, back on October 24. And for the club it’s a relief — not just for the players but also for the head coach.
“My wife took my razor blades out of my bathroom,” joked Serino.
The Warriors improve to 3-8-2, while Bemidji State drops to 4-4-2. Each team will move on to Atlantic Hockey to continue non-league play with Merrimack hosting Quinnipiac next Friday and Saturday, while Bemidji will stay out East and play at Connecticut on Tuesday and Friday.