DURHAM, N.H. — Merrimack not only exorcised a slew of demons Saturday night, the Warriors did it away from home and in convincing fashion, for good measure.
The Warriors, who came into the Whittemore Center on the short end of an 0-26-3 record in their last 29 contests against New Hampshire, used special teams to their advantage in breaking the jinx and stunning the No. 5 Wildcats, 7-2.
Merrimack came into the game at just 1-6-3 in Hockey East play, next to last in the standings. The Warriors improved overall to 5-10-3, while New Hampshire dropped to 10-5-2 (5-3-2 HE). The Wildcats, ranked nationally in the top five for most of the season, are just 2-3-1 in their last six games.
It was the first win for Merrimack at UNH since November 17, 1995 — the inaugural season of the Whittemore Center. In the process, New Hampshire suffered its worst defeat at home since a 6-0 shellacking at the hands of Rensselaer on October 29, 1999.
Merrimack scored two power-play goals to go along with a shorthanded tally. The Warriors also permitted zero good scoring chances when the Wildcats had the man advantage, allowing just three shots on New Hampshire’s five power plays.
“I really don’t think about the drought — unless you guys remind me, which you do every time we come up here,” said Merrimack coach Chris Serino with a grin, in reference to the eight-year hex. “Our guys were happy at the end in that locker room. They have a right to be.”
The shorthanded goal came with 27 seconds left in the first period off the stick of Warriors leading scorer Brent Gough, who recorded his seventh of the season, giving Merrimack a 1-0 advantage and a lead it would never relinquish, in addition to setting the tone for the rest of the game.
New Hampshire tried to claw its way back into the contest early in the second period. Down 2-0, defenseman Tyson Teplitsky fired a shot from the blue line that Warriors goaltender Casey Guenther made a big save on. Senior Mike Lubesnick put another tester on Guenther before Brett Hemingway put the rebound in during a scramble in front.
Hemingway was New Hampshire’s lone bright spot, recording both of the Wildcats’ two goals on the night. The lethargic Wildcats all appeared to be suffering from the flu epidemic that is making its way east.
The jumpstart for UNH was short lived as sophomore Rob LaLonde took a shot from the point on the power play that clanged off the post and in past netminder Mike Ayers. Freshman Matt Byrnes scored his first collegiate goal less than a minute later on a nice feed from Bryan Schmidt, and the rout was on.
Schmidt would get on the board himself later in the period, skating down the right side and sending what looked like a harmless wrist shot that ended up eluding Ayers. Just 23 seconds after Schmidt’s goal, Steve Crusco scored the first of his two goals on the night, sending one through a crowd that beat Ayers five-hole to make it 6-1 Merrimack.
“I told the guys in the locker room that the second period was one of the worst periods we’ve ever played here. I’m just really disappointed. Some guys played okay, but some of the veterans didn’t play well at all,” said New Hampshire coach Dick Umile.
“I don’t want to take anything away from Merrimack. They played hard. It was a bad night. We’ll make some changes; I’ll figure that out later. We lost. We got beat.”
Added New Hampshire senior Pat Foley, “They dictated the game in the second period. We didn’t play good hockey. You can go down each category — power play, penalty kill, play in the neutral zone. We just didn’t get it done.
“We haven’t learned how to win as a team yet.”
Serino, who was an assistant coach at New Hampshire before taking the reins in North Andover, Mass., was asked if this was the biggest win during his tenure at Merrimack.
“It’s very special … very special,” said the five-year coach. “It’s obviously special to win here, where I know so many people. There are so many good people here. It’s nice to show these people that we are getting better as a program.
“The only negative thing is that it’s my friend (Umile) on the other side.”
Merrimack next plays at Princeton on January 2, while New Hampshire plays in the Dodge Holiday Classic in Minneapolis on December 20. Both contests are at 7 p.m.