NORTH ANDOVER, Mass. — Steve Saviano 4, Merrimack College 1. And that’s not even the half of it.
Saviano, New Hampshire’s senior captain, equaled his career-high with four goals, assisted on another and, truth be told, probably should have scored a few more, as the No. 8 Wildcats let it be known they didn’t appreciate the five-goal beating the Warriors put on them last month in Durham.
Friday night’s 9-1 final score in front of 2,614 at jam-packed Lawler Arena was an embarrassment for both Merrimack and the humble Saviano.
“It was just one of those nights,” the product of nearby Reading High said. “The net seems a little bigger, the puck feels a little bit softer on your stick. Just a great overall night for myself and my team.”
After a midseason slump, UNH is now unbeaten in five straight (4-0-1) and once again climbing the standings in Hockey East. The Wildcats leaped over both idle Massachusetts and Massachusetts-Lowell into sole possession of third place, while Merrimack is struggling mightily to stay out of the cellar.
Head coach Chris Serino spared no one with his reaction to the total meltdown, saying his team played “brain dead.” But what proved most discouraging for the former UNH assistant was he believed his Warriors “quit midway through the second period.”
“We got our (expletive) kicked in every area of the game,” said Serino, whose club hosts Northeastern Saturday in game loaded with playoff implications. “(Saturday’s) going to be a real character check for us to see if we can bounce back.”
The five-point night allowed Saviano to eclipse 100 for his career, while linemate and fellow Reading, Mass., native Sean Collins equaled him with 102 points behind four assists. Saviano’s 20 goals also puts him atop the scoring list in Hockey East and pulls him within one of North Dakota junior Brandon Bochenski for the Division I lead.
But what was most satisfying for Saviano was his career night helped remove the bitter taste left over since Dec. 13 when Merrimack routed the Wildcats, 7-2.
“We kind of had this game circled,” he said. “We wanted to come out hard, play well and get that loss off our back.”
For some reason, the Warriors are suddenly in the habit of spotting the opponent a big lead before attempting a comeback. Unfortunately for the beleaguered club, which hasn’t won all season when it hasn’t scored first (0-13-2), the experiment has proven a colossal failure.
For the second straight game, Merrimack sleepwalked through the opening minutes resulting in another quick 4-0 deficit. Preston Callander, Saviano, Mick Mounsey and Nathan Martz (three assists) all scored before the game was 13 minutes old.
Merrimack freshman Jordan Black netted the hosts’ lone goal at the 13:42 mark, emerging from the right boards to loft a soft backhander past UNH goalie Mike Ayers’ to the stick side. Black’s second of the season ended a 134:39 scoreless streak for Ayers, who was coming off back-to-back shutouts of Dartmouth and Brown.
Patrick Foley, Saviano and Eddie Caron all scored even-strength goals in the second period, before the Wildcat captain stole the show in the third with a hustling breakaway shorthanded goal and another with a backhander of a rebound on the power play.
“I don’t even want to talk about the last game (against Merrimack),” said UNH coach Dick Umile. “We’re focusing on the now. Tonight was a great team effort, and from the net out we did everything well.”