PROVIDENCE, R.I. — Red-hot Providence sophomore forward Bill McCreary redirected an Eric Lundberg shot from the point on the power play for his second goal of the night with 12:22 remaining, as the Friars held off a late Merrimack charge for a 5-4 Hockey East win Friday in front of 1,755 at Schneider Arena.
The Warriors were shorthanded at the time because of a careless too many men on the ice penalty called less than three minutes after sophomore Jordan Black tied it up with his second goal of game and third of the season.
“It’s a 4-4 game and we’re not paying attention on the bench?” said frustrated Merrimack head coach Chris Serino. “Going on for the wrong guy … it’s just unacceptable.”
McCreary, who is only a goal shy of his season total of a year ago following his second two-goal night, admitted despite giving up a comfortable lead at home in the third period, the victory was just as satisfying.
“It was just a battle in front of the net,” said McCreary, who scored an unassisted goal in the first period on a rocket of a wrist shot to put the Friars up 3-1. “Eric made a nice shot that I was just able to get a piece of for a real big goal. Our power play struggled a little bit tonight, so it felt good to get that one.”
Black, meanwhile, found no solace in the first two-goal game of his career.
“It’s always tough to not get the W,” said Black, who scored only twice in 36 games as a freshman. “We worked hard for it in the third period, but if you take two periods off in Hockey East, it’s not going to get you any points.”
Despite the exciting finish, the first period resembled more a pond hockey game than the inaugural night of Hockey East’s 21st season.
Both clubs scored shorthanded, tried impossible cross-ice passes, looked lost in their own ends at times and took too many bad penalties throughout the first 20 minutes. Providence (2-0-0), however, emerged the least scathed, skating into the first intermission with a 3-2 lead.
Friars senior Chris Chaput scored the second consecutive short-handed goal against Merrimack at the 4:36 mark, racing up the left wing and making a power move around defenseman Bryan Schmidt before sliding a low backhander past the left skate of goalie Jim Healey (30 saves). The Warriors lost last week’s Maverick Stampede championship game to Nebraska-Omaha on a short-handed goal that broke a 3-3 tie nearing the midway point of the third period.
This time, though, Merrimack countered on the same power play — in fact, just 14 seconds later — as Black snapped home a heads-up feed from junior Nick Pomponio that beat Friars goalie David Cacciola (25 saves) over the glove hand.
Freshman Dylan Cox and McCreary built the Providence lead to 3-1 by the 11:43 mark with goals four minutes part before Merrimack junior Matt Johnson netted his first of the season on a short-handed, power rush up ice, depositing a bullet over Cacciola’s shoulder under the crossbar with 1:25 left in the period.
Colin McDonald gave the Friars back a two-goal advantage 2:06 into the second period off a draw to the left of Healey. The sophomore grabbed the draw back from Chaput, stepped around a pair of Warriors and walked in alone on Healey, beating him over the glove.
The score stayed at 4-2 until Johnson, using linemate Brent Gough as a decoy on a 2-on-1 break, pulled Merrimack back within one, scoring his second of the game just two seconds after Pomponio stepped out of the penalty box at 3:27 of the third period. Black tied the score 1:15 later by intercepting an errant pass by Friar Tony Zancanaro behind his own net and jamming the puck inside the left post before Cacciola could flash his pad.
“I told the guys Merrimack’s a momentum team,” said Providence head coach Pooley, whose club is 2-0 for a third consecutive year. “They get the one goal and watch out. They’re coming at you for a good five minutes, and that’s what they did.
“We didn’t handle their pressure very well. It was almost like we were our own worst enemies tonight and Merrimack did a great job coming back and moving the puck.”
Meanwhile, Serino, who received solid contributions from six freshmen in the lineup, is still waiting for his 1-2 club to put together a full 60-minute effort.
“If you can’t be mentally ready in a 4-4 game with six minutes left, when are you going to concentrate?” asked a miffed Serino. “But give Providence credit, I thought they played well.”