NORTH ANDOVER, Mass. — If Merrimack wanted to prove to its fans it’s worth missing the Red Sox play Game 1 of the World Series Saturday night to watch them face visiting Wayne State again, Friday night’s effort wasn’t the way to go about it.
Merrimack sleepwalked through most of its home opener, taking unneeded penalties and unnecessary risks on its way to a humiliating 5-1 loss in front of 859 at Lawler Arena.
To make matters worse for the host Warriors, they will be without the services of junior forward Brent Gough, the team’s leading scorer the last two seasons, for at least 10 weeks with a broken right arm suffered when he was checked through an open door on the home bench.
“Just a whole breakdown of everything” is how agitated Merrimack head coach Chris Serino — who played all three goalies on the roster for the first time ever — described the evening.
“We’ve been playing this way for three games now,” added Serino, whose club has dropped three straight. “But that was the low point. It was an embarrassment.”
Wayne State sophomore Jason Baclig scored the first of three power-play goals for the visiting Warriors and assisted on two others, including the fifth of the season from surprising Providence transfer Jason Bloomingburg. Sophomore Nate Higgins and freshman Mike Forgie added a goal and an assist apiece, while Matt Kelly turned aside 23 shots in his first start of the year in goal.
“Tonight was a good performance by Matt Kelly when we needed him,” said Wayne State head coach Bill Wilkinson. “He faced a lot of shots in the first period and some (of the saves) were crucial. He kept us in the game until we got our feet on the ground. After that, special teams were really the difference — ours converted and they didn’t.”
Merrimack surrendered its third shorthanded goal of the season and second to start a game when Wayne State freshman Stavros Paskaris jammed home a Mark Nebus feed from behind the net. The play began with a careless blind pass by Merrimack junior Matt Johnson on his own blueline that Paskaris intercepted and eventually backhanded over the right pad of starting goalie Jim Healey (13 saves) at 5:03.
Despite holding a decisive 14-7 shot advantage in the first period, the hosts emerged sharper from the locker room to start the second, tying the game in the first minute.
Off a faceoff to the left of Kelly, Blake Stewart unleashed a wrist shot from the right circle that beat the former Catholic Memorial goalie over the catching glove for the junior forward’s first goal since Nov. 22. Stewart picked up Jordan Black’s blocked shot off the draw and snapped off a quick wrister that Kelly couldn’t catch up with at :53.
The scored remained tied for nearly 10 minutes until Higgins grabbed the puck and stepped aside from a traffic jam in front of Healey, shooting into the open left side of the net 10:28 for the eventual game-winner. Baclig added a 5-on-3 power-play goal just 2:22 later, again beating Healey over the right pad, for a 3-1 lead.
Backup goalie Casey Guenther replaced Healey with 5:18 left in the period while a broken pane of glass was being repaired along side the Merrimack bench. The senior gave up two power-play goals in the third — one on a 4-on-3 and the other on a 5-on-3 for Wayne State — in 17:33 of playing time, though it was tough to blame him on either.
Junior Frank McLaughlin played out the final 7:45 without allowing a goal, making six saves in the first appearance of his career.
“We’re not getting any defense, we’re not getting any offense, we’re not keeping the puck in their end,” Serino lamented. “All I know is we have to regroup and we got less than 24 hours to do it.”
Kevin Conway covers college hockey for the Eagle-Tribune in Lawrence, Mass.