PROVIDENCE, R.I. — After last week’s dismal 5-1 loss to visiting Northeastern, Merrimack College sophomore Mike Alexiou threw down the final box score in disgust.
“Not even one shot,” the burly left wing muttered, shaking his head. “What’s going on?”
That night was the second time in three games the 6-2, 194-pounder failed to register a single shot, forcing head coach Chris Serino to demote him from the first to third line — a message that resonated loud and clear with Alexiou.
“Coach changed the lines up a little bit,” said Alexiou, the second annual Coffee Pot tournament most valuable player. “It made me realize I needed to work a little harder out there, because I wasn’t playing as well as I needed to. I came through, and it just felt good to help the team tonight.”
Alexiou scored two power-play goals, including the game-winner with just 3.7 seconds left in the second period, as Merrimack claimed only its second tournament title in 16 years as a Division I program with a solid 5-2 win over host Providence College.
For the weekend, the Pickering, Ont., native notched three goals on 10 shots, including four of the 16 total the Warriors (4-9-1) generated against their Hockey East rivals Sunday night in front of a disappointing crowd of only 1,069 at the Dunkin’ Donuts Center.
“Coach said we wanted to make this tournament the starting point to a new season,” said Alexiou, referring to Merrimack’s one win in eight games prior to the tourney. “We got guys coming back (from injuries), a transfer (defenseman Scott Drewicki) eligible before Christmas, and we’re really hopeful to turn things around starting right now.”
Merrimack, which advanced to the championship game Saturday by edging Union College in a overtime shootout, built a 2-0 lead in the first period with a pair of goals in a 10-second span against Providence freshman goalie Tyler Sims.
Defenseman Rob LaLonde, who was forced to play forward at times in place of flu-ridden freshman Derek Pallardy, scored at the 11:20 mark on a 57-foot slap shot, coming just 11 seconds after the Friars killed the third of eight Merrimack power plays.
Off the ensuing faceoff, forward Jordan Black snapped off a shot from the bottom of the left circle that eluded Sims (11 saves) for his second goal of the tourney at 11:30.
With Merrimack playing tentatively for most of the second period, Providence (5-7-1) tied the game on the first career goal by freshman Bryan Horan just 32 seconds into the period and a power-play goal from sophomore Tony Zancanaro. The latter came off a great centering feed from Jamie Carpentier at the 15:03 mark with Horan registering the second assist.
But Alexiou sent the Warriors into the second intermission with a 3-2 lead, rifling in a Matt Johnson rebound after defenseman Bryan Schmidt found Johnson alone at the left post with a brilliant pass from the right point.
“The second period, we didn’t come out too strong, letting them back in the game,” said Alexiou, who swept in his second of the night while lying on his back at 8:34 of the third. “It was just big that we got the momentum back going into the third period.”
Sophomore defenseman Brian Boulay put the game out of reach with his first collegiate goal at 11:24, ripping off a wrist shot through traffic for Merrimack’s third power-play goal of the game and fifth of the tournament.
“Their power play killed us tonight,” said Providence head coach Paul Pooley. “Special teams have been the key to our team this season. When we control them, we have a good game, and I thought we controlled the majority of the game tonight. But when we broke down a couple of times, it was in the net.”
Alexiou, Black, Schmidt and Warriors goalie Jim Healey (36 saves) were all named to the All-Tournament Team, along with Horan and Friars defenseman Eric Lundberg.
LaLonde was forced to leave the game midway through second period with a high left ankle sprain suffered while checking Providence forward Vince Goulet hard against the boards. On crutches in the locker room after the game, his status for this weekend’s series at Maine was unclear.
“I’m very proud of them,” said Serino of his team, which notched its first unbeaten weekend (1-0-1) of the season. “Obvious we’re very happy to win the tournament, but more importantly we played hard and we played smart, especially with how short we are for players. It was a character-building win, I can tell you that.”
Kevin Conway covers college hockey for the Lawrence (Mass.) Eagle-Tribune.