BOWLING GREEN, Ohio — Merrimack goaltender Jim Healey turned in a phenomenal performance, stopping 45 shots and helping kill off 11 of 13 power plays, as his Warriors knocked off the Bowling Green Falcons 3-2 on Friday, the season opener for both teams.
The victory stopped a 14-game skid for the Warriors, dating back to December of 2004. The win was also the first for new head coach Mark Dennehy.
The key to the Merrimack win was special teams and goaltending. The penalty killing unit turned back the Falcons 11 times on the power play, while Healey came up big throughout the game to keep his team in the contest.
“I thought Jimmy played really well,” said Dennehy of his goaltender. “He controlled his rebounds, got post to post, took whistles when he needed to. There’s no doubt in my mind, he was the star of the game tonight.”
“Their goalie played well,” said Bowling Green coach Scott Paluch. “He made himself really big on a lot of shots. He faced a lot of chances and kept them around. Then (Merrimack) made the plays when it needed them.”
Healey was indeed able to hold down the fort in the opening two periods until the cavalry showed up. He turned aside 29 shots in the first two periods, keeping his team in the game while the Warrior squad could only muster one goal.
He continued his stellar play in the third. However, the Merrimack offense also kicked into high gear, scoring twice in the second half of the stanza to snatch a victory from the Falcons.
Dennehy liked the spark he saw from his team in the third period.
“Every time you win a third period, it lays the foundation for a belief system that, when you go into the third period, your team can win. Tonight was a step forward.”
While the goaltender played well, Merrimack was also able to kill off a slew of power plays in the opening two periods. The victories on the penalty kill helped the Warriors in the final stanza.
“I saw a little bit of a swing in the last five minutes of the second period,” remarked Dennehy. “It looked like we were starting to gain some energy, and (BG was) running out of steam a little bit. When you have that many power play opportunities, you’re playing your best players a lot. I thought, at the end, their best players were a little bit tired.”
“We tried to mix up our penalty kill so we weren’t using our best guys. When you kill a penalty, you get a little bit of life, a little momentum. I think we turned those (penalty kills) into momentum pieces for us.”
Bowling Green got on the board first. After a trio of Warrior penalties, senior defenseman Don Morrison notched BG’s first goal of the season at the tail end of a power play. Rich Meloche drove a shot of the boards behind the net, which caromed back to Morrison in front of the goal. He found the top shelf for a 1-0 lead. Bryan Dobek also assisted on the goal.
The Warriors tied the game at one at the 10:43 mark of the period. Jordan Black swatted a shot in from Mike Alexiou at the side of the crease for his first goal of the year. Justin Mills assisted on the play.
The Falcons took a 2-1 lead at the 12:18 mark of the second period. Freshman defenseman Kevin Schmidt scored his first collegiate goal to give his team a lead they would not relinquish through the rest of the period. Jonathon Matsumoto threw the puck out in front of the crease from behind the net, where the freshman directed it home. Alex Foster assisted on the goal.
Matt Johnson tied the game at the 12:04 mark of the third period. He found a hole from the bottom of the left circle to pull the Warriors even with Bowling Green. Brock Wilson assisted on the play.
Merrimack scored the game winner at 17:15 of the third period. Sophomore Hank Carisio wristed a shot on a two-on one from the left circle, beating Horrell for his first goal of the season. Rob Ricci assisted on the play.
Bowling Green goaltender Jon Horrell made 20 saves in 23 attempts on the night. The Falcons were 2 of 13 on the power play.
Despite the win being the first for the Warriors since New Year’s Eve of 2004, first-year coach Dennehy and his team did not feel as if they had a monkey on their backs.
“When the fall comes around, everybody is 0-0. You have to wipe the slate clean. There are times when you have to have long term memory, and there are times where you have to have long term memory loss. These guys have been dedicating themselves to get ready for this moment.
“It’s just a start, but to come in and play as hard as we did against a very skilled, very dynamic Scott Paluch team, it means that much more,” Dennehy said.
The Warriors have the day off tomorrow before heading to Yost Arena to tackle the Michigan Wolverines on Sunday. Game time is set for 3:00 pm.
The Falcons return to action tomorrow night to welcome No. 4 Boston College to the Ice Arena. The Eagles are coached by former Falcon coach, Jerry York. Game time is 7:00pm.