TROY, N.Y. — Merrimack scored three times in the third period, including Matt Johnson’s hat-trick goal, to overcome a 3-2 deficit entering the period and down the Rensselaer Engineers 5-3.
The Warriors trailed 3-2 coming into the third period, but got a power-play goal on their eighth attempt of the evening. After a scrum in front, the puck popped to Johnson who rifled it past Jordan Alford to tie the game 3-3.
Hank Carisio had no angle from the bottom of the right circle, but decided to try to put the shot on goal. He caught Alford by surprise, and Alford couldn’t close hid pads quick enough as the puck got through, hit the post and went into the net, giving Merrimack the lead.
The Engineers had three chances to tie it after that with three power-play opportunities, including an extended five-on-three chance of over one minute, but managed only three shots on those three attempts.
Rob Ricci added an empty-net goal to seal the 5-3 win for the Warriors.
“To come in here and play as well as we did, it’s a good feeling,” said Warrior head coach Mark Dennehy. “Our guys worked very hard all preseason, and to get this win, it feels good. I told the guys after one period that you don’t have to look back far in history to see an RPI comeback, so one goal was nothing.
“The biggest thing for us was to stick with it and to be resilient. Jim Healey made the saves he had to make and when he needed to make them.”
“I thought we played hard, fought our way back into it and took the lead going into the third period — that’s the position you want to be in when you’re home,” said Engineer head coach Dan Fridgen.
The Engineers had taken a 3-2 lead in the second period after trailing 2-1 coming into the stanza. A Brad Farynuk power-play goal tied the game. His shot from the point found its way to Jim Healey, but Healey couldn’t squeeze the puck and it trickled past him for the goal.
Later on in the period Alexander Valentin circled the wagons. As he did in the Merrimack zone, Kevin Croxton found himself open at the right post and Valentin found him. Croxton tapped it into the net for the goal and the 3-2 lead.
Earlier on Merrimack broke the ice in the first period. Bryan Schmidt sent in a shot from the point on a five-on-three power play. Johnson picked up the rebound in front, sent the first shot in on Alford and got his own rebound back to put it past Alford.
The Engineers answered back to tie the game at 1-1 when Mark Yurkewecz got a pass in the slot from Seth Klerer and put the shot in on Healey. Healey put it right back out to Yurkewecz who put the backhand right past him.
The Warriors retook the lead later in the first period on another power play. Quick passing led to a quick cross-crease pass from Ricci to Johnson. Johnson had positioned himself to Alford’s right and quickly tapped it past him as Alford couldn’t react in time to the pass.
“We have to play smarter and come out harder in that first period of play,” said Fridgen. “That’s the second game in a row where we didn’t come out in the first period and dictate the play like we want to.”
The story of the game though was the hat trick by Johnson, the first of his career. All three goals were on the power play, where Merrimack wound up 3-8. RPI was 1-10.
“Our special teams weren’t clicking well in yesterday’s game (a loss to Providence), but we made some changes to it,” said Dennehy. “And with Johnson, he’s a kind of guy where we need to get him the puck. He’s very skilled and he has the ability to put the puck into the net. When you’re in that position (with so much special-teams play), your skilled players get tired, so kudos to our guys on the bench for staying with it, and they all responded to it.”
“They had three power-play goals and we had one. You have to win those special teams battles,” said Fridgen.
The Engineers (4-3-0) will head to Clarkson and St. Lawrence to open up their ECACHL slate next weekend. Merrimack (3-3-0, 0-1-0 HE) will host Mass.-Lowell on Wednesday evening.
“We’re taking it game-by-game,” said Dennehy. “But if we continue to work like this, we’ll be on the good side of the ledger more often.”