BOSTON — His team’s goalie pulled, down by one with less than a minute to play, Northeastern forward Rob Rassey picked up a loose puck that ping-ponged through traffic in front of the Merrimack net and went home to tie the score.
Not a bad way to notch your first collegiate goal.
But Rassey’s marker didn’t fuel further celebration from the Huskies in overtime Friday night, despite a two-minute power play to end the game. Instead, it culminated a wild, back-and-forth contest with the Warriors at Matthews Arena 4-4.
Northeastern never led in the contest, but fought from behind all night to tie the score at three and then again at four on Rassey’s tally both comebacks occurring in the third period.
“It was a weird game,” NU coach Greg Cronin said. “I’m still reflecting on it. You’re thankful you came back and got a point but at the same time you’re disappointed that you didn’t capitalize in overtime on the power play.”
Both coaches praised their teams’ ability to bounce back from drastic swings in momentum. For Northeastern (1-8-3, 1-5-3 Hockey East), it was about dealing with a deficit all night and (better late than never) evening the score.
“I think (the comeback is) a sign that we’ve got some resiliency,” Cronin said. “I’ve talked about it in the past; we’ve got a tendency to sink when the momentum shifts and the game turns on a sour note. I thought that we responded twice. It was 3-1, 3-3, 4-3, 4-4.”
For Merrimack (4-7-1, 1-5-1 HE), it was about withstanding the Huskies furious rush to earn its third Hockey East point in two games.
“It was good to get a point. Points are tough to come by,” coach Mark Dennehy said. “You can’t take anything away. It’s good to come into someone else’s building and get a point. I was proud of how resilient our guys were in the face of adversity. We were down to 10 forwards there and I thought it was a gut check. To come out with a point is good. It’s good for this program.”
Northeastern entered the final period in a two-goal hole, 3-1, after failing to convert on a five-minute power play late in the second period and allowing Merrimack’s third goal with just 0:05 left in the middle frame off a faceoff in their own end.
Yale Lewis pulled NU within one five minutes into the third, taking the rebound of a Jimmy Russo shot and slotting it past MC netminder Jim Healey (27 saves).
Northeastern tied the score with 10:37 left to play when a Russo blast from the point clanged off the crossbar and sat on the goal line for forward Joe Santilli to swat home.
With 5:37 left in the game, MC senior defenseman Bryan Schmidt connected with Hank Carisio on a perfect back-door feed to give the Indians the edge yet again setting up Rassey’s heroics in the final minute.
Merrimack scored three of its goals on the power play, while the Warriors played stingy defense and allowed little room to work on nine penalty kills, of which Northeastern converted two.
“Merrimack is well-coached. They’re well-disciplined. They’ve got structure,” Cronin said. “They get in shot lanes and sacrifice their bodies to block shots. They create a very frustrating environment to play against and we got frustrated. You try to get fancy instead of putting pucks to the net because they’re in the shot lanes. They’re very good at it, they’re very disciplined. We were trying to make plays where we didn’t need to make them.
“They and Vermont play a similar system where they pack it in and they give you the outside, but they just block shots, they hack and whack in front and they test your courage to go in there and get on a rebound,” he later added.
Despite this, the Huskies were able to dig their way back to earn a point. “They work incredibly hard,” Dennehy said of Northeastern, which he’ll face again Saturday night at home starting at 7 p.m. “It’s a blue-collar team. I haven’t seen them outworked yet. I thought tonight was probably the closest it’s come.”