BURLINGTON, Vt. — Vermont outplayed Merrimack in nearly every facet of the game Friday at Gutterson Fieldhouse, but in the end, the Warriors outscored the Catamounts, 4-2, to snap its 12-game winless streak.
The ice was tilted in the favor of Vermont (15-8-2, 7-7-2 Hockey East) for seemingly the entire game, as they out-skated the visitors, won races to loose pucks, and won the battle of the boards, but Merrimack (5-17-2, 2-13-2) hung tough, pulling out the win on the road.
Merrimack freshman goaltender Patrick Watson was outstanding at times, turning aside 32-of-34 shots he faced-a big reason the Warriors earned their first win since Nov. 29.
“I thought our team played well,” said first-year Merrimack head coach Mark Dennehy. “This isn’t the first time we’ve been in the position against a really good team, where we’ve had a chance to win. I’ve told our guys, if you put yourself in that position enough times, good things are gonna happen, and they did.
“These guys have worked really hard, and played really hard, and played pretty well, and not gotten any bounces, and I thought the bounces went our way tonight.”
Conversely, Vermont didn’t get any of that puck luck and is now mired in a three-game skid. The Cats have only managed nine goals in seven games, in the month of January, going 2-4-1 in that span.
“I actually feel bad for our guys, in some way. We’re pressing so hard to try to score,” said UVM head coach Kevin Sneddon. “It’s a tough feeling as a coach. You wanna kinda help them through it, but, it’s something that, as a team, they’ve got to sort out.”
In the first period, Vermont controlled the play, buzzing in the Merrimack zone for much of the opening 20 minutes. Watson stood on his head to keep it scoreless through one.
Merrimack surprised the sell-out crowd, scoring first on a 2-on-1 to give the Warriors the lead at 1:57 of the second period. Hank Carisio struck for his fifth of the year. Carisio came down the left side and beat Vermont goaltender Joe Fallon (17 saves) with a quick wrist shot.
Watson continued his hot play in the middle frame. He made a terrific save on Peter Lenes on a one-timer, just getting his toe on the shot, sliding across to keep it out of the net.
The Cats finally tied things up on the power play as Jeff Corey fired his ninth of the year past Watson on a one-timer of his own off a pass from Brady Leisenring at 12:34. Ryan Gunderson also assisted on the goal.
The visitors came back to retake the lead with 46 seconds left. Matt Byrnes scored from Rob LaLonde to deflate the crowd just as fast as it had been inflated by the Corey goal 11 minutes earlier.
“We talked about the final two minutes [of the period]. That’s gotta be our best defensive hockey,” said Sneddon. “We allowed kind of a soft rush, nice play by them, but we had people there. We just didn’t make the play. That’s kinda one that sinks you a little, but especially when a team is feeling pressure to score.”
Vermont knotted the score again in the first minute of the third, as Matt Syroczynski tallied his third of the season from the high slot with a pretty shot off of a nice feed from Mitchell. Gunderson got his second assist of the night on the goal that seemed to give the Cats momentum, for the time being, at 0:46.
Just a 1:58 later, the Warriors potted the eventual game-winner. Mike Ricci scored the goal, a rebound that put the game away, on the power play.
Each team scored a power-play goal. The Cats had six chances with the man advantage while the Warriors had three.
UVM pushed for the equalizer, once again, but, as it had been all night, was plagued by shots that were just a little off target. One of the better chances to pull even came late in the game at the 17-minute mark, when Syroczynski pulled the puck wide of a gaping net. But it wasn’t to be for Vermont.
Jordan Fox sealed the victory for the Warriors with an empty-netter with 17 seconds to go.
“We’re disappointed, obviously,” said Sneddon. “I thought Merrimack played their hearts out and deserved to win, but it’s frustrating when we have so many opportunities two weekends in a row that we just can’t put in the back of the net.”
The Cats will get a chance to try and take the season series against the Warriors on Saturday.