NORTH ANDOVER, Mass. — A fracas near the end of a 4-1 Maine win over Merrimack tarnished an otherwise important victory for the Black Bears and a spirited effort by the Warriors. The incident, which occurred with 1:25 remaining, involved several players and Merrimack assistant coach Darren Yopyk.
As a result, Maine’s Rob Bellamy and Jon Jankus received game disqualifications along with Merrimack’s Hank Carisio and will be ineligible for the Saturday rematch. Yopyk and Warrior players Mike Alexiou and Patrick Watson were assessed game misconducts and, pending further review by the league, would be eligible.
However, Merrimack head coach Mark Dennehy indicated that although he believed Yopyk was just trying to separate players, the assistant would sit out the game. Maine coach Tim Whitehead, stunned that Watson did not also receive a DQ, planned to appeal to the league office.
The incident overshadowed two goals by Michel Lveill, a goal and an assist by Billy Ryan and yet another impressive performance in the nets by freshman Ben Bishop. Not to mention a strong effort by Merrimack even after being eliminated from the Hockey East playoff race.
“The most unfortunate part of it all is that it overshadowed what I thought was a pretty good effort by our guys,” Dennehy said. “I really thought we played well for major segments of that game.
“We’ve got some guys in that locker room that need to think about whether they want to be part of this resurgence [here at Merrimack] or not. Because I don’t want to be associated with that [kind of thing] and I know there are a lot of players who don’t want to be associated with it.”
Whitehead was equally displeased with the skirmish, but not as pleased with his team’s play even though the win makes the Black Bears 8-1-1 in their last 10 games and draws them to within a point of Boston University for second place. BU tied Vermont, 1-1, scoring an extra-attacker goal in the final minute of regulation.
“It was a bit of a sloppy game,” Whitehead said. “We did not play our best hockey. We’ve got to come out tomorrow and play a lot better. We pinched a lot in the neutral zone and gave them a few odd-man rushes that there’s no reason [for]. We kept their shot total down which was a positive, but it wasn’t our best defensive effort.
“I feel fortunate that we were able to get the 4-1 win. I was impressed with how they played. But it’s good to win when you don’t play your best. It’s a good sign.”
Special teams dominated the game. Only Maine’s final tally with less than five minutes remaining came at even strength. The Black Bears, who enjoyed eight power plays to none for the Warriors, scored three while a man or two up while surrendering a shorthanded goal.
None of the power plays loomed larger than a 3:35 five-on-three in the first period borne out of a Rob LaLonde major penalty followed by a Brent Gough double-minor. However, Maine failed to capitalize fully, scoring only once.
“They did a great job penalty-killing there, their goalie and all three guys,” whitehead said. “We got a lot of shots blocked. Thank God we did get that one on a great pass from Bill Ryan. Had we not gotten that it would have been very deflating. So that was a crucial goal for us.
“To Merrimack’s credit, it was a great penalty kill. It’s almost a shame that we did score at the end of it because that diminished a tremendous penalty kill for them. If we go in [to intermission] without that goal, it’s a huge lift for them.”
Merrimack scored its short-handed goal on a misplay by Bishop in the second. The freshman goalie, who evokes memories of Garth Snow with his stature and puck-handling ability, saw that latter skill come back to haunt him, at least temporarily, when he ranged far afield to play the puck only to see his clearing attempt go to Merrimack’s Derek Pallardy, who had a wide-open net to shoot at.
“That’s going to happen,” Whitehead said. “You’ve got to live with some of those if you’re going to allow the guy to play and he’s played very well for us.”
Maine took the lead back for good at 15:43 on another power play. Bret Tyler put a shot on net from the point through traffic and Ryan deflected it for his sixth goal in eight games.
Excitement of the non-pugilistic variety descended at 5:19 of third when Pallardy hooked Mike Hamilton on a breakaway. Hamilton was awarded a penalty shot, but Jim Healey stymied him.
At 9:41, however, Lveill scored the first of his two goals, putting a shot through a screen. Healey never saw it and Maine led, 3-1. Lveill added an insurance goal six minutes later, converting a pass in front from Josh Soares.
Maine (22-10-1, 15-8-1 HEA) and Merrimack (5-21-5, 2-17-5 HEA) complete the back end of the weekend series on Saturday, albeit with several contributors sitting in the stands.