BOSTON — Northeastern (3-8-2, 1-7-2) and Merrimack (1-11-1, 1-7-0) are two Hockey East teams that have had some problems finding points. Friday, Northeastern walked away with a pair in a penalty-filled affair, winning 4-1 in front of 2,658 at Matthews Arena in downtown Boston .
“It was just a sloppy game, there was no flow. Obviously I’m happy with the win, but it was just a sloppy game,” Northeastern head coach Greg Cronin said.
Northeastern started the scoring with an even-strength tally from Rob Rassey, his first goal of the year. He put in a rebound shot after the initial save was made by Merrimack goalie Patrick Watson. Jimmy Russo collected an assist, as did Joe Vitale.
With only 21 seconds left in the first, and the Huskies down to only three skaters to Merrimack’s five, Joe Loprieno found the back of the net for his first collegiate goal. Loprieno put in the rebound of a Pat Kimball shot to tie the game at 1 going into the second.
MC outshot Northeastern 14-6 in the first period.
In a scary moment for the Huskies, captain Mike Morris came off the ice in the first visibly shaken. He took a hard hit in the corner and flashbacks to concussions flooded the minds of Husky fans. He did not return for the rest of the game, but in the end it was a lesser neck injury; he is questionable for Saturday’s game.
In the second, Northeastern added a power-play strike of its own when Dennis McCauley put in a loss puck in front of the net. Vitale got his second assist and David Strathman added an assist as well.
Northeastern only let Merrimack get two shots on net in the second period, and freshmen netminder Brad Thiessen turned away both shots. Northeastern collected 11 shots.
Early in the third, with Northeastern killing off a penalty, Bryan Esner got a great feed from Ray Ortiz, then deked around the Merrimack defense and put a shot off the glove of Watson and in. It was Esner’s first shorthanded strike of the year, the third of his career, and it increased the Huskies’ lead to two.
“Ray did a great job; he got the puck and threw it to me, and I was coming with a lot of speed, and kind of caught me right in stride and enabled me to score,” Esner said.
Meanwhile, freshman defenseman Strathman was on the ice for all four NU goals.
“He’s getting better and better, he’s one of those guys that as he gets more comfortable in this environment he starts to create more offense, you noticed him jumping up in the rush and as he gets more and more confident he becomes much more of a threat every time he steps on the ice.” Cronin said of Strathman.
Northeastern wasn’t done. Halfway through the third, the Huskies added their fourth goal of the night. Play was focused on the far side of the ice and NU defenseman Denis Chisholm slowly moved to the opposite side. The puck squirted right to Chisholm, who skated in to the top of the circles and slapped a shot to the top far corner over the glove of Watson.
In the third, Northeastern had another strong defensive period, only allowing seven Merrimack shots.
“I thought we were solid in our own zone … but I was never comfortable with the game even when it was 3-1,” Cronin said.
“I think [Saturday's game] will be really physical … and I think this win was a huge two points for us, gets the ball rolling, and we’ve just got to find a way to win tomorrow night and keep the ball rolling. This [win] is definitely going to help the team’s momentum.” Esner said.
Watson made 27 saves on the night and Thiessen stopped 22 of his own. Merrimack was 1-12 on the power play and NU was 1-10. In total 33 penalties were called in the game.
The two teams meet again Saturday at Merrimack at 7 p.m. at Lawler Arena.