NORTH ANDOVER, Mass. — The Merrimack Warriors pulled out all of the stops Tuesday in the most important places.
Led by sophomore goalie Patrick Watson, Merrimack showed the usually stingy Massachusetts defense a little something about keeping the puck out of the net with a 3-0 victory at Lawler Arena.
Watson, who stopped 37 shots en route to his first victory of the year, was quick to give credit to his teammates.
“Defensively there were a couple of times it hit me, it hit the post, kicked across the crease,” Watson said. “And the guys were there to clear out, whack the pucks away, sacrificing their bodies – they played real well. It was definitely a team win tonight.”
Warriors forward Justin Bonitabus got the ball rolling at 8:22 of the first, when he tipped a Brock Wilson shot from the point past goaltender Jon Quick for a power-play tally.
“You don’t want to give a team like that a one-goal lead, let alone a two-goal lead,” Minuteman coach Don Cahoon said.
In the second, however, Cahoon’s squad found itself on the wrong end of that two-goal lead. Merrimack’s Ryan Sullivan, fresh out of the penalty box, took a lead pass from J.C. Robitaille and walked in all alone on Quick. From there, he picked his spot — right over Quick’s blocker and into the net.
Less than two minutes later, the Minutemen went on the power play, but again found themselves stymied by Watson’s strong play. Twice, Chris Capraro — camped out on the post — got looks at an open net, only to see Watson slide across to close the door.
“Tonight I just kept telling myself, ‘one shot, one save,’ the whole game,” Watson said.
His calm demeanor under siege stood firm into the third, when Minuteman defenseman John Wessbecker ripped a slapshot from the point that beat Watson but hit the post. From there, it was all Merrimack.
“Our guys didn’t play badly for the first couple of periods,” Cahoon said. “We had plenty of chances; we just didn’t bury the puck. We didn’t do much for the last 15 minutes of the [third] period. They stemmed the tide. They played a great game with the lead.”
The Warriors were far from done, however. With less than two minutes to go, forward Mickey Rego nailed the final stake, slipping a Derek Pallardy assist between the pads of Quick for the 3-0 lead they took to the locker room.
“When you are where we are, you need any wins you can get, so that’s most rewarding part,” Merrimack coach Mark Dennehy said. “And they’re not my wins; they’re the players’ wins. Its one game and I want these guys to think in terms of working in the day-to-day towards something.”
For the next 21 days, Dennehy’s squad will rest up for a holiday break until resuming its schedule on December 29, when the Warriors head to Pennsylvania to take on Robert Morris. The Minutemen, on the other hand, will look ahead to Chestnut Hill for the first game of a weekend home-and-home series with the Eagles of Boston College.