NORTH ANDOVER, Mass. — It was a coming-out party for Merrimack forward Matt Jones’ young career.
The freshman forward came into the night’s game sporting a single assist through 15 games this season, and left with two goals to add to his point total. Those goals were the difference, as Jones and his Warrior teammates came out on top over the Minutemen of Massachusetts with a 2-1 victory.
“It feels great to help my team get a win, get a few points, and help us out in the playoff run,” Jones said of his first two career tallies.
His first strike tied the game at one apiece late in the first period, just over a minute after Massachusetts’ Mark Matheson broke the ice after he walked out from the corner, untouched, to the front of the net, where Warrior’s goaltender Patrick Watson couldn’t find it through traffic.
“We got the one-goal lead,” Minutemen coach Don Cahoon said. “And they turn around and tie it up. In the second period there was a five minute stretch where we really just hung on, we got through the second period still tied, and then in the third period, I thought they just really outplayed us.”
That began just seventeen seconds into the final frame, when Jones, camped out on the doorstep, fired a cannon that Massachusetts goalie Jon Quick never saw.
At the other end of the ice, Merrimack’s Watson stood tall; stopping 18 of 19 pucks shot his way.
“[Our shots on Watson] were shots that he could handle,” Cahoon said. “All I can do is look at it from my perspective — I thought our team effort was there, but our execution was off.”
For Merrimack coach Mark Dennehy, the outlook was much brighter.
“I thought that was probably the best game we’ve played all year,” he said. “We played hard, we played smart, we had timely saves – I thought we all around did a pretty good job.”
That job included pasting 30 shots on Quick, only the fifth time this season the Warriors have hit that plateau.
“We’ve had thirty a couple of times this year,” Dennehy said. “When you put pucks on the other team, it’s a sign that you’re playing well. Especially our team that doesn’t necessarily get thirty shots a game.”
Jones and his linemates, J.C. Robataille and Pat Kimball, combined for 14 shots by themselves, with Kimball grabbing assists on both of Jones’ tallies.
“My line played really great tonight,” Jones said. “I thought we had some good chemistry tonight. We were shooting the puck really well, getting the puck to the net.”
Jones’ defensive counterparts held up in their end, as well, limiting the Minutemen to 19 shots on the night, with Matheson’s goal the only blemish.
“We had a number of opportunities to shoot the puck on the net and we went off the net, didn’t get pucks through, they blocked a lot of shots,” Cahoon said.
His Minutemen, now 8-7-3 (5-5-1 HEA) on the season, will look for redemption and to avoid a series sweep by Merrimack 8-7-3 (5-5-1 HEA) Saturday night on their home ice at the Mullins Center in Amherst.