NORTH ANDOVER, Mass — Two of the nation’s hottest goalies met at Lawler Arena on Saturday night, but in the end one proved to be hotter than the other.
“Everyone has great goaltenders,” UNH coach Dick Umile said. “That’s what makes our league good.”
Umile’s goalie Kevin Regan was able to keep the Merrimack Warriors at bay, but his counterpart Jim Healey was not so luck with the high octane New Hampshire offense, as the Wildcats used the strength of three first period goals and cruised to a physical, penalty-laden 4-1 victory.
The win was the second in two nights for UNH, and clinched a series sweep of the Warriors.
“I don’t think anything less than four points was acceptable to us,” UNH captain Josh Ciocco said. “It was good to get a few goals. They’re a team to be playing on a one-goal lead.”
The Cats wasted no time in staking their lead. Seconds after Merrimack’s Carmen Postertaro missed slipping the puck into an empty net, the Wildcats rebounded with their own pressure. Mike Radja picked off a Warrior pass at the blue line, walked in all alone, and roofed a wrist shot over the glove of Jimmy Healey for a 1-0 lead at 3:46 of the first.
Halfway through the period, Brett Hemingway doubled the lead when he shoveled a one-time pass from Radja past Healey on the goal line for his 11th goal of the season, and his fourth power tally of the year.
The early UNH onslaught continued when Brad Flaishans tucked a shot from the point on the inside of the post of another power play goal and a 3-0 lead at 13:52 of the first that the ‘Cats took into the locker room.
“I think we came and got the job done,” Flaishans said. “We just wanted to get four points out of it. We played well.”
Flaishans’ goal would be Healey’s last, as he handed goaltending duties to Patrick Watson.
“Jimmy is playing great, and I don’t know if I can blame him on any of those,” Merrimack coach Mark Dennehy said.
Watson was thrown into the first in the second, but stopped all nine shots he faced. Regan, on the other hand, had his work cut out for him. Merrimack picked up the pressure and peppered the UNH goalie with 14 shots, including four on the power play.
The two teams traded scoring chances late in the second frame. Pat Kimball’s late rush ended with his shot bouncing off of Regan’s glove and the crossbar. Thirty seconds later, Matt Fornataro rushed into the Merrimack zone, but his shot met with Watson’s shoulder.
“He’s been ridiculous,” Ciocco said. “I think we’re getting a little too comfortable with him back there. I think he’s our MVP. As he goes, we go.”
The third period was no easier for Watson. Just 3:39 into the period, Greg Collins walked in all alone shorthanded on the goalie, but to no avail. Radja’s attempt on a Jacob Micflikier pass was also denied on the doorstep by Watson. He was unable to entirely stymie the UNH offense, as Micflikier found the twine on a power play goal at 16:51 of the third.
Regan continued his strong play at the other end of the ice, flashing the leg pad on Brock Wilson’s three-on-one shot. Matt Jones dangled through the UNH defense, but his backhand shot was thwarted by the Wildcat goalie at 13:03 of the third.
“We know who we are,” Dennehy said. “Things need to break our way to have success against the better teams in our league. We’re not scoring goals, its difficult to play from behind.”
With 2:05 left in the game, Justin Mills was able to slip a wraparound shot past Regan for the Warriors only tally of the game.
The victory Wildcats to a 22-5-1 record (17-3-1 HEA). Their grip on first place in Hockey East increased to six points over Boston University, while the Warriors dropped to 3-21-4 (3-16-2), and pushed their hopes of a postseason further away.
Next weekend, the Warriors take on Lowell in a home-and-home series, while New Hampshire does the same with BU.