BOSTON — The No. 3 Northeastern Huskies needed practically all 60 minutes to put away a pesky Merrimack College squad in their final game before they attempt to win their first Beanpot title in 21 years.
Starring for the Huskies, Wade MacLeod provided a three point game en route to their 4-3 victory.
MacLeod got the Huskies on the board first at 8:25 of the first period, getting the puck off a feed from freshmen Steve Quailer and freezing Merrimack freshman netminder Joe Cannata long enough for MacLeod to fire the puck to the back of the net.
Merrimack tied the game at one near the end of the first period with a power-play strike. From the point, Fraser Allan took a shoot that seemed innocent enough before the puck took a double deflection as it floated towards the back of the net, tying the game.
In the second period, the Huskies built their lead back to two. With captain Joe Vitale in the box for tripping, the Huskies sent the puck deep into the Merrimack zone. Goalie Joe Cannata tried to come out to play the puck but Northeastern junior Chris Donovan beat Cannata to the puck. With the netminder stranded at the back boards, Donovan fired a shorthanded goal into the wide open net.
For Donovan it was his 12th goal of the season and his 15th point of the season. The junior now has five points in his last two games.
Merrimack wouldn’t quit and tied the game at two once again at 14:50 of the second period on a 3-on-2 rush. Pat Kimball, John Jamieson and J.C. Robitaille came in on the odd-man rush. Once Jamieson reached the goal line he fed Kimball right in the middle who put it over the out stretched blocker side pad of Thiessen.
Merrimack took their first lead of the game at 9:52 of the third period when Chris Barton put in the rebound off a Pat Bowen shot from the point. With the Huskies once again a man down with defensemen J.P. Maley off for interference the Warriors set up their power play. Fraser Allan and Pat Bowen manned the point passing back and forth with each other waiting for a play to develop. Bowen saw something he liked and ripped a shot from the point. Thiessen made the initial save but Barton was there to put the rebound in the empty net.
The Matthews Arena crowd of 3,801 fell deafly silent after the Warriors took their first lead of the year over the Huskies, but Northeastern roared back less than two minutes after the go-ahead goal when freshmen J.P. Maley atoned for his earlier penalty and tied the game back at three.
Steve Quailer and Wade MacLeod were part of a scrum in front of the net. Maley raced in from the point to give the loose puck a whack and it was his shot that finally put the puck behind the goal line.
For Maley, who has been battling injuries all year, it was his first collegiate goal.
“I just followed up the play, kind of a greasy goal. Just got the rebound and put it in, kind of rolled of [Cannata's] back so it was pretty greasy,” explained Maley, who was playing only his seventh game of the season while battling injuries all year.
Northeastern head coach Greg Cronin is impressed.
“I thought he played well, he hadn’t played in a couple months, Cronin said. I think he felt bad about the penalty he took that lead to their go ahead goal. He can skate, he’s tenacious, he’s got a good stick. He adds another dimension to our back end with his speed and toughness, he’s really quick. He’s only going to get better.”
Northeastern (19-6-2 overall, 14-4-1 in Hockey East) would take score the go-ahead goal at the 17:16 mark that would prove to be the game winner. Wade MacLeod and Joe Vitale came in on Joe Cannata on a 2-on-1. MacLeod was racing down the boards with Vitale in the middle, the Merrimack defensemen tried to keep pace with Vitale but was unable. MacLeod fired off a centering feed that deflected off the stick of Vitale and went five-hole on Cannata.
For Vitale it was his first non empty-net goal since Nov. 8, 2008 when the Huskies defeated Bentley College at Matthews Arena.
“I really just put my stick out, I didn’t see the puck till the very last second. Wade made a great pass, luckily the thing went five-hole.”
For Merrimack coach Mark Dennehy the loss was tough to swallow.
“It’s tough not to let how our games effect how we play, but we have to, Dennehy conceded. It’s our third game against the No. 3 in the country and any of those games could have gone the other way, all of them, not one of them, all of them. I don’t think there is anyone in our locker room that doesn’t think we can’t play with the No. 3 team in the country. On their rink, on our rink, on Wrigley Field, Fenway, Franklin Park, let’s go!”
Northeastern coach Greg Cronin had an understandably different attitude.
“It was a good win for us, anytime you are down 3-2 with 10 minutes to go in the game and you come back to win it’s a good character win. I thought Merrimack played a great road game.”
Northeastern’s next game is the Beanpot championship on Monday night when they take on top ranked Boston University at the TD Banknorth Garden. Merrimack (5-17-3, 2-15-2), meanwhile, is home to host non-conference foe Brown University Saturday night in North Andover, Mass.