NORTH ANDOVER, Mass. — Sophomore forward Jesse Todd scored the games first two goals and the Merrimack Warriors won their home opener against Holy Cross, 3-1.
Neither team scored in the first period, though both squads had their chances. Holy Cross controlled the tempo early, with much of the play in the Merrimack defensive zone.
A few turnovers almost cost the Warriors on the scoreboard, but the seven shots blocked by its defense in the period kept the Crusaders in check.
Merrimacks best scoring chance in the first came on the power play. Mark Znutas went to the box with a tripping penalty. After the ensuing faceoff, Joe Cucci got a pass from the point and whiffed as he stood just to the right of goalie Thomas Tysowski.
The Warriors improved their special teams play in the second period. With the man advantage and the puck in the Crusaders zone, the puck deflected off of a Holy Cross defender. Todd reeled it in backhand and slapped it home under Tysowskis arm to put the Warriors ahead, 1-0.
A few minutes later, a penalty nearly cost Merrimack the lead. Carter Madsens hitting from behind major gave Holy Cross a wealth of opportunities, but the Warriors defense complemented Joe Cannatas work in net well.
Cannata took a puck to the chest plenty of times, and Merrimack coach Mark Dennehy credits that to his knack for frequently being in the right position.
Joe makes it look easy out there, Dennehy said after the game. Hes big and he gets to spots quickly.
Cannata bounced back from his loss last weekend against the University of North Dakota, when he allowed five goals, including the last three of the game. Cannata had 26 saves against the Crusaders.
Only the post could save Crusader Jordan Cyrs shot at 19:10 of the second, as he took a slapper from behind the left faceoff circle. He came up empty handed, but didnt end the night that way.
In the third period, Todd tallied his second goal, doubling the Merrimack lead. J.C. Robitaille passed the puck backhand from the boards behind the net to Adam Ross, and Ross one-timed it across the ice to Todd. The sophomore forward one-timed it to notch his second point of the evening.
Todd now has four points in his last two games, with a pair of assists in the 3-2 loss to the Sioux last Saturday. He thanked the depth of Merrimacks attack for his scoring opportunities, and believes a few of the teams improvements over last season are a big reason.
We have better puck movement, confidence and intensity than we did last year, Todd said. Our power play was a lot better than it was last week.
With under a minute left in the game and a delayed penalty coming up, Jordan Cyr hit the post again. This time, the puck bounced into the net and cut Merrimacks lead to 2-1.
J.C. Robitaille added an empty-net goal when he deflected a Holy Cross pass in front of the blue line. The puck wobbled into the net and slammed the door on the Crusaders.
Merrimack coach Mark Dennehy said it was great to get the first win of the year and explained another reason his team needed it. He split the season into seven game series to give his team more focus. According to his plan, a 0-2 start to the series made Friday nights game a must-win.
That attitude may have led to some of the overly fancy moves from Merrimacks forwards.
We made it a bit too complicated out there. It doesnt have to be pretty, and it wasnt, but a wins a win, Dennehy said.
Holy Cross fell to 0-2, with both losses coming at the hands of Hockey East teams. Providence College beat the Crusaders 2-1 last weekend, in what coach Pearl noted was a very similar game.
Merrimack will be at home again on Saturday to face the Army Black Knights. It begins Hockey East play on Friday, Oct. 23 against the University of Vermont.
Despite walking away with the victory, Todd had a couple ideas to improve the Warriors play.
We need to get more shots through, and we need to get to the net more, Todd said.
The Warriors may be on the right track, but according to Todd, their improvements will have to keep coming for the wins to do the same.