DURHAM, N.H. — New Hampshire forward Paul Thompson scored the game-winning goal with 11.1 seconds left in overtime when he threw a wild shot toward the net that deflected off multiple bodies in the crease before it finally crossed the goal line to give New Hampshire a 4-3 victory over Merrimack College in front of a sellout crowd at the Whittemore Center in Durham, N.H. to split the teams’ home-and-home weekend series.
“It came out of the scrum to me and I just threw it back on net,” Thompson said. “I don’t actually know how it went in; I think it might have hit something. I was actually trying to get a better shot off and kind of fanned on it a bit. It just stayed on the ice and I was lucky to get it in there.”
The Wildcats had a chance to win the game in regulation when Merrimack defenseman Kyle Bigos received a five-minute major for hitting from behind and a game misconduct with the game tied, 3-3, but New Hampshire failed to score on the subsequent power-play opportunity.
“It was a battle all weekend,” New Hampshire coach Dick Umile said. “It was a big win for us. I told the team in the locker room afterward, ‘We wont know how big a win that was until the end of the season.’”
The Wildcats scored 93 seconds into the game when senior co-captain Peter LeBlanc received a crisp pass from teammate Mike Sislo and fired the puck past Merrimack goalie Andrew Braithwaite from the right circle for a 1-0 New Hampshire lead. LeBlanc and the Wildcats had many additional chances in the first, but Braithwaite made a few stunning saves and kept the Warriors only a goal behind after one period, despite being outshot 17-10.
Early on, Merrimack failed to connect on long passes down the ice that resulted in icing calls, and the Wildcats took advantage by spending long stretches of time in their offensive zone. New Hampshire had already registered 11 shots on goal by the time the Warriors put their first shot on net, more than halfway through the opening period.
The Wildcats took a 2-0 lead early in the second period when Sislo fired a one-timer past Braithwaite from the left circle after teammate Stevie Moses fed him the puck from the right side.
New Hampshire looked to have seized the momentum with the two-goal lead, but Merrimack struck back only three minutes later when senior center Justin Bonitatibus roofed a rebound over New Hampshire goalie Brian Foster in front of the net to cut the Wildcats’ lead to 2-1.
LeBlanc scored his second goal of the game when Merrimack captain Pat Bowen caught the puck in front of the net and tried to clear the zone but instead sent it right to LeBlanc, who quickly put it past a sprawling Braithwaite for a 3-1 Wildcats’ lead at 13:26 of the second period.
The Warriors battled on though, despite the shot disadvantage and a raucous New Hampshire crowd, and co-captain Chris Barton scored two power-play goals, one near the end of the second and another early on in the third, to tie the game, 3-3.
“They stayed with it, Merrimack; I give them a lot of credit,” Umile said. “We stayed focused at the end and found a way to win. The guys didn’t want to settle and it was important to get the two points.”
New Hampshire now leads the Hockey East standings by five points over Boston College and improves their record to 13-8-4 (12-3-3 in Hockey East). With the loss, the Warriors are still winless on the road this season and fall to 9-14-0 overall (6-10-0).
“It’s hard to believe we haven’t won a game on the road,” Merrimack coach Mark Dennehy said. “We’ve got a very resilient group of young men. They played well. I think [in overtime] we got away from a lot of the things we did to get back into the game.”
Next weekend, New Hampshire travels north to play two games at archrival Maine while Merrimack will try and continue their home-ice success — where they are 9-1-0 this season — against Hockey East foes Northeastern and Massachusetts-Lowell on Friday and Saturday.