With both teams starting the season with ties, the Merrimack Warriors and Connecticut Huskies entered into the newly renovated Lawler Rink vying to get into the win column with more than 2,000 fans in attendance. It was a highly anticipated goaltender matchup with Merrimack’s Joe Cannata and UConn’s Garrett Bartus going head-to-head after stopping 35+ shots apiece in their season openers.
Except for his only blemish, Cannata remained sharp for the evening, staying square and allowing very few rebounds for UConn’s forwards to work with.
The Warriors took the initiative against the Huskies in the physicality department from the opening faceoff, playing with aggressiveness and confidence. No UConn player was safe with the puck, as Merrimack’s aggressive skating mentality kept UConn out of any real offensive rhythm in most of the first period and had UConn players playing safe and passive.
Warriors coach Mark Dennehy was very pleased with his team’s effort.
“To have an attack-type philosophy, it’s better to be the aggressor than to be the one taking the punches. When you shorten the rink on teams, you’re going to have a lot of puck possession.”
In addition, Merrimack did not get out of staying within their limits, making smart and simple passes which led to multiple chances in the UConn zone.
“We started off strong,” said senior captain Chris Barton. “But as the game went on, we didn’t give up, and it’s nice to put teams away and not let them creep back into the game.”
Merrimack’s energy and efforts were rewarded when Elliot Sheen crashed Bartus’s crease and jammed in a loose puck with teammates and opposing players also jousting to make the score 1-0.
The early lead only lasted 12 seconds into the second period, as UConn center Jason Krispel showed that his team came to play, finding Cannata out of position and zipping the puck into the open net on a nice feed from Daniel Naurato to make the score 1-1.
Merrimack quickly regained the momentum three minutes later when Brandon Brodhag found a charging Stephane Da Costa, who roofed the puck blocker-side to beat Bartus. The Warriors did not slow down the attack on Bartus, who was under constant fire, and his defense could not stop an offensive surge from Merrimack which gave them a five-goal lead at the end of the second.
During Merrimack’s charge, UConn’s forwards got a few chances on Cannata to try to get back the momentum, but Cannata did not allow that to happen.
First it was Chris Barton who ripped in a rebound that landed on the blade of his stick. Just past the midway point of the second period, freshman defenseman Brendan Ellis jumped into a two-on-one play and made a perfect cross-ice pass to a charging Joe Cucci, who found an open short side.
Stephane Da Costa sniped in his second goal of the night top-shelf glove side to make it 5-1, and three minutes later freshman Rhett Bly scored his first collegiate goal on a nice pass from freshman Mike Collins, who recorded his first collegiate assist.
Bly said of his first collegiate tally, “It was a real nice play from Bates getting the turnover, went to Collins, turned it up real quick, and I was able to get alone with the goalie.”
Carter Madsen slipped in his first tally of the season in the third period, making the score 7-1. Freshman Tom McCarthy recorded his first collegiate assist on the play and for the rest of the game, freshman Sam Marotta took over in net for his first collegiate ice time.