At the back end of a two-day doubleheader with Boston College, Merrimack looked for its first Hockey East conference victory of the season in Lawler Rink after suffering a tough loss Friday against the Eagles. In front of 2,772, the Warriors held off the Eagles for a 4-2 victory.
“I can’t think of too many games in the last 18 months when we haven’t played with confidence at home,” said Merrimack coach Mark Dennehy.
After a 39-save night in his first game against the Eagles, Merrimack goaltender Joe Cannata was called upon again to remain sharp between the pipes and recorded 29 saves in the win.
Both teams brought speed in their skating games early, especially BC, who have the ability to get an odd-man rush after a fast breakout at anytime with their young talent. For the Warriors, they would have to play most of the game out of the defensive zone.
Dennehy complimented his team’s overall defense.
“We did a good a job in the middle of the rink to force them to dump pucks and slow the rush, and overall it was a pretty good effort.”
BC mistakes gave the Warriors confidence early, with a handful of turnovers resulting in scoring chances. After BC took the first penalty of the night for interference, the Warriors won one-on-one battles along the boards and created good puck movement, resulting in Jesse Todd putting in a rebound for an early 1-0 lead.
BC’s deficit did not last long, as they capitalized five minutes later on their first power play, with Brian Gibbons ripping the puck in the net after the puck hit a Merrimack skate and landed on the stick of Gibbons near the low slot.
Merrimack regained the lead, 2-1, when Shawn Bates drifted toward the slot, got a pass and sent the puck past Parker Milner, who appeared to have it under him, only to have it slowly crawl five-hole over the goal line.
“I think we got what we expected out of Merrimack; they’re a good club and I was impressed both nights,” said Eagles coach Jerry York.
Early in the second period, the Warriors struck again on the power play for a 3-1 lead when a pass toward the net from Stephane Da Costa deflected off an Eagles skate and landed on the stick of Joe Cucci in the slot, who found a wide-open blocker side.
The Warriors held the Eagles scoreless in the second period and killed off two power plays by limiting time and space, closing shooting lanes, and blocking too many shots to count. The shots that Cannata had to handle from BC players such as Jimmy Hayes and Joe Whitney were ones that he saw right away and could cover up without much difficulty.
Merrimack’s Carter Madsen, who recorded two assists on the night, said of the penalty kill, “I think we got our systems down pretty well in practice and it’s gone straight to the game.”
BC’s attacking efforts were rewarded three minutes into the third period when Gibbons made a great centering pass from behind the net, hitting Cam Atkinson in the slot, who slipped it by Cannata’s pad to cut the deficit to one, 3-2.
After Ryan Flanigan attacked the net and punched in a rebound behind Milner halfway into the third period for a 4-2 lead, both teams traded chances and Merrimack’s defense held the zone until the final horn.