College Hockey:
Merrimack penalty kill stifles Harvard’s rally hopes

— It’s rare that Merrimack and Harvard meet in any sport, but specifically hockey. When they do, though, the Warriors seem to make the most of it.

Meeting for just the second time ever, Merrimack played a tight defensive game when its offense pelted the Harvard net with shots. A goal that went off Harvard’s Pier-Olivier Michaud that was credited to Merrimack’s Stephane Da Costa with 11:26 remaining ended up being the game winner as the 18th-ranked Warriors won 3-1 in front of 1,948 at Harvard’s Bright Arena.

The Warriors also won the first meeting between these two clubs, 6-4, in the 2004 consolation game of the Dodge Holiday Classic in Minnesota.

Much of the game lacked any offensive pop. Merrimack was able to open up a two-goal lead in the third period but Harvard’s hottest hand, Alex Killorn trimmed the deficit to 2-1 with 10:02 remaining, giving the Crimson a chance and finally bringing some life to the game.

Harvard had two power-play chances in the final 10 minutes but mustered just two shots on goal thanks, in part, to Merrimack’s tenacious penalty kill. With Harvard netminder Kyle Richter pulled in favor of an extra attacker, Merrimack’s Karl Stollery fired a 170-foot shot into the empty net with 17.3 seconds remaining to seal the victory.

Merrimack coach Mark Dennehy praised his team, particularly for its ability to limit the Crimson to just 15 shots on goal and just four in the third period.

“The best defense is a good offense, and I thought we were on the attack for most of the night,” Dennehy said. “We did a good job of protecting the puck down low and making plays. We just kept attacking, kept attacking even in the third period when we were up a goal.”

For the Crimson, frustration continues. Harvard has lost six straight and its offense borders on anemic, having scored just 10 goals in that six-game stretch.

“I thought our team battled but I’d like to think that we can generate more chances and more shots,” Harvard coach Ted Donato said. “There’s certainly a lot of room for improvement.”

After a scoreless, penalty-free opening period, Merrimack got going using its quickness through the neutral zone in the second and late in the frame broke the scoreless deadlock.

On the power play, Mike Collins’ shot from the high slot was stopped by Richter (36 saves) but the rebound popped into the air in front of the net. Brandon Brodhag made a perfect baseball swing that connected while the puck was waist high, darting over Richter’s shoulder at 15:34 to give the Warriors a 1-0 lead.

“My job on the power play is to get to the net and jump on any rebound I can,” Brodhag said. “I was a baseball player back in the day, so that helps with the hand-eye coordination.”

Harvard had its chance late in the frame when back-to-back Merrimack penalties led to a 58-second 5-on-3 power play for the Crimson. Unfortunately for Harvard, the best bid went to Merrimack when the first penalty expired as Ryan Flanigan, fresh out of the box, took an outlet pass an went in alone, forcing Richter to make a nice pad save to keep the Crimson within a goal heading to the third.

In the third, the Warriors extended the lead on Da Costa’s fifth goal of the season. The tally off the Harvard defender was almost poetic justice for the standout sophomore who has rung numerous shots off the pipe in recent games.

“If half his [recent] crossbars and posts go in, he has 10 [goals] by now,” Dennehy said of his top forward. “You need a greasy goal every now and again.”

Harvard hung tough and Killorn’s goal brought life to the team. Coupled with a simultaneous penalty to Merrimack’s Joe Cucci for tripping, the Crimson had their shot to draw even. That, though, was when the Merrimack defense played its best, keeping the Harvard power play from setting up and getting shots through to goaltender Joe Cannata (14 saves).

The win improved Merrimack to 6-3-4. The Warriors are in a stretch of five games in eight days that will wrap up with a home-and-home series against Northeastern beginning Friday in North Andover, Mass.

Harvard drops to 2-7-0 and will have eight days off before having a chance to break its losing streak when it faces Quinnipiac next Wednesday at home.

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