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College Hockey:
McNeely scores game-winner as Northeastern upsets Merrimack

— After narrowly escaping Matthews Arena with a victory, No. 18 Merrimack College and Northeastern University faced off once again with two more Hockey East points on the line.

This time it was a role reversal for both teams, with Northeastern narrowly escaping Lawler Rink with a 2-1 victory over Merrimack, handing them their first home loss of the season.

Northeastern attacked immediately after the opening faceoff, skating with speed and confidence and sent pucks down deep into the Merrimack zone, generating a couple of early chances.  Merrimack matched their intensity, and both teams spent most of the first period scrapping with each other along the boards and behind the nets.

Big defensemen for both teams such as Merrimack’s Adam Ross and Kyle Bigos and Northeastern’s Jamie Oleksiak and Anthony Bitetto created havoc for opposing forwards, who were trying to avoid the hard hits.

After the puck narrowly missed Joe Cannata’s net, Merrimack transitioned defense into offense and Joe Cucci’s hard wrist shot from the high-slot rang a post. Cucci chased the puck before it crossed the blue line and then found Stephane Da Costa waiting by the left point to rip his seventh goal of the season past Chris Rawlings for the 1-0 lead.

After the first period with only a combined nine shots for both teams, Rawlings and Cannata were forced to get busy quickly, with Merrimack sending 11 shots and Northeastern sending 14 shots on goal.

Early into the second period the Huskies won a big battle along the boards and sprang Garrett Vermeersch, whose initial shot bounced off Cannata but found the back of the net on the second chance opportunity to tie the game at 1-1.

The Huskies quickened the tempo of the game after the first goal and were able set up their offense in the Merrimack zone.

After only 12 seconds of Adam Ross’s tripping penalty, Brodie Reid found Merrimack’s penalty kill unit napping and threaded the needle towards Cannata’s crease to a waiting Tyler McNeely, who slapped the puck through Cannata, who fell backwards after the initial save.

Both teams traded chances in the latter half of the second period but to no avail, as Rawlings stoned Elliot Sheen on a short-handed breakaway and Cannata stopped a barrage of scoring chances within the last three minutes from McNeely and Wade MacLeod with a little bit of help from his goal posts.

The physicality erupted in the third period for both teams, who threw their weight around at both sides of the ice.  The referees called eight penalties in a period where bodies were flying left and right and everyone that was near the puck was mentally bracing themselves for potentially big hits.

The Warriors were completely out of sync for the first half of the period from the change in pace and were not able to generate any urgent offense until the clock became a factor.

“You can’t always dictate how the game is going to be played and sometimes it’s going to be tape-to-tape and other times it’s going to be a bouncing puck;  I assured them that it must have been frustrating for them tonight and it was frustrating for me as well,” said Merrimack coach Mark Dennehy.

After Dennehy pulled Cannata in the final two minutes for the extra attacker, Rawlings did his part to give the Huskies two desperately needed points, robbing Da Costa, Cucci, and Rhett Bly on the doorstep.

“It was a big win for us; Rawlings made terrific saves at the end with the pulled goalie and that sealed the win,” said Northeastern coach Greg Cronin.

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