NORTH ANDOVER, Mass. — The no. 17 Merrimack College Warriors and No. 9 University of Maine Black Bears faced off in their first meeting of the season with fourth place in the Hockey East Conference on the line. On this night, Merrimack’s offense took over for a decisive 7-1 victory.
Maine coach Tim Whitehead was very disappointed after the loss.
“Every game counts, and these two points were big, and we lost that opportunity to move up in the standings. Now we have to scratch our way back one game at a time and it starts on Friday.”
“We got it taken to us, and losing 7-1, that’s not where we want to be, especially right now toward the second half of the year,” said Maine forward Robby Dee.
Maine started their speedy skill players with Tanner House, Spencer Abbott, and Joey Diamond battling against Merrimack’s grinders Carter Madsen, Ryan Flanigan, and Elliot Sheen, with Maine looking to establish an early skating and forechecking game and Merrimack looking to bring the physicality.
The Black Bears struck first for a 1-0 lead on a five-on-three power play, with playmaker Gustav Nyquist quickly finding Dee along the goal line for an easy tap-in past Joe Cannata.
Maine’s strong skating was winning the battle at first against the Warriors, who were on their heels until their grinders started to get turnovers from puck pressure and get pucks on freshman goaltender Martin Ouellette, who barely held his post against Jeff Velleca and Rhett Bly.
With their feet finally under them and the hitting game in full effect, the tables turned in Merrimack’s favor with three unanswered goals in the first period, starting on a power play with Maine’s Jeff Dimmen accidentally poke-checking the puck behind his netminder trying to break up a Joe Cucci pass.
The second goal came 42 seconds later at 12:44, with Shawn Bates sweeping in the rebound on Flanigan’s slap shot from the blue line.
Two minutes later and after a great breakout, Merrimack made the score 3-1 when Brendan Ellis pinched in from the point and found Stephane Da Costa uncontested in the high slot, who ripped a slap shot far-side under Ouellette’s glove.
After being outshot 13-5 in the first period, Maine’s offense pushed for the net in the second period outshooting Merrimack 14-8 and replacing Ouellette with Dan Sullivan.
Cannata was razor sharp, stopping all 14 shots, robbing the likes of Abbott and Diamond with quick and positional deflection saves from the blocker and pads.
He was also able to smother hard point shots for faceoffs and his defensemen quickly closed off and cleared the pucks he could not cover.
Merrimack scored their fourth unanswered goal short-handed for a 4-1 lead when Adam Ross cleared the puck after a big hit and hit Sheen in the neutral zone for a two-on-one with Chris Barton. Sullivan made the initial save on Sheen, but Barton crashed the net to tap in the rebound.
Cannata later made some outstanding saves and finished his outing with 29 saves on 30 shots.
“I’m proud of our team,” said Merrimack coach Mark Dennehy. “That’s a very good Maine team. It wasn’t the most auspicious start, and I thought our goalie was great when he needed to be.”
For Maine, their fortunes went from bad to worse after Cucci’s shot from the slot clipped the post and landed right on the goal line for the crashing Brandon Brodhag to easily sweep the puck into the open side, making it 5-1.
Nearly two minutes later Merrimack’s Jesse Todd forced a sloppy Maine turnover, then slipped the puck cross-ice to a waiting Da Costa, who ripped his second goal of the night.
With Maine on the power play soon after, Todd forced another turnover and executed a great two-on-one with Barton. Todd fired it short-side for the Warriors’ seventh and final goal of the night.
“We’ve been doing a lot of odd-man rushes in practice and we had a few of those tonight and capitalized; hopefully we can keep that rolling,” said Barton.
Merrimack improved its record to 10-4-4 overall with a 6-4-3 Hockey East record (fourth place) and Maine fell to 9-6-4 overall with a 6-4-2 Hockey East record (fifth place).