NORTH ANDOVER, Mass. — After taking the first game of a weekend doubleheader, the No. 14 Merrimack Warriors looked to close out the season series with the Vermont Catamounts in front of a 2,489 sellout crowd and a NESN live broadcast.
The Warriors did just that, winning 7-1, with six Warriors finishing the game with multi-point evenings, and senior captain Chris Barton and freshman forward Mike Collins headlining the offense.
Barton is the first Merrimack player to reach 100 points in nine years, and Collins recorded his first career hat trick.
The Warriors brought terrific energy from the opening faceoff along with strong early pressure in the offensive zone, which drew an early hitting from behind penalty on H.T. Lenz.
Similar to last night, Merrimack’s power play setup camp in Vermont’s zone without much difficulty and did a great job of moving without the puck, forcing Vermont goaltender Rob Madore to scramble to stay square in his crease.
Merrimack got the early 1-0 lead on a power play three minutes into the game when Collins fired a wrist shot from the slot that banked off the boards to Barton, who scored on a wraparound for his 100th career point.
“It’s a pretty cool honor, but I’ve had the luxury of playing with some good players while I’ve been here and I won’t forget it,” said Barton.
At the halfway point of the first period on another power play, the Warriors used the entire offensive zone with their passing plays and increased the lead to 2-0 with playmaker Joe Cucci, who finished with four points on the night, zipping a perfect cross-ice pass through the goalmouth to Collins, who found a wide-open near side.
Merrimack was not finished in the attacking zone, with Ryan Flanigan and Carter Madsen attacking the crease and Madsen finding the twine for a commanding 3-0 lead.
To make matters worse, the Catamounts were not able to generate a strong offensive push on Merrimack, who kept winning most of the one-on-one battles along the boards.
Merrimack goaltender Joe Cannata remained relatively comfortable in his crease until Vermont forward Matt White fired a bouncing puck on Cannata and Josh Burrows crashed the net and pushed the puck over the goal line to put his team on the board 3-1.
After outshooting the Catamounts 15-8 in the first period, the Warriors maintained their attacking push on the ice, which eventually led to Merrimack increasing the score to 4-1 when Barton scored his second of the night, curling into the slot and ripping the puck high glove side.
Cannata was strong when called upon, especially when Vermont’s top line of Anthony Decenzo, Jack Downing, and Sebastian Stalberg stormed the Merrimack zone on a three-on-one rush and were somehow denied along inside the crease.
The Warriors put the exclamation point on the victory in the third period, scoring three more goals, making the scoring gap too wide for the Catamounts to catch.
Merrimack coach Mark Dennehy complimented his team after the victory
“I thought we stuck with the game plan and executed all night long,” he said. “It was one of those nights that the puck was just going in the net for us.”
Collins scored his second of the night on a power play when Barton slipped into the slot and found him near the side of the net for an easy tap-in.
A minute and a half later, Flanigan crashed the net from a Fraser Allan wrist shot and jammed in the rebound past Madore.
Finally, Jesse Todd pushed the puck over the blue line to Collins, who fired a quick wrist shot toward Madore from a distance, who never expected it, and the puck slipped under the crossbar for his third goal.
Cannata stopped 14 of 15 shots before freshman Sam Marotta saw action between the pipes after Merrimack’s seventh goal was scored.
Vermont coach Kevin Sneddon was disappointed after the game.
“I’ll take the heat for the loss, and congratulate Merrimack on a great weekend.”
Merrimack improves to fourth in Hockey East with a (15-5-4) overall record with a (9-5-3) record in Hockey East, while Vermont holds ninth place with a (5-15-4) overall record with a (3-11-3) record in Hockey East.