DURHAM, NH — Merrimack earned an impressive road victory over sixth-ranked New Hampshire, 4-2, but will have to wait to see if it was a Pyrrhic one.
The Warriors seized a 3-1 lead in the second period and never trailed while giving UNH only its third league loss. However, a play early in the third period sent star forward Stephane Da Costa to the ice, gesturing toward Phil DeSimone and pounding the ice in frustration. He was helped off the ice and could not put any weight on the leg with the injured knee.
DeSimone was involved in another critical play, one that went Merrimack’s way, a great opportunity five minutes into the third period in which he was denied by goaltender Joe Cannata.
“Joe’s only got to make one save a game—the game-winner,” Merrimack head coach Mark Dennehy said. “That might have been it. He’s made eighteen of them this year.”
With that 18th win and twelfth in Hockey East, Merrimack kept pace for third place with Boston University, which defeated UMass in overtime. The two teams are tied with the Warriors holding a game in hand.
Perhaps even more significantly, the win vaulted Merrimack into sixth place in the PairWise, one position above UNH. With a win in their rematch on Saturday, the Warriors would put themselves within three points of first place. Their record now stands at 10-1 since the holiday break.
With Merrimack and New Hampshire a collective 18-4-4 in their own buildings, the numbers predicted each team holding serve at home. The Warriors had other ideas, however, coming out strong in the first period, outshooting UNH, 17-9. Despite going into the locker room tied, 1-1, the tone had been set.
Midway through the second, the Warriors scored twice in the span of less than a minute to seize a 3-1 lead. After UNH rallied to get within one, Mike Collins, who’d been a force earlier without scoring, buried an important insurance goal.
Arguably, the warriors outplayed their hosts and on this particular night were the better team.
“Until that last second ticks off, you’re not too relaxed against a UNH team,” Dennehy said. It’s a hard place to play. They’re so opportunistic.
“I’d love to get strapped to an EKG during the game every time they touch the puck, especially that [Mike] Sislo -DeSimone -[Paul] Thompson line. They put you on the edge of your seat whenever they’re out there. They’re incredibly dangerous.
“That’s a really good team so for us to come in and get two points, it must have been a pretty good effort.”
For UNH, the disappointing loss came after a thrilling weekend sweep over archrival Maine that gave the Wildcats sole possession of first place. Now, they’ve fallen back into a tie with Boston College, albeit with a game in hand they’ll use on Saturday.
“They beat us in our building so now we’ve got to go down there tomorrow and find a way to beat them in their own building,” UNH head coach Dick Umile said. “Give them the credit. We didn’t get enough shots on their goaltender.”
Merrimack got the best of it in the first period, outshooting its hosts, 17-9, but remained tied, 1-1. The Warriors got on the board three minutes into the game when Fraser Allan shot from left point and Brian Brodhag redirected it in from right post. Just 20 seconds later, however, UNH evened it on an unassisted goal by defenseman Brett Kostolansky.
At 12:21 of the second, the Warriors seized the lead again on an Adam Ross shot from the point through a screen. Less than a minute later, they struck again for a 3-1 lead. Karl Stollery’s shot from the point went wide, but Carter Madsen backhanded the rebound in as a teammate was pushed into the post, knocking the goal off its moorings. After video review, the goal stood.
The Wildcats got back to within one at 17:31 when Mike Borisenok passed in front to Stevie Moses, but at 6:57 of the third the Warriors put the game away on the power play. Karl Stollery moved the puck to Chris Barton on left boards, who passed to Joe Cucci on far post. Cucci fed back to Collins for the goal.