ORONO, Maine — Frustrating was the only word that Maine senior center Brian Flynn muttered to reporters following Friday’s game as Merrimack’s special teams shut down the Black Bears power play.
Merrimack successfully killed off all of Maine’s power plays, which included a crucial 5-on-3 situation, as the Black Bears finished 0-for-9 with an extra skater.
The Warriors tallied the game winning goal a man down as they edged out the Black Bears 2-1 in the season opener at Alfond Arena Friday night.
Merrimack’s penalty kill applied heavy and persistent pressure that frustrated the morale of the Maine power play unit. The pressure made the Black Bears hesitant with the puck on the man advantage, something that ultimately cost them.
“We were probably pressing a little bit,” Flynn said. “It gets pretty frustrating especially when you get a 5 on 3 like that and don’t convert.”
A man down with just under a minute left in the second period, Merrimack Senior forward Jesse Todd finished his break away as he snapped a shot from the slot that flew by Maine sophomore goaltender Martin Ouellette’s glove
“I picked it up and thought about making a move but if you try to get to fancy on something like that you’ll screw it up,” Todd said. “So I went down and just kept looking shot and the glove side opened up and I fed it underneath his glove.”
Flynn controlled the puck along the right side of the blue line for the Maine power play as he tripped over his feet. As Flynn toppled to the ice the puck sat at the stick of Todd who was defending Flynn. Todd didn’t think twice and pushed the puck up the middle of the ice on the break-away.
“It went over my pad and under my glove,” said Ouellette. “I’d like to have that one back.”
The Warriors played courageously as they blocked 19 shots on the night and closed back door passing lanes that Maine generally exploits, leading to the teams overall frustration.
Maine was physically out matched from the opening face off until the final whistle as the Warriors finished every hit opportunity and punished offensive players for taking the puck behind the net and into the corners.
“They’ve got a good power play with a lot of movement and to get a shorthanded goal like that is huge,” Merrimack head coach Mark Dennehy said. “We did well. To come into a tough rink like this and get points is a good start.”
For the Black Bears it was a night of missed opportunities as they squandered power play chances and could not finish on shots when they had Cannata down.
Maine missed the net on 15 shot attempts.
The Black Bears controlled the puck for large periods of play, but never seemed comfortable as they appeared hesitant to takes chances, taking only 6 shots in 13:32 of the man advantage.
“For the possessions we had throughout the game along with the power plays and good possessions we had to only have 23 shots means we were waiting to shoot and stick handling too long,” Maine head coach Tim Whitehead said. “In that time they had filled the lanes.”
Merrimack set the tone on the penalty kill right off of the bat in the first period as eight seconds in Senior captain Karl Stollery received a minor for boarding.
Maine controlled the puck for a majority of the man advantage, moving the puck along the blue line in an attempt to open space but managed only one shot that Merrimack Senior goaltender Joe Cannata handled with ease.
The teams remained gridlocked through the first period, locked in an up and down game filled with sloppy neutral zone passes and turnovers at the blue line. Few scoring opportunities came from high quality scoring spots early on.
One of the few high quality opportunities came in the waning minutes of the first when Maine freshman Connor Leen pick pocketed Merrimack junior forward John Heffernan just above the left circle and powered by him and attempting a toe drag move that was stuffed by Cannata
4:29 into the second period junior Maine defender Mark Nemec received a minor penalty for holding and Merrimack capitalized on the opportunity.
Merrimack scored three seconds into the minor as forward Ryan Flannigan won the face off and pushed the puck to Brenden Ellis at the point. Ellis fired a shot in the direction of the net where Jeff Velleca tipped the puck through Ouellette’s 5-hole.
“We just tried to create a lot of traffic in front of the net,” Merrimack Senior forward Jeff Velleca said. “We just kept the shot low and I got a stick on it.”
The Warriors finished 1-6 on the power play.
Merrimack’s shorthanded goal off of Flynn’s turnover with 55 seconds left in the period placed the Warriors ahead 2-0 at the end of the second.
Maine began the third the same way they left off as the Black Bears squandered multiple breakaways and odd man rushes, either missing the net or getting denied by Cannata .
Connata remained unbeaten until the 10:50 mark of the third, when junior forward Klas Leidermark recovered the puck along the boards and used his speed to skate into the zone uncontested where he unleashed a wrist shot short side out of the reach of Cannata.
“He was kind of standing,” said Leidermark. “I caught him off guard and fired it low short side.”
The Black Bears never gave up and pulled their goalie with under a minute left in the game but were unable to get another shot by Cannata as the clock expired.
“There was some good things,” Whitehead said of his team’s performance. “There was no quit, We thought if we got that first goal we could get another – it just didn’t happen though.”
Cannata picked up the win and finished the night with 22 saves as he moves to 1-0-0 on the season.
Ouellette earned the loss, dropping to 0-1-0, in spite of a solid 25 save night in which he covered his crease well and made the saves he needed to.
The Warriors edged out the Black Bears in the shot column, 27-23.
“It wasn’t a Mona Lisa,” Dennehy said of the Warriors night. “I thought our guys played hard and this is obviously a very difficult place to play, you have to enjoy the good times in this sport because there are enough bad ones so I’m proud of our guys.”