NORTH ANDOVER, Mass. — After two consecutive home losses, Army headed into Lawler Arena looking for their first win of the season taking on the 13th-ranked Merrimack Warriors in a non-conference matchup Saturday night, but came up short as the Warriors took a 3-2 win.
The first 10 minutes of the first period were relatively quiet with both teams looking to establish their on-ice presence with skating and forechecking.
Both goaltenders also saw little initial action with both teams’ defenses doing a great job of protecting the slot and breaking up offensive breakouts.
Army was the first to break the silence, drawing penalties on Mike Collins and then Kyle Bigos for a five-on-three power play chance.
The Black Knights quickly scored with Marcel Alvarez brilliantly bouncing a shot off the boards and into the crease for Andy Starczewski to easily get the puck past Merrimack goaltender Joe Cannata at 10:54 for a 1-0 lead, which abruptly ended Merrimack’s perfect streak on the penalty kill to start the season.
After a few minutes of passive play, the Warriors were energized after a few physical hits by Bigos and got some sustained offensive zone pressure.
Elliot Sheen nearly tied the game on a four-on-two odd-man rush, but Rob Tadazak’s glove reached back and robbed him despite his movement going away from the puck.
Merrimack’s emerged tenacity finally paid off when John Heffernan found a trailing Karl Stollery pinching in from the blue line to tie the game at 1-all with Tadazak caught out of position at 18:02.
The score remained tied after the conclusion of the second period despite some terrific scoring opportunities for the Warriors who outshot the Black Knights by a startling 19-2 margin and kept Tadazak busy.
At one point in the second, a wraparound attempt from Rhett Bly landed on the goal line, but after a video review was ruled no-goal after all five Army skaters scrambled to protect their goaltender.
The best chance for the Warriors later in the period came when Shawn Bates sprung Jeff Velleca loose into the low slot, but the quick glove of Tadazak, the MVP of the North American Hockey League last season, ended Velleca’s golden chance.
Just after a minute into the third period, Merrimack broke the 1-1 tie on the power play.
“Army was coming off a couple of tough losses, so you knew they were going to be fired up tonight and I was happy with our guys,” Merrimack head coach Mark Dennehy said. “I thought we were physically strong when we needed to be and when you can go into a third period tied and win, that takes a certain amount of mental toughness.”
After great puck movement, Shawn Bates nicely deflected Jordan Heywood’s point shot with Tadazak making the initial save. However, Ryan Flanigan was waiting on the doorstep and easily jammed in the rebound for a 2-1 lead at 1:04.
Six minutes later, Heffernan increased Merrimack’s lead to 3-1 when his wraparound attempt slipped past Tadazak’s pads after a great forechecking effect from Bly and Brandon Brodhag.
Bly finished the game with two assists.
“That’s two games in a row where we’ve won a close game, so I think that shows a lot for our team,” said Heffernan.
Seconds after Heffernan’s goal, Army won the center ice faceoff and quickly entered the Merrimack zone. After Zak Zaremba got the puck on net, Mike Henderson was there on the doorstep to jam the puck past Cannata to cut the lead to 3-2.
For the rest of the third period, Cannata made some tough stops and survived multiple pile-ups of bodies in his crease to hold off Army and secure the win.
The Army Black Knights drop to 0-3-0. Army head coach Brian Riley was unavailable for comment after the game.