NORTH ANDOVER, Mass. — Coming off his first career win as head coach at Northeastern, Jim Madigan walked into Lawler Arena looking to bring his team above .500 and hand 13th-ranked Merrimack its first loss of the 2011-12 season.
After two periods and more of being under siege, the Huskies fell to the Warriors, 4-1.
Northeastern goalie Chris Rawlings held his crease for two whole periods, stopping 32 of 33 shots on goal and keeping his team within striking distance.
That was until 48 seconds into the third period when Merrimack’s third line stormed the crease of Rawlings and the loose puck slid into the slot for Jordan Heywood, who ripped a low bullet blocker side.
Five minutes later at 6:09 after battling for the puck down low, the puck came up high for Kyle Bigos, who eluded a defender and fired an absolute blast behind a frozen Rawlings for a 3-0 lead. Rawlings was then replaced in net by Clay Witt.
“We and Northeastern play two similar types of hockey and it’s basically about who has more will to go out there and do it,” Bigos said. “That’s the type of game we want to be in and that’s fun for us.”
After a good wrist shot from Ludwig Karlsson to put Northeastern on the board 3-1 at 7:40, Merrimack focused on puck possession and protecting the slot area in front of goaltender Joe Cannata at all costs until Ryan Flanigan recorded an empty-net goal with only seconds remaining.
“Time of possession for us is a big stat,” said Merrimack coach Mark Dennehy. “We really try to play the game below the other team’s tops of the circles, and when you think about it after 20 or 30 seconds in your own zone, it’s tough to go on offense.”
Most of the first period belonged to the Warriors who owned the better half of puck possession and had all four lines playing with an edge at both ends of the ice.
The Huskies also had no answer for the Merrimack breakouts which kept getting into the Northeastern zone with speed and either got the puck deep or pushed to the net.
“They created a ton of problems, not just on their breakouts,” said Madigan. “You can look over and use systems, but it’s competing for pucks and winning one-on-one battles, and they won more battles than us.”
Rawlings was called upon to be very sharp early and used his size to rob speedy forwards Clayton Jardine and Shawn Bates.
Merrimack struck the scoreboard first on the power play with great point play by captain Karl Stollery opening up the low play for Flanigan to hit Mike Collins, who snuck into the slot and ripped his first of the year past Rawlings at 10:25 of the first period.
Rawlings was under a barrage of shots for the rest of the period, but did well to stay square despite his team being outshot, 17-8.
The second period was more of the same with Merrimack holding the majority of puck possession, winning one-on-one battles at both ends of the ice, and taking care of the puck to keep the Huskies in their own zone.
Cannata remained relatively comfortable in his crease, but the occasional Northeastern scoring opportunity required him to be ready to close the net as Justin Daniels twice had the puck down low.
Vinny Saponari nearly had a golden opportunity on Cannata, but a great back-checking hustle play by Tom McCarthy broke up the chance.
Merrimack was also able to hold Braden Pimm, who has five points in three games, to only one shot on goal through all three periods.
“I liked how we played tonight,” said Dennehy. “I thought that we were aggressive, we won a lot of puck battles, and that’s how we want to play.”
The Warriors improve their record to 3-0-0 overall, 2-0-0 in Hockey East. Northeastern Huskies drop to 1-2-1 overall.