NORTH ANDOVER, Mass. — The No. 13 unbeaten Merrimack Warriors, after a conference victory over Northeastern on Friday, hosted Atlantic Hockey’s University of Connecticut Huskies at Lawler Arena in a nonconference match-up Saturday.
With Merrimack leading 2-0 going into the third period, the Warriors took a firm hold of the game and increased its lead to 5-0, which held as the final score.
First it was Ryan Flanigan, who won a battle along the boards, getting the puck low to Shawn Bates, who swept it to the crease for the pinching Karl Stollery for the easy finish at 4:48.
At 12:21 on a power play, Jesse Todd worked the puck low with Flanigan, who then slid the puck past goaltender Garrett Bartus.
Finally, Brendan Ellis added on the scoreboard at 18:27 with a hard wrist shot that beat Bartus high.
Both teams were evenly matched for most of the first period, with each trying to establish their style and tempo of hockey on the ice.
Merrimack at times was able to keep the puck along the boards in the offensive zone and slowly sap the energy out of the Connecticut skaters, while the Huskies occasionally used their speed to outskate the Warriors, create hitting momentum, and defensively close down time and space.
The 6 foot 4 inch-tall Merrimack sophomore Sam Marotta got his first career starting nod from coach Mark Dennehy as goaltender, and in the first period stopped all nine pucks he saw, which established a strong comfort level.
“We’re confident in our goaltending,” said Dennehy, “That’s another area of depth for our team, and at the end of the day, we’re putting a team together that has a chance to win. Sam did his job tonight.”
Marotta in the first period sprung off his line and made the save after he left a rebound in the slot for Miles Winter, and robbed scorer Brant Harris when he got just enough of a bad angle shot to clip the post.
It was scoreless until the 18:56 mark in the first period when a lucky bounce kept the puck in the offensive zone for Jordan Heywood to find a streaking Carter Madsen, who in turn slipped the puck low for Elliot Sheen to give Merrimack a 1-0 lead going into the first intermission.
Merrimack dominated the second period, playing nearly half of it on the power play after two five-minute misconducts sent Alex Gerke and Kevin Tuohy to the locker room.
Merrimack outshot the Huskies 12 to 5, but Bartus stayed square and poised, stopping 11 of 12 shots to keep his team in the game only down 2-0 going into the second intermission.
After Marotta robbed top-liner Cole Schneider on a short-handed breakaway, Brendan Ellis quickly rushed the puck back up ice and found Jeff Velleca crashing to the net with speed to sweep the past Bartus.
“When Schneider was coming in, I just wanted to make the first save and the next thing I know, Velleca scores at the other end,” said Marotta. “Sometimes you don’t even think. You just play.”
After a string of penalties by both teams, the Huskies found themselves on the right side of a four-on-three power play with a chance to cut the deficit in half.
Merrimack senior captain Stollery came through for his team, blocking multiple hard shots and launching the puck back to the UConn zone and leading to another Huskies penalty seconds later.
As the game continued, Marotta became more comfortable and stopped the likes of Billy Latta and Sean Ambrosie in the third period.
Merrimack increased its overall record to 4-0-0, while Connecticut dropped to (2-3-0).