NORTH ANDOVER, Mass. — Being one of only two schools nationally to remain undefeated, the No. 7-ranked Merrimack Warriors took on the Northeastern Huskies at Lawler Rink looking to improve their perfect record.
At the end of the night, Merrimack was still unbeaten, but Northeastern pushed the Warriors to the limit and to a 1-1 tie when all was said and done.
Merrimack coach Mark Dennehy praised both teams.
“It was a hard-fought game and you had to expect that coming off three losses that Northeastern was going to be fired up,” said Dennehy. “They did a lot of good things that gave us problems, but we found a way to get a point out of it.”
Both teams were very evenly matched in the first period with Northeastern refusing to give Merrimack any sufficient time and space and occasionally getting sustained offensive pressure on Merrimack goaltender Joe Cannata.
Merrimack’s top-ranked Hockey East power play (25%) came up empty in the first period on four attempts with netminder Chris Rawlings coming up big for his team stopping the likes of Mike Collins and Ryan Flanigan.
The Northeastern defense also stayed tight in their box formation and did not give up any big plays to make things somewhat easier for Rawlings.
Merrimack’s best chance came from Shawn Bates, who got in alone in the crease, but Rawlings flashed the blocker on the open short-side post.
The Huskies had chances of their own on Cannata, with Cody Ferriero splitting the Merrimack defense and ripping a hard slap shot past Cannata, but hitting the crossbar.
Minutes later, a confident Huskies team rushed into the Merrimack zone with Drew Ellement blasting a shot on net, forcing Cannata to dive on the puck before Justin Daniels could bury the rebound.
The Huskies continued to match the Warriors play-for-play and man-to-man during the second period.
“I thought our compete level was really good tonight,” said Northeastern coach Jim Madigan. “We’ve been working on some things all week long and the players really responded. The way we played is what we’re happy with and we can’t let up.”
Early in the period, Cannata bailed out his defense when the Northeastern line of Ferriero, Braden Pimm and Ludwig Karlsson got close to the crease and peppered pucks at Cannata who moved quickly to stay square.
At the other end of the ice and on a five-minute power play, Rawlings closed down Kyle Bigos on the doorstep after a nice triangle offense set up Bigos in front.
Northeastern also continued to close the door on the big plays and forced the Warriors to take long shots from the point resulting in easy saves for Rawlings.
The game remained scoreless until 14:20 of the second period when Merrimack defensive pair Karl Stollery and Dan Kolomatis generated a good offensive rush.
Rhett Bly put Merrimack ahead 1-0, taking a great feed from Jesse Todd sneaking behind the Northeastern defense and slipping the puck five-hole past Rawlings.
Flanigan also recorded an assist, which improves his point streak to 14 consecutive games, dating back to last season.
“We knew they were going to come out with a lot more intensity at us,” said Bly. “They’re a hard-working team and they don’t want to drop two against us.”
It was all Northeastern in the third period and at times, the Warriors were doing all they could to get the Huskies out of their zone.
The game was tied 1-1 at the 57-second mark with Northeastern’s top line battling behind Cannata’s net, Steve Quailer somehow slipped the puck out of the pile and in front for Justin Daniels, who swept the puck past Cannata.
For the rest of the period, Northeastern took the game to Merrimack’s end of the ice and outshot the Warriors, 14-10.
The best chance for Northeastern to take the lead was when Cannata mishandled the puck behind his net leading to Stollery diving in the crease to stop the puck with his body.
In overtime, both teams defended very well, resulting in both teams taking one point.