NORTH ANDOVER, Mass. — Alabama-Huntsville and No. 1-ranked Merrimack faced off in Lawler Arena each looking to earn a non-conference victory before returning home for the Thanksgiving holiday.
The Warriors bested the Chargers, 6-0, to remain undefeated before returning to Hockey East conference play.
Merrimack established firm control of the puck in the first period with every member of the team winning one-on-one battles, finishing their checks cleanly, and forcing the Chargers to retreat skating back on their heels.
“You always worry about mentality coming into a game like tonight, but I thought the guys were very business-like tonight and they put their hard hats on,” said Merrimack coach Mark Dennehy.
The Warriors also spent the majority of the period in the offensive zone, owning the board play, and outshooting the Chargers 15 to 5.
Merrimack’s strong start was rewarded when Mike Wills fired a low wrist shot on net and a perfect deflection from Connor Toomey gave the Warriors a 1-0 lead at 4:57.
Seconds later, the Chargers caught Merrimack’s top-ranked defense napping when Lasse Uusivirta ripped a long shot towards net and a deflection from Doug Reid got the puck past Merrimack goaltender Joe Cannata to tie the game.
However, the officials waved off the goal after it was revealed that Reid played the puck with a high stick above the cross bar.
At 6:54 after battling for the puck behind Chargers’ goaltender John Griggs, Jesse Todd found Toomey camped in front for an easy tip-in for a 2-0 lead.
“It’s a nice feeling to jump right in and have a role on the team as a freshman and have the upper-classmen counting on you to do some good things,” said Toomey.
Two minutes later at 8:32, the Alabama-Huntsville defensemen kept backing off of Merrimack’s offense enough to put Clayton Jardine into the slot to roof the puck top shelf for a 3-0 lead.
Before the period ended Cannata was forced to spring off his crease to stop Mac Roy in the slot to prevent the Chargers from gaining any momentum.
“I think the biggest motivator in sports is self-pride,” said UAH captain Curtis DeBruyn. “You’re not playing just for yourself, you’re playing for your friends beside you, and for everything the programs stands for.”
Despite replacing Griggs with Clarke Saunders, the Chargers had no answer as a team for Merrimack as the Warriors put the game out of reach 6-0 at the end of the second period.
The Warriors outshot the Chargers, 17-1, and peppered Saunders with pucks, while Cannata was nearly untouched.
First, it was Quinn Gould at 4:19 who battled for the puck in front and slapped it past Saunders for a 4-0 lead.
At 12:05 on the power play, Mike Collins entered the attacking zone with speed on a two-on-one and made a nifty backhand pass to Ryan Flanigan, who went top-shelf on Saunders.
Four minutes later at 16:15 on a five-on-three power play, Kyle Bigos used his size to get behind the net and find Todd in front for another close range tip-in for a commanding 6-0 lead going into the third period.
Able to get some power play offense in the third period, the Chargers could not get the puck past Cannata as he smothered up shots from Kyle Lysaght and Jamie Easton and earned his sixth career shutout.
“We don’t come out of a game and say, ‘That wasn’t a bad effort’ after looking at our record,” said Chargers coach Chris Luongo. “I haven’t offered that up to them and they haven’t asked for it to be offered as an excuse and I’m proud of my team for sticking together.”
The Warriors are now 9-0-1 overall, while Alabama-Huntsville drops to 0-12-1.