NORTH ANDOVER, Mass. — After a full-team effort in a 6-2 victory over the Maine Black Bears Friday evening, the No. 7 Merrimack Warriors again hosted the Black Bears looking to get into second place in Hockey East.
Maine emerged from the locker room with much more energy than the night before, but Merrimack resisted just enough to force overtime and a 2-2 tie to give each team one point.
It was a very fast-paced overtime, with goaltenders Dan Sullivan and Joe Cannata doing everything possible to keep the game tied.
Maine nearly won the game with seconds left, but the referee blew the whistle just before Maine jammed in a rebound that Cannata did not quite cover up.
The Black Bears increased their record to 10-8-3 overall and 7-7-2 Hockey East, while the Warriors moved to 12-4-5 overall and 8-3-3 in Hockey East.
“Three points out of four, whether you’re home or away against a team of that caliber, is a pretty good job by our guys,” said Merrimack coach Mark Dennehy.
Maine got its legs going immediately after puck drop, creating problems for Merrimack in its own zone, resulting in turnovers from a good forechecking game.
“We needed to compete harder, and that’s what we did; now we have to get back at it against BC at home,” said Maine coach Tim Whitehead.
The Black Bears outshot the Warriors 15-9 in the first period, using their strong skating and puck movement from offensive-minded defenseman Will O’Neill, resulting in sustained puck pressure on Cannata, and making Merrimack’s defense scramble to clear second-chance opportunities.
With Merrimack’s Ryan Flanigan in the box for tripping at 9:23, O’Neill was the power-play quarterback at the point, effectively distributing the puck and using the entire offensive zone to create movement. The pressure was eventually enough to create a 1-0 lead, with Brian Flynn collecting a rebound that fell right on his stick and stuffing the puck past an out-of-position Cannata at 10:59.
After giving up five goals on 23 shots the previous night, Sullivan was better at staying square to the puck all night long, and got more help from the defense to clear the loose pucks.
The Black Bears were in control for the entire game until Elliot Sheen stole the puck and ripped it off the far post and in the net to tie the game at one at 12:19.
Despite Sheen’s game-tying goal, Maine continued to snuff out every imminent Merrimack offensive rush and outwork the Warriors in all three zones.
“Today was about one-on-one battles, gaining zones, and getting it deep; it was like a Lombardi-style football game, with it always being three yards and a pile of dust,” said Dennehy.
Setting up camp in the offensive zone the last five minutes of the second period, the Black Bears worked the puck out to Nick Pryor, and his long-range shot through a ton of traffic snuck past Cannata to give Maine a 2-1 lead on Pryor’s first career college hockey goal at 16:03.
In the third period, Merrimack’s top line of Sheen, Carter Madsen, and Ryan Flanigan worked the puck to the crease, where the puck pinballed off players, pads, and sticks, but refused to go behind Sullivan to tie the game.
Merrimack’s bad luck turned on a power-play when Jesse Todd carried the puck on a rush. Sullivan stopped his initial shot, but Todd’s follow-up shot went top shelf to tie the game at two at 8:09 and eventually force overtime.