NORTH ANDOVER, Mass. — “When you score goals,” Merrimack coach Mark Dennehy said, “the game is easy.”
He would know, as the Warriors handily defeated the Maine Black Bears 6-0 Saturday night in front of a sellout crowd at Lawler Arena.
Juniors Mike Collins and Sam Marotta led the way for the Warriors. Marotta recorded his second career shutout with 27 saves and Mike Collins netted the winner in a three-point night that included two goals.
Merrimack’s offense wasn’t the only story line, though, as the growing rivalry between the two teams gained a new chapter, this one including 20 penalties — 10 for each team. Maine and Merrimack have met in the last two Hockey East tournament quarterfinals, with Maine the victor last March.
Due to a scheduling conflict, the teams played Saturday in the first of three straight games against each other, with the remaining games coming next weekend in Orono.
When asked about the physicality of Saturday’s game, Merrimack sophomore winger Quinn Gould was outspoken.
“Emotions fly,” he said. “We definitely don’t forget what they did to us last year up there. It’s something we keep in the back of our mind.”
Collins’ 10th goal of the season opened the scoring 14:56 into the first period on a feed from sophomore Dan Kolomatis. Minutes later, Collins picked up the assist on Gould’s fourth goal of the year with 48 seconds left in the period.
Gould is well aware of the prize he has skating on the line across from him in Collins.
“It’s be pretty hard not to have chemistry with Mikey,” Gould said. “He can pretty much find anyone.”
Merrimack (8-9-4, 6-5-1 Hockey East) broke open the game in the second period with three goals. Senior John Heffernan scored just two minutes into the period from junior Shawn Bates and sophomore Josh Myers, and mere minutes after that freshman Vinny Scotti netted his third career goal from classmate John Gustafsson and sophomore Connor Toomey.
That prompted Maine coach Tim Whitehead to pull starting goaltender Martin Ouellette in favor of Matt Morris.
Morris didn’t have it any easier, though, as Collins concluded the second period with a power-play tally, his 11th of the season, coming with 1:20 left as defensemen Brendan Ellis and Kyle Bigos got the assists.
Ellis picked up his second point of the night on a third period, power-play goal — a one-timer that whizzed into the back of the net before Morris could blink – set up by Toomey and Bigos.
It wasn’t just the offense that helped the Warriors. The team blocked 26 shots.
“The key was my defensemen were blocking shots,” Marotta said. “We were up 6-0 and they were laying out for me. … I respect my team a lot. Every time it hits them I just get fired up. I start screaming ‘keep going!’ They play for me and I try my best to play for them.”
The problem was glaringly evident to Whitehead and the Black Bears (5-13-3, 1-8-3).
“Team defense was not strong tonight, bottom line,” he said. “Obviously we took a step backward tonight.
“But it’s a long season. Now’s our opportunity to bounce back.”
Maine senior Mike Cornell echoed that sentiment, albeit a bit more candidly.
“We’ve got a pretty sour taste in our mouth right now, so [next weekend] there’ll be no shortage of motivation,” he said.