NORTH ANDOVER, Mass. – In front of a homecoming sellout of 2,549 fans, Merrimack came from behind in the third period with three unanswered goals to down Army by a 4-2 count.
The Black Knights took a 2-1 lead into the third period and denied shot after shot behind the stellar play of junior goaltender Rob Tadazak as he turned away 39 Merrimack shots, but it wasn’t enough to stop Merrimack’s top line as senior Mike Collins and freshmen Hampus Gustafsson and Chris LeBlanc combined for seven points on the night, including the game-tying goal at 5:33 of the third.
Minutes later, Warriors’ junior Quinn Gould scored on a breakaway at 8:09 to seal the deal.
“I’ve been a part of games where you just don’t get that second goal and you end up losing a game that you put yourself in position to win,” Merrimack coach Mark Dennehy said. “I thought we played really well for the majority of the game. I thought coming through the middle of the ice we did some really nice things, had some really good chances. Their goalie played great, but we obviously put ourselves in position to have a lot more chances.
“I’m happy with my team’s poise, they kept with what we were doing and they got rewarded with a win in the end.”
Despite the quick offensive burst in the third period, Dennehy knew the game easily could have gone the other way, mainly because of Tadazak’s play in net, which he described in one word.
“Awesome,” Dennehy said. “Coach [Brian] Riley said – appropriately – he likes playing here. [Tadazak has] played great every time he’s played against us, but in particular in this building. It was one of those nights where you’re not sure you’re going to get a second one on him because he’s playing that well.”
“Tads seems to love this rink,” said Riley. “This is three years in a row up here for us that he’s been our best player, kept us in a game. He gave us an opportunity to win. We’re on the road, up 2-1, we felt like we were in a pretty good spot.
“We knew that they were going to come at us. We knew you’d have to kill a penalty or two or three, but they got a goal and you’ve got to give them credit. It sparked them and they came right back and got another one.”
The win was Merrimack’s second straight after starting 0-3.
Collins found the back of the net from beyond center ice just seconds after Army pulled Tadazak. The goal was Collins’ 100th career point as a Warrior and his seventh point in his last two games. His milestone wasn’t the only on the night, though.
Gustafsson’s power play-marker at the start of the second period was his first collegiate goal.
“A lot of good players have a lot of empty-net goals,” said Dennehy. “They’re on the ice, then you can trust them. I haven’t worried about Mike [Collins]. It’s good to see Hampus put one in too, though he could’ve had four tonight.”
Gustafsson weighed in on his first NCAA tally.
“It was just one of those lucky goals where you’re just trying to put shots on net,” Gustafsson said. “I’m not sure how many shots there were before, but it just bounced out to me and I was in the right spot at the right time and took care of that first goal and it was a great feeling. I had a lot of opportunities, but at least I got the first one out of the way. I know I can score, so I just have to do it again.”