NORTH ANDOVER, Mass. — After Merrimack surrendered a tying goal with just 15.9 seconds remaining in the second period, freshman Hampus Gustafsson scored the game-winner on a fancy power play tally at 10:42 of the final frame to put the Warriors ahead for good.
The Warriors eventually skated to a 3-1 final, but not before a bit of drama.
With approximately nine-and-a half-minutes left in the third period, Bentley sophomore Derek Bacon laid a massive hit on Merrimack sophomore John Gustafsson, who flopped backwards, rolled over his neck and – for a moment – appeared to lose consciousness as his head fell to the ice. Gustafsson then tried to get up and fell three times and was eventually helped off the ice several minutes later without putting pressure on his left leg.
The play resulted in a game disqualification for Bacon and a five-minute power play for Merrimack. As the power-play unit took the ice, Hampus, John’s younger brother, led the charge. Senior Mike Collins ripped a shot on net immediately and Hampus took the rebound near the crease, skated through defenders across the net and dumped it easily past Bentley senior goaltender Branden Komm.
To Bentley’s credit, the Falcons were resilient through the final seconds.
With 2:24 to play, Merrimack junior Connor Toomey planted a hit on a Falcon in the corner and skated to the box, followed shortly after by captain Jordan Heywood.
Bentley coach Ryan Soderquist pulled Komm with a minute to play making it six-on-three for nearly the remainder of the game. The Falcons fired several shots, but Merrimack junior goaltender Rasmus Tirronen made his finest efforts of the night turning everything aside.
“I thought Ras [Tirronen] was our best player tonight – I thought he was excellent,” Merrimack coach Mark Dennehy said. “He made some pretty big saves. Our power play got it done when it needed to, our penalty kill got it done when it needed to.”
Then with just 4.6 seconds left on the clock, Merrimack junior Dan Kolomatis sent the puck rocketing out of the defensive zone and into Bentley’s empty net to ice the game.
“We played well enough to win,” said Dennehy. “I want to tip my cap to Ryan Soderquist and that team. They’ve got some really skilled forwards, strong on their sticks. I think when we started the third period the ice was wet, but it wasn’t from the Zamboni – it was saliva. When the puck turns over they salivate and they are so good at transition.”
With half of the game already gone, junior Quinn Gould opened the scoring at 11:15 of the second period. After planting in front of the net and getting a feed from sophomore Brian Christie, Gould stuffed it home. Tonight was Christie’s first game of the season, returning from an injury sustained during the preseason. Sophomore Justin Hussar notched the secondary assist on the goal.
Not to be outdone, however, the Falcons’ top line of juniors Alex Grieve and Brett Switzer and senior Brett Gensler struck with 15.9 ticks left in the second period to tie the score at one. Grieve scored his fourth of the season on a pretty feed from Gensler and Switzer.
Merrimack came out blazing in the first period, firing shot after shot in Komm’s direction. With a resurgent second line featuring Christie, the Warriors’ top six presented a heavy and steady dose of pressure all night.
Bentley grabbed control of the pace with their first power play of the game, but it didn’t stop Merrimack from breaking away with several chances, including a few shorthanded attempts all turned aside handily by Komm.