NORTH ANDOVER, Mass. — Providence drew first blood in its home-and-home series with Merrimack, riding a Noel Acciari shorthanded goal and Jon Gillies’s 23-save shutout to a 1-0 win.
The sixth-ranked Friars now stand at 6-1-1 with a 2-1 mark in Hockey East.
The game marked only the second time this year that they’ve left the comfortable confines of Schneider Arena, where it is 5-0-1. In its lone previous road game, the Friars blew a 3-0 lead to Boston University and lost 4-3.
At the time, Providence coach Nate Leaman attributed it to a lack of mental toughness. That didn’t happen this time.
“It was a gutsy road win,” Leaman said. “It’s a tough building to come in to a play. Merrimack definitely had their A-game tonight. I thought we showed a lot of resiliency.”
Merrimack frustrated the Friars with a consistently strong defensive game.
“We couldn’t get much through to the net,” Leaman said. “They were blocking so many shots tonight. We had some good zone time, some good possession time, but they did a really good job around their net front.”
Merrimack coach Mark Dennehy felt encouraged by how well his team played despite the loss in its first Hockey East game.
“There were guys giving up their bodies,” he said. “There were about ten thousand dollars worth of broken sticks on the ice. It was a hard-fought game, [but Providence] had an odd-man rush and made the most of it. That was the difference.
“That’s a nationally ranked team and [it came down to] a bounce of the puck. They came in averaging 39 shots a game and [we held them] to seven on the power play and 12 five-on-five.
“A pretty good job by our guys, but, hey, not good enough.”
Sam Marotta finished with 18 saves in a losing effort.
Merrimack opened the game with a territorial edge and finished the scoreless first period with a 10-6 shot advantage. Neither side, however, generated much in the way of grade A chances.
Penalties dominated the second period as seven were whistled, none of them matching. At 13:29, the Friars went on a brief four-on-three power play that would soon transition to a minute-long five-on-three. Mark Jankowski appeared to capitalize on that opportunity at 14:42, putting in a rebound, but was instead whistled for interference and headed for the penalty box.
With that golden opportunity by the boards, the Friar penalty killers then bailed out their power-play brethren, scoring a shorthanded goal at 16:09. Steven McFarland shot from inside the right hash mark, and Acciari buried the rebound.
“McFarland made a good chip, beating his guy off the wall,” Acciari said. “He took a good shot and I just happened to be in the right place at the right time and put it in.”
Gillies had to be particularly sharp in the third period, making a strong pad save on Hampus Gustafsson on the rebound and another on Mike Collins.
A Providence penalty with 32 seconds left gave the Warriors a six-on-four with Marotta pulled. They swarmed around the net but couldn’t get one past Gillies. A penalty with four seconds remaining ended the suspense, sending the faceoff back to Merrimack’s defensive zone.
The two teams play the rematch game on Saturday in Providence.