NORTH ANDOVER, Mass – Merrimack came out guns blazing in the first period Saturday night and never looked back. After getting trampled 6-1 Friday in Hamden, Conn., the Warriors took the Bobcats’ message to heart, dropping six goals of their own en route to a 6-3 win Saturday night.
After facing a 2-0 early advantage in the first period, Quinnipiac rallied and tied the score with a late first-period goal from Sam Anas and a quick second-period goal from Travis St. Denis. The game remained tied until Warriors sophomore Ben Bahe’s breakaway goal just 2:33 into the third period gave Merrimack the lead for good.
“It was a better effort, a more consistent effort,” said Merrimack coach Mark Dennehy, who was less than pleased, understandably, with Friday night’s outcome. “We weren’t easy to play against. When they made a play, we answered. I didn’t think we did that last night.”
Answering was an understatement. During three of the Bobcats’ power plays, Merrimack managed to draw a penalty from their opponents, negating the advantage. Then, there were shots.
Quinnipiac allows just 18.8 shots per game, and leads the nation with only 1.77 goals against, but Merrimack came out firing, ending the first period with 15 shots on sophomore goaltender Michael Garteig and a 2-1 lead.
“You’ve got to be ready to shoot the puck, because they take away lanes in a hurry,” Dennehy added. “I thought we were way more prepared. I don’t know that we did anything differently. We emphasized it again but it didn’t work last night. It was just a matter of being ready.”
As prepared as Merrimack was, Quinnipiac coach Rand Pecknold felt his team wasn’t prepared at all.
“I was really disappointed with our effort tonight,” he said. “Poor game prep in the first period, really poor execution across the board. Lack of coachability would be the good phrase, and then throughout the game a lot of selfishness.
“Probably the worst part of the game was when we went down 4-2 [in the third] and we panicked. We need to believe we can come back.”
Bobcats captain Cory Hibbeler lamented the feeling as well.
“We came out slow again, we’ve been struggling to get going in the first period. We dug ourselves a hole, got ourselves back out of it … we started to panic a little bit, took some stupid penalties. There’s a bunch of things we did wrong tonight.”
Just over two minutes into the game, Quinnipiac freshman Tommy Schutt gave the Warriors the first power play of the night following a cross-check. Brian Christie shoveled in his third goal of the season after senior Jordan Heywood’s one-timer — which at first glance appeared to be a goal itself — clanked off the right post and fell loosely in the crease. Senior Brendan Ellis picked up the secondary assist on the play.
Midway through the period, Bobcats goaltender Michael Garteig’s rebound troubles continued, leading to a pretty wrister from Warriors junior Justin Mansfield. It was only fitting for Mansfield to score the goal. Playing his first game as a forward, Mansfield chased down a would-be icing behind Garteig’s net. Junior Connor Toomey raced down the ice after him, where Mansfield fed a pretty pass to Toomey, who just missed the puck and a goal of his own. Several rebounds later, Mansfield took a pass at the bottom of the right circle and flicked the puck past Garteig for a 2-0 advantage.
With just 38 seconds left in the opening frame, Quinnipiac’s Sam Anas found a loose puck in the middle of a scrum and shoved it past Tirronen to cut the Merrimack lead in half just before the end of the period. Just 1:45 into the second period, sophomore Travis St. Denis knotted the score at two.
“Obviously we responded really well,” said Christie, who finished with a team-high three points (2-1-3). “I think everyone just stuck with the game plan and kept working hard and it worked out.”
After Bahe gave Merrimack the lead, Christie broke free for an odd-man rush of his own, firing almost the exact same shot past Garteig. When senior Mike Collins added a power-play score to open up a 5-2 advantage with 11:11 to play, Pecknold pulled Garteig.
“He was struggling from the moment we dropped the puck,” Pecknold said of his sophomore netminder. “He struggled the whole night, and he’s played every game for us so we figured we’d get the other kid [Jacob Meyers] in there.”
Quinnipiac added a power-play score with Meyers pulled late in the third to pull within two goals at 5-3, but a Dan Kolomatis ice-length empty-net goal with 26 seconds left sealed the win for Merrimack, which has now earned points against top 12 teams in three straight weekends.
“We want to win, so you need to turn the page to some extent [after a 6-1 loss Friday], you can’t harbor it,” Dennehy finished. “Both teams are undefeated coming into today. Neither team had won or lost a game on the 18th of January, 2014. So you take what you need to take from last night and move on. It was a step forward tonight.”