Northeastern and Merrimack wrapped up their season series Saturday night in front of a sellout crowd at Lawler Arena in the second game of a home-and-home weekend series that saw the Warriors sweep both ends.
Junior Jordan Heywood, coming off a two-goal night Friday, netted the game-winner late in the third period.
Merrimack came out aggressive tonight, with several set-ups negated by even better stick work by the Huskies’ defenders in transition early in the first. This great defense turned into great offense midway through the period though, as Northeastern senior captain Vinny Saponari opened the scoring with his first goal of the season at 12:05 of the first on an assist from freshman Mike McMurtry.
Speaking about his freshmen, Northeastern coach Jim Madigan wasn’t quick to praise, saying, “We expect every class to contribute.”
McMurtry used his touch just a few minutes later, this time scoring a goal and putting the Huskies up two on a power-play score at 18:32 in the first. The goal came after Merrimack senior assistant captain Kyle Bigos went to the penalty box on an interference call. The goal was completely attributed to freshmen, as McMurtry was assisted by Kevin Roy and Colton Saucerman.
Merrimack coach Mark Dennehy commented after last night’s 5-2 victory that Bigos “needs to play a little smarter” after logging 14 penalty minutes in the first period alone. Bigos, an Edmonton Oilers’ draft pick known for his banging and bruising, had only played about three and a half periods of hockey heading into tonight’s action, but already led the team with 14 PIMs.
Merrimack came out strong in the second, though, setting the tone for the period with 1:33 of a fast-paced power-play opportunity and eventually scoring just 2:51 in. The goal was scored by junior Shawn Bates, a healthy scratch of late for Dennehy’s squad, and came on a rebound on the left wing in transition. Sophomore Dan Kolomatis and junior Brendan Ellis got the assists on the play.
On the depth of his bench, Dennehy commented, “We’re able to put a guy in the lineup that gets fired up to make sure that he’s staying in that lineup. Do your job or the guy behind you will. It’s definitely a strength for us.”
The high-octane play would continue throughout the period, leading to several rushed offensive sets and several transition opportunities for both teams. Even without time to set up their offense, the Warriors managed to fire several shots in Chris Rawlings’ general direction every possession, outshooting Northeastern 22-14 in the period.
With every shot fired, Rawlings seemingly bent a bit more until junior Mike Collins finally got broke him with just 27.5 seconds left in the second period on a rebound shot from Vinny Scotti to knot the score at 2-all. The goal was Collins’ fourth in his last four games and his fourth point of the weekend.
“We obviously made a really bad play at the end of the second period,” said Madigan. “But I thought Chris [Rawlings] played well.”
Asked about his torrid pace of late, Collins was nonchalant.
“I’m doing an okay job, I guess,” said Collins. “Our main focus is to get two points at the end of the night. We got all four this weekend.”
“Mikey Collin – holy smokes,” added Dennehy.
A flurry of shots on goal by both teams had the crowd in Lawler on their feet for most of the third, but goaltending was at a premium Saturday night as both Rasmus Tirronen and Rawlings continuously made tremendous saves, highlighted by an incredible save by Rawlings on what could have been the goal of the year – a breakaway chance by Scotti that saw him dangle through several defenders and spin Rawlings’ head on its axis.
“I thought the game was incredibly uncomfortable,” Dennehy said. “Even I had an ulcer by the end of it. We were one bounce away from losing this game.”
Eventually, that pace turned in Merrimack’s favor late in the third period when Heywood scored the game-winner for the Warriors on a great feed from Collins.
“I just happened to be there at a good time [and] I’m happy I got a good shot off,” said Heywood.
“We’re certainly disappointed,” said Madigan.
Merrimack freshman Justin Hussar rounded out the scoring with an empty-netter as time expired on a pass from freshman Ben Bahe. The goal was the first of Hussar’s collegiate career.