Merrimack and Massachusetts were tied at two heading into the final period Sunday afternoon at Lawler Rink, but a late goal by Merrimack sophomore Josh Myers was enough to lead the Warriors to a 4-2 victory.
A trend of back and forth penalties continued into the third period as neither team was able to put the puck in despite several chances. Finally at 14:13, junior Shawn Bates found a breaking Myers, who edged off his defender and sniped a goal far side high from the right wing.
Myers’ line, which has been responsible for two goals in each of Merrimack’s last two games, finally seems to be coming along.
“It was a great pass by Shawn and I was able to break in and put it over his shoulder,” said Myers. “It’s good to have more than one line scoring. Now that we’re clicking, hopefully we’re going to be dangerous down the road.”
For 19 minutes, the first period was going entirely Merrimack’s way as the team ended the period with a 17-3 shots advantage.
“We walked off the ice thinking, ‘Hey, we’ve got a gift here,'” said UMass coach John Micheletto. “We were better, but we were never able to sustain enough momentum. We kept burying ourselves.”
Merrimack had several close chances early on, but Minutemen sophomore goaltender Kevin Boyle made several tremendous stops to keep the game scoreless.
Warriors’ sophomore Justin Mansfield finally broke the scoring open with a power-play goal as he stuffed a loose puck in with 3:25 to play in the first. Bates grabbed the assist, while junior Thomas McCarthy grabbed the secondary helper on the play.
Only 30 seconds into that penalty, UMass lost junior defenseman Conor Allen for the game as he received a five-minute major and a game misconduct for a hit to the head at 17:01, resulting in a five-on-three and a power play carrying over into the second for Merrimack.
However, with 13.2 ticks left on the clock, UMass junior Braden Gracell would even the score and shift momentum with a shorthanded goal to end the period tied at one.
Fortunately for Merrimack, the shift in momentum didn’t really hurt much.
“If you had asked me heading into the second, I would’ve said ‘I don’t know,'” said Merrimack coach Mark Dennehy on his team’s confidence being shaken at the end of the first. “Having lived through it, it didn’t do anything.”
After starting the period strong, Massachusetts found the back of the net once again, this time 7:46 into the period. Senior Eddie Olczyk took a pass from sophomore Zack LaRue and seemingly fooled Merrimack goaltender Sam Marotta for a 2-1 lead.
Only 29 seconds later though, Merrimack’s dangerous first line was on display as freshman Brian Christie fed Hockey East scoring leader Mike Collins, who whizzed a nifty pass to sophomore Quinn Gould, who buried it from the right circle to tie the game at 2-all where the period would end.
That set the stage for Myers’ game-winner.
UMass pulled Boyle with just under a minute to play, but Collins managed to pick a pass and fire an empty-netter from the blue line with 45 seconds to play to ice the game for Merrimack.
“We talk about being mentally and physically tough and we were,” said Dennehy. “This is a game, it’s supposed to be fine. Our guys look forward to going out, getting their number called and getting back on the ice. If they have that attitude where, ‘Hey, we’ll play all day if we have to,’ we’ll have some success.”
With today’s win, Merrimack moves into a second place tie with New Hampshire in Hockey East. Merrimack, however, holds the tiebreaker, meaning next Friday night’s matchup at home against Boston College is a battle for first place in the league standings.