Northeastern (1-0) went into Wednesday’s 2012-13 season opener against No. 18 Merrimack (1-1-0) knowing it was facing a formidable foe.
The Warriors earned a win on the road at No. 5 Union (which made it to the Frozen Four in April) in their first game last Saturday and the Huskies have not had much luck against Merrimack lately.
But the Huskies managed to parlay a dominant first period into a 4-2 victory at Matthews Arena.
It was NU’s first win over Merrimack since Dec. 4, 2010, and the first on home ice since Dec. 5, 2009.
“I’m obviously pleased with the victory and two points,’’ said second-year coach Jim Madigan. “I think everyone knows in this league, it’s hard to come up with two points. I thought we played very well in the first period and we were clicking on all cylinders offensively. The second period, we let it get away from us a little bit. I thought we showed a lot of resilience at the end. I like our blend of players.’’
It was the first Hockey East matchup of the season and the Huskies wasted no time taking charge. Just 53 seconds into the action, freshman defenseman Colton Saucerman dished a pass from the blue line to the slot for senior center Garrett Vermeersch, who redirected it past sophomore goaltender Rasmus Tirronen (30 saves) for the 1-0 lead.
NU doubled it at 4:57 when sophomore wing Joseph Manno beat Tirronen from the slot on a backhander.
The third goal came during a power play. At 8:33, senior right wing Vinny Saponari fed freshman left wing Kevin Roy in the right circle and Roy one-timed the puck by Tirronen for his first collegiate goal.
After giving up three goals on seven shots, Merrimack coach Mark Dennehy called a timeout.
NU poured on 16 shots in the opening 20 minutes to 5 for the Warriors.
Merrimack chipped away at the lead starting at 4:20 of the second, with senior left wing John Heffernan making a strong pass to sophomore right wing Quinn Gould. Gould, who was at the top of the crease, swatted it past senior netminder Chris Rawlings (32 saves) for his first tally.
The Warriors made it a one-goal contest during the man advantage. With freshman pivot Cam Darcy off for holding, sophomore left wing Justin Mansfield got the puck behind the NU net, skated along the boards, then curled out to just below the right circle. He popped a shot past Rawlings for his first of the season.
Merrimack outshot the Huskies, 13-8, in the second. The visitors had an opportunity to pull even when Vermeersch was assessed a slashing penalty at 17:01, and again midway through the third when Saucerman was whistled off for holding at 7:30, but the Huskies killed did a good job of killing the penalties.
The Warriors had their eighth power play of the game at 17:08 of the third but NU turned the tables with Tirronen pulled for an extra attacker. Senior wing Robbie Vrolyk sealed the win with an empty-net goal at 19:02.
Dennehy said it was a sloppy game and that his team didn’t practice well after beating Union.
“It’s a really honest game, hockey, which is what makes it great,’’ said Dennehy. “If you don’t put a full 60 minutes in, you’re going to get what you deserve sometimes. We didn’t deserve to win that game and Northeastern did.
“It’s a good lesson for us. We weren’t ready to play that game. I felt like the guy on the top of the Titanic screaming, ‘Iceberg,’ this week. To quote Bill Gates, success is a terrible teacher. It fools smart people into thinking they can’t lose. We beat the No. 5 team in the country and we didn’t practice well after that. It all goes hand in hand and the sooner our guys understand that, the better our team is going to be.’’