Merrimack gets cooking at home
NORTH ANDOVER - Lawler Arena isn’t one of the largest arenas in Hockey East, not even close. But you can certainly argue that it is one of the closest knit when Merrimack’s 13th-ranked hockey team takes the ice.
The Warriors went into last night’s contest against league rival Northeastern with just five home losses since the start of the 2009-10 season - with two of those defeats at the hands of the Huskies.
However, this time it was all Merrimack, which kicked off the Homecoming weekend with a 4-1 victory.
“I thought Merrimack just competed harder for pucks,’’ said Northeastern coach Jim Madigan. “They won the one-on-one battles and directed a lot of shots to our net and we couldn’t sustain any real consistent forecheck or get pucks to their net.
“They were the better team. Hats off to Merrimack. They play well and they play hard.’’
The Warriors (3-0-0, 2-0-0) took the lead for good at 10:25 mark of the opening period during a power play.
With junior left wing Steve Quailer off for hitting from behind, sophomore left wing Mike Collins buried a shot from the slot for his first tally of the season.
They had a chance for more at 13:00, at the very end of a penalty to Merrimack defenseman Kyle Bigos, when they generated a two-on-one break. But senior right wing Jesse Todd’s shot went into the pads of goaltender Chris Rawlings (36 saves).
The Huskies (1-2-1, 1-2-1) had their opportunities, particularly late in the period during a power play. But although they were able to apply strong pressure, the home team showed great presence in front of senior netminder Joe Cannata (27 saves).
Although the Warriors outshot NU, 16-11, in the middle period, neither team generated a great deal. for the game, Northeastern enjoyed a 47-28 shot advantage.
Merrimack increased its lead to a pair at the 48-second mark of the third. Sophomore blueliner Jordan Heywood popped in his first goal of the year when he beat Rawlings from the right circle.
Junior right wing Brandon Brodhag had the initial shot, which was a terrific scoring chance as well.
With 15:02 remaining, Collins had an opportunity for another goal when his shot rattled off the left post.
The Warriors got their third one on the first tally of the season for cult-favorite Bigos, whose hulking presence generates the most applause among the students. Bigos, who scored unassisted at 6:09, received a huge ovation when the goal was announced.
“We’ve got a lot of guys who I think are physical and strong,’’ said Merrimack coach Mark Dennehy. “But [Bigos is] probably the strongest and most physical and he’s got those lovely California hands that he sometimes tries to use too much. But he’s got great poise.
“He’s probably in the best shape since I’ve known him and you’re not going to have a guy on our team that the players love more than Bigs.’’
Northeastern coach Jim Madigan called a timeout after the third goal, hoping to regroup and he pulled Rawlings in favor of sophomore Clay Witt (7 saves).
It seemed to help as the Huskies finally got on the board at 7:40 when freshman left wing Ludwig Karlsson banged in a shot past Cannata for his first collegiate goal.
If Northeastern looked as if it was bound for a comeback, that hope was derailed at 10:57 when sophomore defenseman Luke Eibler was whistled off for elbowing to the head, which sent him to the box for a five-minute major.
Although the Huskies killed off the penalty, Merrimack was able to close it out with a fourth goal with 6.5 seconds remaining, scored by Ryan Flanigan with Witt pulled for an extra attacker.
Nancy Marrapese-Burrell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.