Union defeats No. 5 Merrimack on purpose
NORTH ANDOVER - Union College isn’t a team that Merrimack sees very often because they’re in different leagues. The Dutchmen, who made it as far as the NCAA East Regionals last year, last played the Warriors in 2004.
But the No. 11-ranked squad seemed to be a good litmus test for No. 5 Merrimack, which had stumbled a bit going in with one victory in its last four games (1-2-1).
However, the Warriors did not match up as well as they’d hoped to, dropping a 3-1 decision in front of 2,489 at Lawler Arena. They had a season-low 20 shots.
“I put down after one period the word ‘purpose,’ ’’ said Merrimack coach Mark Dennehy, whose team enters the break at 10-3-2. “I thought that throughout the game [Union] played with a purpose. It was as if they knew what they wanted to do and they were ready to do it from the get-go.
“I thought that we had some indecision at times, probably most evident on the power play. And you can’t play against a team that is going to pressure you that much with any sort of hesitation. We were good at times but not long enough. I thought they played the way they wanted to play longer than we did.’’
The Dutchmen (9-3-5) took a 1-0 lead at 13:47 of the opening period. When defenseman Kyle Bigos, who took three minor penalties in the first 20 minutes, was whistled off for boarding at 13:09, it gave Union a five-on-three advantage for 46 seconds and the visitors cashed in.
With the Dutchmen applying heavy pressure in the Warriors’ end, left wing Daniel Carr punched a shot through netminder Joe Cannata (31 saves) for his eighth goal of the season.
Merrimack, which managed only six shots in the first period to 11 by Union, received a scare at 14:27 of the second when Cannata was shaken up in the crease after making a point-blank stop on right wing Trevor Mingoia.
When he was being attended to by the team’s medical staff, with the crowd silent, a fan yelled, “Joe, you’re the only reason we’re in this game!’’
That wasn’t exactly true but it was certainly one of the reasons because Merrimack wasn’t sharp on faceoffs and was even less sharp on the power play (0 for 5 with only two shots).
But the crowd and team were relieved when after a couple of minutes, Cannata felt well enough to stay in.
Just 33 seconds later, the Warriors pulled even when center Shawn Bates skated into the left circle and flung the puck at the net, beating Troy Grosenick (19 saves) for his seventh strike of the year.
But penalties continued to be a problem for the home team. A hooking call on right wing Jesse Todd proved costly. Just under a minute into the power play, defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere beat Cannata on a shot from the slot at 17:59.
Through 40 minutes, the Warriors had generated just 13 shots to 23 for the Dutchmen. Of Merrimack’s 26 cumulative shots attempted, Union had blocked 11 of them.
The Warriors had a chance to tie it up late in the third when Dennehy pulled Cannata for an extra attacker with 1:50 remaining, but they couldn’t sustain any pressure and the Dutchmen’s Kelly Zajac scored into an empty net with 12 seconds remaining, sending the home team into the break disappointed and with only one victory in the last five.
“It’s the ebb and flow of a season,’’ said Dennehy. “What you’re really trying to monitor is can your guys play within the structure you’ve given them? Will they play hard enough? A lot of that game was just battles. How many times did you see a battle on the wall all of a sudden go and now there’s four [Union] shirts going one way and two defensemen backing off and the [Merrimack] team wondering what the heck just happened.
“In games like this, it’s really simple, you’ve got to win battles, you’ve got to get pucks deep, and you’ve got to get pucks out. We didn’t do it well enough, long enough.’’
Nancy Marrapese-Burrell can be reached at email@example.com.