University of New Hampshire (UNH) men’s hockey (5-13-3) battled Merrimack (4-10-2) twice this past weekend. The Wildcats snuck away with two points from the two-game set by winning in a shootout Friday night after tying 3-3 in overtime.
In the first of the two contests, the Wildcats struck first with a greasy goal from junior forward Jackson Pierson who tipped a puck past the Merrimack goaltender off an original shot from junior forward Angus Crookshank.
The Warriors fought back quickly however, as three minutes later they tied the game on the powerplay from sophomore Ben Brar when he ripped a shot past senior goalie Mike Robinson. The period ended in a tie with Merrimack outshooting UNH 8-5. Merrimack scored on their lone powerplay of the period, meanwhile UNH went 0-for-1.
The second period did not start the way the ‘Cats wanted it to as just 23 seconds into the period, Merrimack took the lead as senior forward Max Newton scored another powerplay goal from the top of the faceoff dot. The shot beat Robinson clean over his glove giving Merrimack the 2-1 lead.
The Warriors didn’t stop there and extended their lead with a shot from sophomore defenseman Declan Carlile and junior forward Logan Drevitch tipped the puck past Robinson giving them the 3-1 lead. The Wildcats outshot the Warriors 12-8 in the second period but still found themselves trailing by two.
UNH wasn’t down two goals for long as first-year forward Cam Gendron fired a wrist shot high glove side past the Warrior goaltender to bring them within one. UNH kept fighting to tie the game up and eventually did with a beautiful setup from Pierson to Crookshank. The Ottawa Senators prospect one-timed the puck in the back of the net and tie the game at three goals apiece.
Overtime was uneventful as neither team could end it and the game headed to a shootout. There, Pierson scored another goal and Robinson came up with multiple huge saves. Senior forward Patrick Grasso ended the shootout with a goal of his own and got the Wildcats the extra point in the Hockey East standings.
Coach Souza was happy with his team’s heart in this game after coming back from two down.
“Credit to our athletes for staying with it and coming back. I thought both teams played well, and Merrimack did a great job stretching us out,” Souza explained.
He added, “I thought our goalie was very good tonight and we stuck with it and had Pierson make a great play to Crookshank to tie it.”
Pierson was one of the best players on the ice for the Wildcats as he scored once in regulation and again in the shootout. He also helped tie the game up with a brilliant feed to Crookshank. Coach Souza had only great things to say about Pierson.
“One of the guys said in the locker room Jackson proved again why he’s one of the best in the conference,” Souza noted. “He’s a quiet guy and he got the game puck after and I think he said all of two words, so that’s Jackson.”
The second of the two games didn’t go the way UNH had planned or hoped. The Wildcats fell 6-2 to the Warriors and it was not a game to remember.
When the puck dropped the two teams battled for half of the first until Merrimack finally broke the stalemate with a goal from Drevitch who labeled a shot in the top corner while on the powerplay. Merrimack added on to their lead just two minutes later with a goal from sophomore forward Filip Forsmark. Both Warrior goals were scored on the powerplay and the Wildcats went 0-for-3 on their powerplay in the first frame.
The second period didn’t go the Wildcats’ way either as Merrimack tallied another giving them the 3-0 lead. The goal came on the powerplay once again, this time from junior froward Chase Gresock. UNH once again let their extra man opportunity go to waste going 0-for-2 in the second period.
In the third period, the offense exploded and UNH tallied the first goal of the period from junior forward Filip Engaras cutting the Merrimack lead to two. Just a minute later junior defenseman Ryan Verrier buried a shot from the face-off dot to bring the Wildcats within one.
That is the closest UNH got, however, as Merrimack scored three unanswered goals. Newton slapped one past Robinson giving them a 4-2 lead. Not too long after Newton’s goal Merrimack scored again coming from sophomore Liam Walsh on the powerplay. The Warriors then put the nail in UNH’s coffin with another goal from Brar.
The Warriors went 4-of-4 on their powerplay and UNH went 0-of-6 on their powerplay. The special teams made a clear difference in this one and Souza wasn’t happy with the performance.
“Congrats to [Merrimack]. They outplayed and out special teamed us. That was the difference. They were hungrier than we were tonight,” Souza said. “We got to get better; it hasn’t been good – terrible actually. We have to coach it better and execute better.”
With the end of the season approaching, one of Souza’s biggest message is to be playing their best hockey at the end of the year.
“We want to play our best hockey here into March,” Souza said. “Our kids are battle tested and know how to play in tight games; I hope that pays off for us.”
Photo courtesy of China Wong.