With 22 saves from junior goaltender Collin Delia, the roll continued for the Merrimack men’s hockey team on Tuesday night at the Mullins Center, as the Warriors topped the UMass Minutemen, 3-0, to pick up their 12th win of the season and extend their season-long unbeaten streak to six games.
“I give (UMass head coach) Greg Carvel and his staff a lot of kudos, that team plays hard,” said Merrimack head coach Mark Dennehy. “You talk about changing a culture, they battled tonight. That third period, we may have been up but they had us running a little bit.
“When you score goals the game is a lot easier, it’s not rocket science. We still need to play a little better with the lead, but our goalie was good, he made the saves he needed to make. We got a power-play goal, which is nice and it’s two road points, in Hockey East, which is tough to get. I thought our guys played hard. We definitely can play better, but a lot of that had to do with how hard UMass was playing.”
Delia posted his second shutout of the season after blanking Wisconsin, also on the road, this past November. The California native now owns the best save percentage in Hockey East (.934) and is tied with Boston University’s Jake Oettinger for the best goals-against average in the league (1.93). If you consider just Hockey East games, Delia’s league-leading save percentage is .936 and his goals-against is 1.92, which is just a hair behind Oettinger (1.87).
“I thought he was seeing the puck well,” said Dennehy. “He made a couple of saves in the third with a crowd around him. If he’s seeing the puck, he’s going to stop it and when he’s playing his best, he’s stopping a couple he doesn’t see.”
The Warriors jumped out to an early lead after Brett Seney finished off a play that was started by linemate Sami Tavernier. Swooping around the back of the net, Tavernier fed the puck in front where Seney was able to get a piece of it and direct it past UMass goalie Alex Wakaluk (29 saves).
The Warriors extended the lead to 2-0 late in the first period. After former Merrimack forward Austin Plevy was ejected for a hit on Merrimack freshman defenseman Ryan Cook, the Warriors were on a five-minute power play. Just 30 seconds into that man advantage, Alex Carle snapped a wrist shot from the right point that had eyes through traffic and found room past Wakaluk.
Merrimack gave itself a 3-0 lead early in the second period on a play that almost epitomizes how the Warriors want to play. After a forcing a turnover in the neutral zone, the Warriors immediately transitioned on the attack and Brett Seney, from deep in the zone, found a pinching Johnathan Kovacevic who accurately fired a shot from the right circle.
“We pride ourselves on defense and on separating teams from the puck and getting back on it and breaking pucks out cleanly,” Dennehy said. “When we do that, we’re pretty effective. I don’t think we gave up too many odd-man rushes, those are things we don’t like to do, and I don’t know how often they skated into our zone. On a big sheet like this, that’s difficult to do, so I thought we did a good job in the middle of the rink. That’s the key to our game.”
Merrimack moved into seventh place with the win, tied with New Hampshire at 17 points. Ironically, the Warriors finished with 17 points last season, which was good enough for seventh in the conference. That won’t be the case this season, and the Warriors still have four games (8 points) to be decided, including a two-game home series with Maine this weekend.
Merrimack sits three points behind Vermont for sixth place in the conference, and will head to Burlington for a two-game series to conclude the regular season next weekend.
“Right now it’s about positioning to give yourself the best chance when (the playoffs) start,” Dennehy said. “It goes back to 0-0 in a couple of weeks time. If you want to win a Hockey East championship, the easier you make your road — i.e. a bye or home ice — the better chance you have. The harder you make that road, the less likely you are to get where you want to be. Right now, for us, it’s about getting points.”
Merrimack 3, Massachusetts 0 Merrimack (12-13-5): 2-1-0=3 Massachusetts (5-24-2): 0-0-0=0 1st Period Scoring - 1, MER Brett Seney/9 (Sami Tavernier/8, Jared Kolquist/8) 8:29 (GW) 2, MER Alex Carle/2 (Ludvig Larsson/7, Chris LeBlanc/6) 17:44 (PP) Penalties - Marc Hetnik, UMA (Tripping) 10:41; Austin Plevy, UMA (5-Interference) 17:19; Austin Plevy, UMA (10-Game Misconduct) 17:19 2nd Period Scoring - 3, MER Johnathan Kovacevic/3 (Brett Seney/18, Sami Tavernier/9) 5:35 Penalties - Anthony Petrella, UMA (Slashing) 5:46 3rd Period Scoring - None Penalties - Jake Horton, UMA (Hooking) 2:18; Brett Seney, MER (Hooking) 2:43; Logan Coomes, MER (Slashing) 12:46 Merrimack Goaltending - Collin Delia (60:00, 22 shots, 22 saves, 0 GA) Massachusetts Goaltending - Alex Wakaluk (60:00, 32 shots, 29 saves, 3 GA) Shots On Goal - MER 10-16-6=32; UMA 4-6-12=22 Power Plays - MER 1 of 5; UMA 0 of 2 Penalties - MER 2 (4 min); UMA 5 (21 min) Three Stars: 1. Brett Seney (Merrimack) 2. Sami Tavernier (Merrimack) 3. Alex Carle (Merrimack) Attendance: 1272 Start Time: 7:00 pm End Time: 9:07 pm Total Time: 2:07 Referees: Thomas Fyrer, Scott Hansen Linesmen: Nicholas Briganti, Steven Murray