Ed. Note — Portions of this story will appear in Sunday’s edition of The Eagle Tribune
NORTH ANDOVER — Merrimack men’s hockey coach Scott Borek believes his team finally has a first line.
After three months of shuffling groupings due to injuries and looking for the right chemistry, Merrimack’s top line of Chase Gresock, Derek Petti and Sami Tavernier have combined for five goals over the last three games, following Merrimack’s 5-2 win over UConn last night at Lawler Arena.
Merrimack’s win over the Huskies gave the Warriors three wins in a row. It’s the first time the program has been on a three-game winning streak since February of 2017.
Over these three games, Gresock (3 goals, 2 assists), Petti (2 goals, 3 assists) and Tavernier (2 assists) have combined for 12 points.
“You mix up the lines until something good happens,” said Borek. “We had some good things happen on Derek’s line and Michael Babcock’s line along with Patrick Kramer’s line. We’re pleased with what the lines look like now. The other guys will find their ice, too. Right now we’re playing the game the right way and you have to play the game the right way. When you’re up by a couple of goals you can’t make risky plays. We took some risks at the end of the second and early in the third and then when we stopped taking those risks, time just ran out for (UConn).”
Petti missed four weeks in November due to an upper-body injury which derailed any chances for the trio to get going.
But since coming back from the semester break, they’re finding open space and producing points, which is breeding confidence up and down the Merrimack bench.
“The chemistry on our line is good,” Petti said. “We know where the other guys are at all times. Those two guys are really skilled players, so we’re working well together. We support each other well.
“(Gresock) has a hard shot, so when he shoots it there’s a good chance it’s going to go in the net. Any time you can get the puck to him in a good scoring area, there’s a good chance it’s going to go in. He’s raised the level of his game which is good to see, being a freshman and playing a lot of minutes like he plays. If he can keep that going, it will be great.”
Von Ungern-Sternberg scores his first
Borek has known Merrimack freshman August Von Ungern Sternberg for the last few years, after Von Ungern-Sternberg skated at one of his summer camps and became close friends with Borek’s son.
After missing the first 18 games of his freshman season with an upper-body injury that required surgery, Von Ungern-Sternberg scored his first collegiate goal last night, and it was a big one. Merrimack’s 4-0 had just turned into a 4-2 lead after two quick UConn goals, but the freshman from Idaho won a puck race and they skated around a UConn defender before roofing the puck over goaltender Adam Huska to give the Warriors a three-goal cushion with just eight minutes left.
“Getting that fifth goal is a huge push,” Borek said. “If that puck goes in our net, then we are in trouble and we’re on our heels completely. But August made a great play, won a race and pressured the goalie with his speed. He had to back up and respect his speed and then he made a nice play to finish.
“It’s special to see him score and see his face light up. His effort is always really high. I’m happy for him. I’m happy that he is here and his teammates really responded well to that goal.”
Merrimack earning its confidence
Confidence is earned, and the Warriors are earning more and more of it with their play over this six-game stretch.
“They’re making plays that we weren’t capable of making at the beginning of the year,” Borek said. “It’s really good to see. Our goaltending has been a huge impetus for this turn, but our team has done a good job of eliminating second chances and dictating where their shots are coming from.
“Our offensive confidence hasn’t been great all year, but it’s grown in the last month. We didn’t score as much against Denver and CC as we thought we should have, we thought we earned more than what we got, but we didn’t. But if you keep shooting and you keep driving to the net, eventually good things will happen.”
Scott Borek on the game as a whole …
“It was a really good game for us. We managed the ice really well, particularly in the first two periods. Our third period got away from us a little bit. We don’t have a lot of experience playing with a lead, and we got on our heels and gave them momentum. But, we had a huge goal by August to end the game. Other than that eight-minute stretch in the third period, I thought this was our best game of the year.”
Borek on how Merrimack’s captains guided the team through the struggles near the break …
“Early in the year, I felt we were making good things happen and we weren’t getting rewarded for it, but now we are. It’s a credit to our captains. We were in a difficult place after that Colorado College game and now we’re on a three-game winning streak. Our captains have done a great job with this year’s team.”
Merrimack forward Derek Petti on the play of Merrimack’s goaltenders over the last few weeks …
“Those two guys are the hardest working guys on our team. When they put in the work, and we’re seeing it, it makes us drive even hard. They’re a huge confidence booster for us right now.”
UConn head coach Mike Cavanaugh assessing his team’s play …
“We played I thought we played a decent third period. But I didn’t think we played to our potential in the first and second period. That had a lot to do with Merrimack coming out and winning a lot of battles. Any 50-50 battle, they won. When you do that, you get the better of the chances. When we did make our push, they had an answer.
At this point in the season, you have to be desperate from the drop of the puck. Anyone can play desperate when their back is against the wall. The great teams play desperate all the time. They have a killer instinct, and we did not have that tonight.”
Merrimack 5, UConn 2
at Lawler Arena
Connecticut (7-13-1): 0-0-2—2
Merrimack (7-15-1): 2-1-2—5
First Period: 1. MC Chase Gresock 6 (Sami Tavernier, Derek Petti), ev, 9:34; 2. MC Logan Drevitch 3 (Patrick Kramer, Johnathan Kovacevic), ev, 19:18.
Second Period: 3. MC Derek Petti 4 (Chase Gresock, Sami Tavernier), ev, 3:14.
Third Period: 4. MC Michael Babcock 4 (Tyler Irvine), ev, 1:41; 5. UCN Karl El-Mir 11 (Jachym Kondelik, Evan Wisocky), pp, 2:59; 6. UCN Jachym Kondelik 3 (Carter Turnbull, Roman Kinal), ev, 11:02; 7. MC August von Ungern-Sternberg 1 (Logan Drevitch), ev, 12:06.
Shots: Merrimack 11-9-7—27 ; UConn 6-9-13—28
Saves: MC Pantano (60:00) 6-9-11—26 ; UConn Huska (60:00) 9-8-5—22
Power Play: Merrimack 0 for 1 (1 shot); UConn 1 for 3 (3 shots)
Penalties: Merrimack 3-6:00; UConn 1-2:00