Ed. Note: Portions of this story will appear in Saturday’s Eagle Tribune
DURHAM, N.H. — Merrimack head coach Scott Borek felt like his team finally broke through. After two weeks of one-goal losses to Northeastern and Boston College, the Warriors stormed out to a four-goal lead against New Hampshire at the Whittemore Center and skated away with a 5-2 victory.
“I’m really happy for our team to get the three points,” said Borek. “That was something we needed. We have been working really hard but not getting rewarded. To get through all of that and get the three points is big for morale. Hopefully, it gets us some momentum.”
Liam Walsh put the Warriors on the scoreboard just three minutes into the first period when he was able to deflect a Conor Lovett rebound with his skate. The goal was reviewed, but ultimately it was upheld after it was ruled that Walsh did not make a kicking motion.
Patrick Holway doubled the lead about eight minutes later when he one-timed a pass from Zach Vinnell past Mike Robinson.
Ben Brar scored his second goal of the season at the 15:51 mark of the second period and Vinnell scored his third goal of the season to give the Warriors a 4-0 lead at the second intermission.
Merrimack outshot UNH 25-9 through two periods.
In the third period, the Wildcats began to chip away at the deficit. Eric MacAdams and Patrick Grasso each scored goals early in the third period but Lovett scored a shorthanded empty-net goal with 1:33 left to ice the victory.
“We got greedy in the third,” Borek said. “We started playing on the offensive side of the puck. We had D dive down the wall, with a 4-1 lead, and there’s no need for that. We threw some pucks into the slot from below the goal line, and there’s no need for that when you’re up 4-0. We just needed to get the puck below the goal line and make them work 200 feet. We can play better than we did in the third, but it feels great to win the game.
“When we are playing well we’re reloading and we’re doing a good job without the puck,” said Borek. “We’re creating turnovers. When we’re playing well we have four or five guys on the defensive side of pucks and creating a lot off of turnovers.”
Three Merrimack seniors – Patrick Holway, Dominic Dockery and Patrick Kramer – all served as assistant captains for the first time against the Wildcats and Borek said that would remain the rest of the season.
Alaska transfer Max Newton made his Merrimack debut and he centered the Warriors’ top line with Brar and Alex Jefferies.
“He played really well,” Borek said. “He’s a mature, older player. He’s very smart and he’s good on the dot. He will give us a lot in the second half.”
Merrimack’s other lines have been relatively consistent over the last several weeks, and Borek said he feels like he has finally found a mix that has been working after a lot of disparity within the line combinations the last two seasons.
“We have some chemistry on all four lines,” he said. “Before that was not the case. They all bring a little something different to the table.
UNH’s struggles continue
UNH lost its fifth straight game with the loss to the Warriors. The Wildcats have struggled defensively, having allowed 26 goals in the last four games (an average of 4.3 per game).
“Merrimack outplayed us,” said UNH head coach Mike Souza. “Good job by them. I think they could have won their last four games. It was a matter of time before they broke through. They did a nice job tonight.
“We’re far from where we need to be. We’re not hard on pucks, we’re stick checking, not everyone, but we don’t have enough guys playing the right way. … Merrimack did a nice job. They have some talented players and I like their energy. They blocked a ton of shots.”
After the large shot disparity in the first two periods, the Wildcats cut the shot deficit to 11-9 in the third period and scored two goals. But, it was too little, too late.
“It’s almost more frustrating to have that,” Souza said. “We had to wait until we’re down 4-0? The talk is getting old. I understand we’re missing some key players, but that’s part of the game at this level. In defense of the kids, it’s hard. We’ve had a tough stretch. We’ve had a staggering number of man-games lost to quarantine and isolation. You lost sight of that when the puck drops, but I feel for some of these guys. We haven’t practiced a lot.”
NOTES: Merrimack wore its gold third jerseys while UNH wore its home white jerseys. … Liam Walsh’s three points was a career high. … Merrimack outshot UNH 36-18. … The Warriors went 32-26 on faceoffs and Patrick Kramer finished the night 12-4. … Alex Jefferies led all skaters with six shots on goal.
Merrimack 5, New Hampshire 2 at Whittemore Center Merrimack (2-7-0): 2-2-1—5 New Hampshire (3-8-1): 0-0-2—2 1st Period Scoring - 1, MER Liam Walsh/1 (Conor Lovett/2, Declan Carlile/2) 2:49 2, MER Patrick Holway/2 (Zach Vinnell/4, Patrick Kramer/1) 10:27 Penalties - Kohei Sato, UNH (Interference) 11:28; Regan Kimens, MER (Hooking) 19:14 2nd Period Scoring - 3, MER Ben Brar/2 (Alex Jefferies/4, Zach Uens/3) 15:51 (GW) 4, MER Zach Vinnell/3 (Liam Walsh/2, Regan Kimens/2) 17:25 Penalties - Patrick Holway, MER (Roughing) 7:58; Eric MacAdams, UNH (Roughing) 7:58; Filip Forsmark, MER (Embellishment) 19:46; Jackson Pierson, UNH (Holding) 19:46 3rd Period Scoring - 5, UNH Eric MacAdams/2 (Tyler Ward/2, Nick Cafarelli/2) 6:45 (PP) 6, UNH Patrick Grasso/3 (Lucas Herrmann/3, Filip Engarås/1) 8:26 7, MER Conor Lovett/3 (Liam Walsh/3) 18:27 (SH) (EN) Penalties - Lucas Herrmann, UNH (Slashing) 3:44; Patrick Holway, MER (Tripping) 4:59; Tyler Ward, UNH (Goaltender Interference) 11:27; Ryan Nolan, MER (Holding) 16:59 Merrimack Goaltending - Zachary Borgiel (60:00, 18 shots, 16 saves, 2 GA) New Hampshire Goaltending - Mike Robinson (59:11, 35 shots, 31 saves, 4 GA); Empty Net (0:49, 1 GA) Win - Zachary Borgiel, MER (2-5-0). Loss - Mike Robinson, UNH (3-7-1). Shots On Goal - MER 11-14-11=36; UNH 5-4-9=18 Power Plays - MER 0 of 3; UNH 1 of 3 Penalties - MER 5 (10 min); UNH 5 (10 min) New Records - Merrimack 2-7-0, New Hampshire 3-8-1 Three Stars: 1. Ben Brar (Merrimack) 2. Liam Walsh (Merrimack) 3. Patrick Grasso (New Hampshire)