NORTH ANDOVER — At the start of the season, Merrimack head coach Mark Dennehy looked at a 10-day break in mid-February and said, “you are kidding me?”
“Why have a break now?” he said.
It ended up coming at a great time. Dennehy said the Warriors used the time to regroup, and returned to the ice last night with a 3-2 win over New Hampshire at Lawler Arena.
“Life is what you make of it,” Dennehy said. “It ended up coming at a great time. We were very productive over the last 10 days. We worked on some things and tried some different combinations.”
The Warriors fell behind 2-0 on a pair of early goals by the Wildcats. Shane Eiserman scored just 2:26 into the game and Liam Blackburn doubled that lead seven minutes later.
The Warriors chipped away at the deficit late in the first period. Johnathan Kovacevic walked the blue line on the power play and picked his spot, firing a shot from the point that beat UNH goalie Mike Robinson.
Defenseman Ryan Cook tied the score with 0.6 seconds left in the period, on another shot from the point.
“We ran around at times, but we played with energy and more poise in the third period,” Dennehy said. “We didn’t give up much in the third. They had 13 attempts and none were very dangerous. … There’s not a team (UNH) has played that they have’t been tight with. For us to come back from down two goals — we haven’t done that in a while — it’s a testament to our guys. We have a little bit of a different vibe going on right now, and I like it.”
The Warriors would take the lead 7:27 into the second period off the stick of Cole McBride.
Kovacevic’s goal came on the power play, and UNH’s penalty kill is ranked third in the nation. The Warriors’ power play is back to second in Hockey East, converting on 21 percent of its chances this season.
“We have the blue group and the gold group,” Dennehy said. “The gold group has been executing. The blue group has been doing most of the scoring, so to balance that out helps. We had a few 5-on-5 goals, and we’ve struggled there. We still need to bear down more, but we had positive energy all night.”
Dennehy said the Warriors did change some things up over the break, trying different combinations and ideas. One idea was to treat the defensive zone no different than they treat it on the power play.
“What’s the difference?” Dennehy said. “When you’re on the PK, your objective is to get it out. Why change that 5-on-5? Why do we need to make a gorgeous plays. We had a stretch in the third period where we’d chip it out and they would throw it back in, and that happened over and over, but they got nothing from it.”
Merrimack still sits in 11th place in Hockey East, but the Warriors are now three points out of a home-ice spot with Vermont losing to Northeastern. Merrimack hosts BU tonight at Lawler Arena, and the Huskies are back in Burlington for a rematch with the Catamounts.
“We’re game-to-game right now,” Dennehy said. “We can’t pay too much attention to the board. We need to just play. At the end of the day, we’re in the playoffs. If we can climb up and get home ice, that’s great, but we need to play well. We’ve played well at times. I like this team.”
Merrimack 3, New Hampshire 2
at Lawler Arena
New Hampshire (10-16-6): 2-0-0—2
Merrimack (9-17-4): 2-1-0—3
Scoring – 1, UNH Shane Eiserman/5 (Liam Blackburn/10) 2:26
2, UNH Liam Blackburn/9 (Eric MacAdams/3, Michael McNicholas/19) 9:22 (PP)
3, MER Johnathan Kovacevic/2 (Jackson Bales/1, Patrick Kramer/2) 17:31
4, MER Ryan Cook/2 (Logan Coomes/5, Marc Biega/5) 19:59
Penalties – Logan Coomes, MER (High-Sticking) 8:38; Brett Seney, MER (Slashing) 14:35
Scoring – 5, MER Cole McBride/5 (Derek Petti/6, Johnathan Kovacevic/13) 7:27 (PP) (GW)
Penalties – Eric MacAdams, UNH (Roughing) 1:59; Johnathan Kovacevic, MER (Cross-Checking) 1:59; Chris Miller, UNH (Tripping) 6:16; Richard Boyd, UNH (Hooking) 11:59; Sami Tavernier, MER (Hooking) 17:30
Scoring – None
Penalties – Shane Eiserman, UNH (5-Boarding) 10:40; Shane Eiserman, UNH (10-Game Misconduct) 10:40; Bench, MER (Too Many Players) 11:26
New Hampshire Goaltending – Mike Robinson (58:16, 34 shots, 31 saves, 3 GA); Empty Net (1:44, 0 GA)
Merrimack Goaltending – Craig Pantano (59:48, 36 shots, 34 saves, 2 GA); Empty Net (0:12, 0 GA)
Win – Craig Pantano, MER (8-10-2). Loss – Mike Robinson, UNH (0-2-0).
Shots On Goal – UNH 16-16-4=36; MER 10-16-8=34
Power Plays – UNH 1 of 3; MER 1 of 3
Penalties – UNH 5 (21 min); MER 5 (10 min)
Three Stars: 1. Cole McBride (Merrimack) 2. Ryan Cook (Merrimack) 3. Liam Blackburn (New Hampshire)
Referees: Geoffrey Miller, Jamie Koharski Linesmen: Charles Weber, Chris Aughe