Ed. Note — This story will appear in Sunday’s edition of The Eagle Tribune
NORTH ANDOVER — There are still four games left in the regular season, but after last night’s 4-2 loss to Maine at Lawler Arena, it felt like an emotional ending for the Merrimack men’s hockey program.. On a night where the Warriors were eliminated from playoff contention in Hockey East, Merrimack head coach Scott Borek thought his team played as hard as it has all season.
Speaking to media after the game, Borek could hold back the pride he had in his team for how hard they worked.
“They did everything we asked them to do,” Borek said. “They played as hard as we asked them to play. It just wasn’t enough.
“That’s as hard as we’ve played all year,” he continued. “I really feel for our guys. It’s hard for us to score and we got ourselves into a situation where we had some great opportunities — we had some of the best looks we’ve had all year — we just didn’t finish.”
Merrimack had 1-0 and 2-1 leads before surrendering two goals to fall behind, 3-2. The Black Bears tacked on an empty-netter in the with under two seconds left.
Maine took a 3-2 lead late in the second period; it was the first lead the Black Bears had all weekend following a 3-3 tie on Friday.
“I loved our physical commitment to the game,” Borek said. “We talked about it all week, how we had to be more physically committed than Maine because they are so physical. I thought we were. We answered the call. We defended 100 percent better tonight than last night. Their goals tonight were turnover goals. They scored off of transition. They just went in. I thought that our D zone was cleaned up. We made a huge step from last night’s game to tonight, so to have this result is disappointing.”
Merrimack’s power play finished the night 1 for 10, but the Warriors totaled 18 shots on goal with the man advantage.
With 50.5 seconds remaining, Maine was whistled for a penalty that gave the Warriors a power play for the game’s final minute. Borek pulled goaltender Logan Halladay for the extra attacker to give the Warriors a 6-on-4 advantage, but the Warriors didn’t get a shot through to Jeremy Swayman (39 saves).
“Up until the third period, our power play was playing really well,” Borek said. “We played so poorly on it in the third period, and I don’t know if it was nerves or something else? We’re used to battling but we’re not used to winning. Maine won those situations tonight. We worked hard, but not very smart in some situations, like the power play. I really feel bad for our guys. They all deserved better and our seniors especially deserved better.”
Halladay plays the final 40
Merrimack senior goaltender Craig Pantano made 32 saves in a 3-3 tie on Friday night and started the game on Saturday. Halladay relieved him to start the second period after Maine scored twice in the opening 20 minutes.
Last night was the first home appearance for the sophomore Halladay, who has made starts at Northeastern, Vermont and UConn this season and also appeared in games at UMass Lowell and Minnesota Duluth last season.
“Craig played so well last night, so I felt like after last night’s game he had to play tonight,” said Borek. “He just really deserved it. Then I thought he was fighting it a little bit in the third period. We were all fighting it in the third period; it’s never just the goalie. Because we were fighting it, I went with the change and I thought Logan did a good job. I was pleased for (Logan), and glad it went well for him. I feel bad for Craig. I hate pulling a goalie. I really don’t like it, but I thought it was in the best interest of our team at that time.”
Merrimack will be at UMass Lowell on Friday night.
Maine 4, Merrimack 2
at Lawler Arena
Maine (12-14-4): 2-1-1—4
Merrimack (7-21-2): 2-0-0—2
First Period: 1. MC Alex Carle 1 (Tyler Irvine, Tyler Drevitch), ev, 3:48; 2. ME Ryan Smith 5 (Emil Westerlund, Patrick Shea), ev, 10:40; 3. MC Derek Petti 5 (unassisted), ev, 14:14; 4. ME Sam Becker 1 (Mitchell Fossier, Keith Muehlbauer), ev, 15:44.
Second Period: 5. ME Brendan Robbins 6 (Emil Westerlund, Patrick Shea), ev, 12:47.
Third Period: 6. ME Mitchell Fossier 5 (unassisted), en, 19:58.
Shots: Merrimack 14-15-12—41; Maine 10-12-8—30
Saves: MC Pantano (20:00) 8-x-x—8; Halladay (38:11) x-11-7—18; ME Swayman (60:00) 12-15-12—39
Power Play: Merrimack 1 for 10 (18 shots); Maine 0 for 5 (2 shots)
Penalties: Merrimack 7-14:00; Maine 12-35:00