Ed. Note — This story will appear in Saturday’s edition of The Eagle Tribune …
SCHENECTADY, N.Y. — Behind two third-period goals, Union topped the Merrimack men’s hockey team, 3-2, last night at Messa Rink.
The Warriors struggled in the game’s opening five minutes to get the puck through the middle of the rink thanks in large part to Union’s suffocating and effective system in the neutral zone.
“It was an even game other than the first five minutes,” said Merrimack head coach Scott Borek. “They took it to us early in the game.
“They play a unique system in the neutral zone and we carried it right into them and didn’t handle it well. They have a lot of confidence in their structure. We try to carry it through the neutral zone and when we did that, we were carrying it into numbers.”
Despite that, the first period was scoreless and Merrimack got on the board first in the second period when senior Tyler Irvine scored his seventh goal of the season.
However, Union scored the equalizer less than two minutes later.
The Dutchmen then capitalized on some mistakes by the Warriors in the third period.
“Their second goal we had a defenseman try to beat a guy 1-on-1 and he turned the puck over,” Borek said. “Then they had a 30-second shift after that in our D-zone and they scored at the end of it. He had a simple play in front of him and he tried to beat a guy 1-on-1 instead of just chipping the puck by the guy he needed to beat. We’ve played 17 games and our freshmen have played 17 games, a lot of them, so it’s a little late to be making freshman mistakes.”
Union doubled its lead to 3-1 less than two minutes later.
“On the third goal we were too cautious on how we played the rush,” Borek said. “Then our first forward back got into their player too much and we couldn’t recover. We gave up a lot of space at the blue line.”
Fourth Line Shines
Merrimack’s fourth line was pieced together of what’s left of healthy bodies while Jordan Seyfert, Patrick Kramer and Joey Cassetti are all on the shelf with injuries, but the unit of Christian Simeone, Griff Jeszka and Hugo Esselin provided some of the biggest sparks of the night for the Warriors.
In the first period, as Merrimack struggled to get the puck through the neutral zone, the fourth line broke it through and had Merrimack’s longest offensive shift up to that point. Then when the Warriors trailing 3-1 in the third period, Jeszka scored his first goal of the season to cut the deficit, with Simeone picking up the assist.
“That shift turned the first period around for our team,” Borek said. “None of those guys have played much and they played really well. They played extremely simple and within themselves, and they played hard as a group. They never tried to make 1-on-1 plays and it was nice to see them get rewarded. We actually skipped the line that was ahead of them before the goal, so it was good to see them score.”
NOTES: Griff Jeszka scored his first goal as a Warrior; through two seasons at UMass the former Minuteman had 10 goals. Merrimack’s power play went 1 for 2 against a Union penalty kill that entered the game ranked No. 15 in the nation.
NEXT: The Warriors are off for two weeks and will play next on Dec. 29 when they host two-time defending national champion Minnesota-Duluth in the first of a two-game set at Lawler Arena.
Union 3, Merrimack 1
at Messa Rink
Merrimack (4-11-2) 0-1-1—2
Union (5-12-0): 0-1-2—3
First Period: None.
Second Period: 1. MC Tyler Irvine 7 (Logan Drevitch, Dominic Dockery), 6:48 (pp); 2. UN Chaz Smedsrud 2 (Dylan Anhorn, Anthony Rinaldi), 8:06 (pp).
Third Period: 3. UN Liam Robertson 2 (Christian Sanda, Taylor Brierly), 8:58 (ev); 4. UN Anthony Rinaldi 4 (Gabriel Seger, Chaz Smedsrud), 10:35 (pp); 5. MC Griff Jeszka 1 (Christian Simeone, Declan Carlile), 15:18 (ev).
Shots: Merrimack 5-6-7—18 ; Union 11-6-8—25
Saves: MC Huhtamaa 11-5-6—22 ; UN Hanson 5-5-6—16
Power Play: Merrimack 1 for 2 (2 shots); Union 1 for 3 (3 shots)