Ed. Note — This story will appear in Monday’s edition of The Eagle Tribune
HARTFORD, Conn. — After back-to-back losses where head coach Scott Borek felt his team played well enough to earn points, the Merrimack men’s hockey team finally broke through on Sunday, beating UConn, 3-2, at the XL Center in downtown Hartford.
The Warriors claimed victory on the back of their penalty-kill unit, which went 5 for 6 in the game and killed off UConn’s final five power-play chances, including one with less than five minutes left in the game.
“We wanted to protect the weak side of the ice,” said Borek. “They were looking for that. We made an adjustment (after the first power play) to be less aggressive up top and recover down low. … It’s a challenge defending them on the power play, they’re about ready to break out on it.”
The Huskies got on the board first when Kale Howarth scored on the power play at the 9:15 mark of the first period.
“We had a little lapse on the first goal,” said Merrimack senior captain Tyler Irvine, who plays a key role on the penalty kill. “They way they were positioned, we were trying to take away both of their D and then have one of our D step up and take away their weak-side guy, but we didn’t cover the middle and they capitalized on it. But we corrected it and killed every penalty the rest of the game.”
The Warriors responded six minutes later when Liam Walsh finished off a pass from Tyler Drevitch in front; the goal was Walsh’s second of the weekend.
Merrimack scored twice more in the second period. Mac Welsher unleashed a laser from the right circle on his first shift of the second period and Tyler Irvine knocked in a rebound on the power play to give the Warriors a 3-1 lead at the second intermission.
UConn’s Ruslan Iskhakov would score midway through the third period to give the Warriors a scare, but they held on for the one-goal victory.
“We made a lot of mistakes in the second half of the second period and in the third period as well,” Borek said. “We were trying to make plays when we shouldn’t and we got kind of reckless. We want to be aggressive, but we also need to be intelligent. We gave them a lot of their offense, but when push came to shove, we buckled down and did a better job to close out the game.”
The win snapped a three-game losing skid for the Warriors, who dropped back-to-back one-goal games to UNH (in overtime) last weekend and UConn this past Friday night at Lawler Arena.
“I feel like this broke us through,” said Irvine. “We played a great game (on Friday) for 58 minutes and then slacked off for two minutes. I’m excited about the future.
“I think this helped us learn how to win and our confidence is growing. When guys play with more confidence and more swagger, I think good things will from that.”
NOTES: Merrimack’s last win at XL Center was Jan. 5, 2018. A 3-2 win in OT. Sami Tavernier scored the game-winner after Jace Hennig tied the game with 1:30 left. … Final shot attempts in the game were 37-36 for the Warriors and Merrimack had a 21-17 edge in shots on goal. … Mac Welsher was the only Warrior with a positive night on the faceoff dot, going 7-5. … Merrimack only allowed UConn four shots on goal in their six power plays. … Jere Huhtamaa made 15 saves to earn his first collegiate victory. After getting pulled in his first two starts, Huhtamaa has a 2.68 goals-against average in his last three starts.
UP NEXT: Hosts Northeastern on Friday night (7 p.m.)
Merrimack 3, UConn 2
at XL Center
Merrimack (2-6-0): 1-2-0—3
Connecticut (2-3-1): 1-0-1—2
First Period: 1. UConn Kale Howarth 2 (Alexander Payusov, Ben Freeman), 9:15 (pp); 2. MC Liam Walsh 2 (Tyler Drevitch, Liam Dennison), 15:03 (ev).
Second Period: 3. MC Mac Welsher 1 (Liam Dennison), 1:32 (ev); 4. MC Tyler Irvine 3 (Ben Brar, Declan Carlile), 9:01 (pp).
Third Period: 5. UConn Ruslan Iskhakov
Shots on Goal: Merrimack 6-8-7—21; UConn 10-3-4—17
Power Play: Merrimack 1 for 2; UConn 1 for 6
Goalies: UConn Vomacka 5-6-7—18; MC Huhtamaa 9-3-3—15
Referees: Jack Millea, Kevin Keenan
Attendance: 3,387 (9,801)