NORTH ANDOVER — Craig Pantano made 16 saves on Friday night to record his first career shutout. Since taking over as Merrimack’s primary starting goaltender in late-October — he’s only sat for one game since — the Warriors are 7-6-2 and Pantano has a 2.26 goals-against average and a .918 save percentage.
“It means a whole lot,” Pantano said with a smile. “I haven’t had a shutout in a long time.”
“Craig made the saves he needed to make,” Merrimack head coach Mark Dennehy said. “I don’t know that you can get more comfortable than Craig Pantano, he always looks comfortable to me. For the first two years we were trying to make him uncomfortable. I mean it when I say it, I don’t know that you can be more comfortable, but he’s a great kid and that’s a great disposition for that position.”
Opposite Pantano was UConn goaltender Adam Huska, who made 35 saves in the defeat.
“The way Huska is playing you wonder if you’re ever going to score,” Dennehy said. “He stopped three pucks that I thought were in the net in the first period. But you can’t let that thought get into your head. You need to keep going. Being on offense you’re eliminating their chances too, so we need to be patient. We just need to keep playing our game and sooner or later things will happen for us.”
Time keeps rolling
There was a stretch in the second period where the game with 12:28 without a whistle, beginning with 15:28 left on the clock and the whistle didn’t blow until Huska covered the puck with 3:00 left.
“The only thing that we’re concerned with in regards to that is how the game is going,” Dennehy said. “We don’t want to get into a greyhound race up and down the sheet, and when you have a long stretch like that, usually that’s what is happening.”
Warriors finally break through in the third
Ludvig Larsson and Tyler Drevitch scored 47 seconds apart to give the Warriors the lead and then some breathing room.
“To get that goal, and it was a great screen, it was huge for us,” Dennehy said of Larsson’s power-play goal.
“The way we were drilling pucks to the net and keeping possession, being above, at some point something is going to go in eventually,” Drevitch added. “It allowed us to take a breath, but at the same time we just kept coming. We didn’t stop and that was the difference. If we play like that every night, it will be tough for teams to beat us.”
Merrimack is 5-2-1 in its last eight games.
“Guys are dialed in,” said Drevitch. “Coach said that guys on the bench are helping each other out. We’re finally playing that Merrimack culture of hockey and that’s why these guys came here. We’re playing 60-minute games and making it hard on other teams.”
Merrimack saw its all-time record against UConn impove to 26-3-5 with a 21-2-2 mark at Lawler Rink. The game snapped five straight contests that had went to overtime in the series prior to tonight. Merrimack is now 3-1-5 against UConn since the Huskies joined Hockey East in 2014-15. … Merrimack improved to 7-0-2 when scoring three-plus goals in a game compared to 0-11-2 when being held to fewer than three goals. … The 16 shots that the Warriors held Connecticut to were the fewest for an opponent since Northern Michigan was held to 14 in a 4-2 Merrimack win in last year’s Florida College Hockey Classic on Dec. 29.