Ed. Note — This story will also appear in Sunday’s edition of The Eagle Tribune
NORTH ANDOVER — Like most overtimes, the game was decided by a bounce of the puck.
Merrimack and Vermont finished 60 minutes with one goal a piece and the Catamounts would net the game-winner with just 55 seconds remaining in the extra session, when a puck thrown in front bounced off a leg and trickled across the goal line.
“I thought we played much harder overall,” said Merrimack head coach Mark Dennehy. “I don’t know if that’s a game I would have wanted to play in. It was like 1998 New Jersey Devils hockey. There weren’t wasn’t much going on for large stretches.”
Just like Friday, Merrimack scored the game’s first goal on the power play when Jace Hennig beat Stefanos Lekkas for his ninth goal of the season. The Warriors would carry that lead into the locker room but Vermont’s Matt Alvaro would tie the score with about nine minutes remaining in the second period.
The teams remained tied heading into the overtime and each traded chances. Merrimack’s Cole McBride had a partial breakaway on Lekkas about halfway through the period and it appeared that he was hauled down by Owen Grant, but there was no penalty called.
Then Colton’s puck gave Vermont the win only a few minutes later.
“We put ourselves in a position where it’s the bounce of a puck, and it just didn’t bounce our way. We competed for sure,” Dennehy said. “To a man we competed harder. We stopped on pucks and we were more diligent, making stronger plays. They really had just three real Grade-A chances. Coughlin walked in alone in the second period and then the two goals. We had plenty of chances but we need to find a way to capitalize. There’s a fine line at this time of year.”
The Warriors got to the net better on Saturday than Friday, when the Catamounts limited the Warriors to just 11 shots through two periods and outshot the Warriors 34-24 overall. Last night, Vermont outshot Merrimack 29-28 .
“It’s three yards and a pile of dust,” Dennehy said. “This whole weekend, it was a battle.”
Vermont head coach Kevin Sneddon said he thought his team was forced to compete against the Warriors this weekend, and responded well. Struggling for much of the season, Vermont has now won three games in a row.
“If you’re coming into (Lawler Arena) to play a Merrimack coached by Mark (Dennehy), you’re going to have to compete hard,” Sneddon said. “I thought we controlled more of the game (on Friday), but tonight was a battle all night. We needed to be ready to work and I thought we were.”
Merrimack lost sophomore defenseman Johnathan Kovacevic in the first period to an injury. Kovacevic is one of Merrimack’s top players on the blue line, selected in the third round last year by the Winnipeg Jets in the NHL Draft.
“It might make you a little hesitant to use your second power-play unit because he’s a big cog in that and we have a guy with him who hasn’t played a lot in Simon Loof,” Dennehy said. “But you make adjustments. He was sore enough that he had to come out of the game. We had a lot of guys banged up. That was a physical game. Alfie (Larsson), Ludvig (Larsson), Derek Petti … we had a lot of guys banged up.”
After the weekend sweep, Vermont jumped Merrimack in the Hockey East standings. The Warriors are in 11th place, but one point out of the last home-ice spot (eighth).
The Warriors will play two games at Maine next weekend.
Vermont 2, Merrimack 1 (OT) at Lawler Arena, Merrimack College Vermont (7-15-4): 0-1-0-1—2 Maine (7-15-4): 1-0-0-0—1 1st Period Scoring - 1, MER Jace Hennig/9 (Brett Seney/15, Sami Tavernier/9) 7:04 (PP) Penalties - Cory Thomas, VER (Hooking) 5:53; Jake Massie, VER (Interference) 9:16; Rob Darrar, VER (Roughing) 11:31; Michael Babcock, MER (Tripping) 11:31; Simon Lööf, MER (Interference) 17:40 2nd Period Scoring - 2, VER Matt Alvaro/3 (Alex Esposito/8) 10:59 Penalties - Tyler Irvine, MER (Slashing) 5:28; Ross Colton, VER (Tripping) 13:54 3rd Period Scoring - None Penalties - Michael Babcock, MER (Cross-Checking) 7:42; Matt Alvaro, VER (Hooking) 13:25 Overtime Scoring - 3, VER Ross Colton/14 (Alex Esposito/9, Matt Alvaro/6) 4:05 (GW) Penalties - None Vermont Goaltending - Stefanos Lekkas (64:05, 28 shots, 27 saves, 1 GA) Merrimack Goaltending - Craig Pantano (63:51, 29 shots, 27 saves, 2 GA); Empty Net (0:14, 0 GA) Win - Stefanos Lekkas, VER (7-14-3). Loss - Craig Pantano, MER (7-9-2). Shots On Goal - VER 8-10-9-2=29; MER 10-9-7-2=28 Power Plays - VER 0 of 3; MER 1 of 4 Penalties - VER 5 (10 min); MER 4 (8 min) Three Stars: 1. Ross Colton (Vermont) 2. Brett Seney (Merrimack) 3. Alex Esposito (Vermont) Referees: CJ Hanafin, Marty Hughes Linesmen: Matt Riegert, Jeremy Lovett