NORTH ANDOVER — Alex Jefferies picked up the game-winning goal just 1:13 into the final frame and Hugo Ollas turned aside 29 shots as the Merrimack College Warriors topped Vermont 3-2 on Friday night in North Andover.
It was the second meeting in five days and the first of a weekend series between Merrimack and Vermont at Lawler Rink in North Andover.
“It was a hard fought game, I thought we had some things go against us in the first period but our guys stuck with it.” said Merrimack coach Scott Borek following his team’s victory.
The Catamounts would open the scoring to begin the game for the second time in as many games between these two teams.
Ray Vitolins found the back of the net behind Ollas after a turnover in the Warrior defensive end at 11:55 of the first period and the Warriors were chasing the game early in this one.
It took just 2:26 for the Warriors to answer the UVM tally and tie the game at 1-1. With the extra attacker on the ice for Merrimack on a delayed call to Vermont, Ben Brar (10) got a piece of a shot from the point by Zach Vinnell that beat the Catamount netminder Gabe Cariere at 14:29.
The deadlock lasted a total of six seconds as Vermont had a rapid response to reclaim the lead at 2-1. Right off the ensuing faceoff following the goal by Brar, Jacques Bouquot found a loose puck, split a pair of defenders, and beat Ollas along the ice on the blocker side.
“We should’ve known going into the game, as the game up there was really hard. But I think we just kept our lid on, we were down 1-0 at Vermont, so just keep playing.” was the message from the Warriors’ bench boss in the first after a sluggish start.
The first-period scoring fest wasn’t over, and this one went in the favor of Merrimack once again as the power-play streak carries on.
Liam Walsh got a second chance opportunity after a fanned attempt on his original shot, was able to scoop up the loose puck, and quickly fired it home under the crossbar to tie the game at 2-2 with 38.7 left in the opening frame.
The power play for Merrimack went 1 for 4 on the night, but the Walsh goal (8) in the first pushed the game streak with a power-play goal for the Warriors to 12 consecutive games.
The two teams would go scoreless in the middle frame, where Vermont would double the Warriors in shots on goal by a 10-5 margin, and we headed to the third still locked at two apiece.
It took all of 1:13 into the third before the Warriors went on top for good. A great hustle play by Alex Jefferies (7) as he turned on the afterburners and beat two Catamount defenders to a trickling puck and wristed one over the glove hand of Carriere to give Merrimack its first lead of the night.
Ollas came up huge in the final 20 as he stopped all 10 UVM chances that came his way in the period, and following the Bouqout goal in the first period, would stop the final 25 shots he faced in this one.
“Obviously Hugo Ollas was a big help. He was really calm in the net and he worked hard and he made every save he should make.” said Borek on his goaltender.
Ollas, with the win, improves to 9-4 on the season and now has back-to-back wins over Vermont surrendering just 3 goals on 52 shots.
These two teams will wrap up their three-game season series on Saturday night again at Lawler Rink with puck drop set for 7:00 p.m.
Merrimack moved up to third in the Hockey East standings with the victory. The Warriors also moved up to No. 17 in the Pairwise.
You can follow Ian Beauchesne on Twitter @IanBeau
Merrimack 3, Vermont 2 at Lawler Arena Vermont (6-20-2): 2-0-0--2 Merrimack (16-12-1): 2-0-1--3 First Period: 1. UVM Ray Vitolins 2 (unassisted), ev, 11:55; 2. MC Ben Brar 10 (Zach Vinnell, Jake Durflinger), ea, 14:29; 3. UVM Jacques Bouquot 5 (unassited), sh, 14:35; 4. MC Liam Walsh 8 (Zach Uens, Declan Carlile), pp, 19:22. Second Period: None. Third Period: 5. MC Alex Jefferies 7 (Max Newton, Declan Carlile), ev, 1:13. Shots: Merrimack 10-5-9--24; Vermont 11-10-10--31 Saves: MC Ollas (59:38) 29/31; UVM Carrier (58:05) 21/24 Penalties: Merrimack 3-6:00; Vermont 6-12:00 Power Play: Merrimack 1 for 4; Vermont 0 for 1 Attendance: 1,873