NORTH ANDOVER — Last season’s playoff run for the Merrimack men’s hockey team ended without the Warriors getting a chance to even step on the ice. Just 24 hours before the Warriors were supposed to open last year’s playoffs (ironically, also against Maine), they were removed from the tournament due to COVID protocol.
This season, the Warriors want to make the most of their chance.
Seeded sixth in the Hockey East tournament after finishing the regular season in a fourth-place tie with UConn and Boston University, the Warriors toppled Maine 6-2 last night at Lawler Arena and advanced to take on UMass Lowell in the quarterfinals on Saturday at the Tsongas Center.
“I didn’t speak to the players (about last year) but I thought about it for sure,” said Merrimack coach Scott Borek. “Last year we only had one guy (test positive) and they took us out of the playoffs, but it was a different time. Now, to get to play this game in front of our home crowd, in a full house, it was great. The atmosphere was great. What a great commercial tonight was for Merrimack College.”
The Warriors had a 1-0 lead at the end of the first period thanks to a goal from Steven Jandric, but Merrimack had only generated six shots on goal and Borek thought that the Warriors needed a spark.
“We were playing too fine with the puck,” he said. “We kept trying to get a better chance. We were making the extra pass way too much in the offensive zone early in the game. It took some chances away from us. In the second period we played more north and played downhill. We just wanted to attack the net and we did that.”
Mac Welsher’s line, with Matt Copponi and Ben Brar, helped get the Warriors started.
FIlip Forsmark and freshman Copponi gave the Warriors a 3-1 lead early in the second period. Lynden Breen made it a two-goal game late in the second but Max Newton and Liam Walsh blew the game open in the third period.
“The (Mick) Messner line and the Mac Welsher line were terrific,” Borek said. “They played 200 feet and they played hard on the defensive side of the puck. They played really hard. Our top-two lines were good, but they played with a little bit of high risk, which is why those lines were the ones that got scored on. Those guys will come back on Saturday, I know it. But I really liked what Messner’s line did and what Welsher’s line did. We need to continue to see more of that.”
Merrimack goaltender Hugo Ollas started his first collegiate playoff game and made 26 saves. Last night marked the fifth game in a row where Ollas has allowed two goals or less, which he has done in 10 out of 11 games. The Warriors are 10-5 in games Ollas has started this season.
“He was really solid,” Borek said. “He was calm, and he played the puck really well. He was so calm it allowed our team to be calm. Hugo is as good as there is when he plays that way. Hugo and Zach (Borgiel) do that very well for us. Hugo did a nice job tonight of staying settled.”
Another matchup with Lowell
The Warriors swept UMass Lowell back in January. The Warriors have also won the last two playoff meetings between the teams, which were both in overtime of the 2018 Hockey East first round.
“It’s going to be hard,” Borek said. “They’re playing well. They’re going to make it hard because they’re physical. (Owen) Savory is a big-time goalie. It’s going to be a battle. They didn’t have to play today, so they’ll come out aggressive. We have to manage the next two days and they’ll be practicing through the next two days. That’s the advantage they have with the bye. But I know we’re excited for the opportunity.”
GAME NOTES: The Warriors won their 19th game of the season last night, which is the second-most of any team in the modern era of the program. The 2011-12 team won 18 games and was ironically eliminated from the Hockey East postseason by Maine. The 2010-11 team has the program record with 25 wins. This year’s team will be only the third team in the modern era that finished with a winning record. … Last night’s win over Maine was Merrimack’s first home playoff win since 2017 over New Hampshire. The last time the Warriors won a playoff game was in 2018 on the road at UMass Lowell. … Saturday’s quarterfinal matchup between Merrimack and Lowell will start at 4:30 p.m.
Merrimack 6, Maine 2 at Lawler Arena Maine (7-22-4): 0-1-1--2 Merrimack (19-14-1): 1-2-3--6 First Period: 1. MC Steven Jandric 8 (Alex Jefferies, Max Newton) Second Period: 2. MC Filip Forsmark 11 (Liam Walsh), ev, 0:34; 3. MC Matt Copponi 3 (Mac Welsher, Zach Uens), ev, 4:07; 4. ME Lynden Breen 9 (Donovan Villeneuve-Houle), ev, 13:49. Third Period: 5. MC Max Newton 13 (Mike Brown, Steven Jandric), ev, 3:45; 6. MC Liam Walsh 10 (Filip Forsmark, Matt Copponi), ev, 11:05; 7. MC Max Newton 14 (Filip Forsmark), en, 17:02; 8. ME Matthew Fawcett 5 (Jack Quinlivan, John Mulera), ev, 17:37. Shots: Merrimack 6-11-8--25; Maine 4-9-15--28 Saves: MC Ollas (59:41) 4-8-14--26; ME Thiessen (59:30) 5-9-5--19 Penalties: Merrimack 1-2:00; Maine 2-4:00 Power Play: Merrimack 1 for 2; Maine 0 for 1 Attendance: 2,549