Merrimack salvages split with 7-3 win at UConn
STORRS, Conn. — Behind seven goals from seven different players, Merrimack beat UConn 7-3 on Friday night at the XL Center in downtown Hartford to salvage a split in the home-and-home series that began on Tuesday in North Andover.
The Warriors fell behind 1-0 early in the first period when Chase Bradley gave UConn a 1-0 lead. The Warriors would then go on to score three straight goals to take a 3-1 lead and while there was some back-and-forth momentum swings after that, the Warriors never lost the lead.
“I was really happy with the way we responded,” said Merrimack coach Scott Borek. “I didn’t think we played well out of the gate. We got down a goal and I thought we were trying to find our legs. After we scored our first goal, that changed things for us. We got more competitive. That’s a very good win. They’re a good team.”
Matt Copponi scored Merrimack’s first goal of the game on a rebound, following up an Alex Jefferies shot after Copponi left him a drop pass as he entered the zone.
At the start of the second period, Will Calverley found Ryan Leibold in front of the net for Leibold’s third goal of the season. Ben Brar scored about three minutes later which gave the Warriors a 3-1 lead.
Justin Pearson scored for the Huskies which cut the Merrimack lead to 3-2 in the second period.
Later in the second period, UConn thought it was going on the power play, and possibly a 5-on-3, after a pair of borderline hits near the boards. Neither were called penalties on the ice. After the game, UConn coach Mike Cavanaugh said he couldn’t challenge the play for review because the in-house video system for replay was down at the time.
In a twist of fate, the Warriors received a full two-minute 5-on-3 later in the period after Chase Bradley and Matthew Wood were called for boarding on the same play, just seconds apart.
Mark Hillier scored on the 5-on-3 which gave the Warriors a 5-3 lead at the end of the second period.
In the opening minutes of the third period, Merrimack was on the penalty kill. Ryan Tverberg had two chances after a cross-ice pass, but Zachary Borgiel made a diving save, and then stopped the rebound, to preserve a two-goal lead for the Warriors.
“That was the biggest play of the game,” Borek said. “That save completely turned the game. They already had it on the board, and I think so did I, but Zach made an incredible save and we got through the rest of that kill.”
A few minutes later, Zach Bookman scored his third goal of the season to open up Merrimack’s lead to 6-3. Jordan Seyfert tacked on an empty-net goal late in the period.
Bookman’s goal was an impressive individual effort. After receiving a pass at the right point, Bookman curled through the top of the zone and carried the puck to the low left side. There, he beat a defender with a deke and finished the play with a shot from the left circle.
“It wasn’t just the skill but the poise he showed,” Borek said. “It’s one of those plays where, as a coach, I’m on the bench saying, ‘no, no, no, oh great play.’ He has that ability and composure with the puck. That was a backbreaker for them. The goal, but also the way he scored it. That was huge.”
Even after Merrimack scored to make it a 7-3 game late, Leibold and Tristan Crozier both tried to block a shot in the final minute.
“It’s an attitude,” Borek said. “We’re trying to create it. We play a full 60 minutes. We keep our composure which gets us through stressful situations. We play through the hard times. Even when it as 6-3, the message on the bench was to keep going and not back off. Those guys are a major part of our success. We’re in the process of it, but we’re developing a good attitude.”
Alex Jefferies finished the game with three points (1g, 2a) and six shots on goal which extended his point streak to seven games. Over this stretch, Jefferies has 10 points.
“He has great chemistry with Copponi and Leppanen,” Borek said. “He’s also playing 200 feet. All three guys on that line are playing 200 feet. The full-ice game is what has been most important.”
Merrimack jumped to No. 7 in the Pairwise rankings. In Hockey East, the Warriors moved into third place but they have several games in hand. The Warriors currently have the best point percentage in Hockey East.
Merrimack will travel to UMass on Wednesday night.
Ed. Note - Portions of this story will appear in Saturday’s Eagle Tribune
Merrimack 7, UConn 3 at XL Center Merrimack (11-4-0): 1-4-2--7 Connecticut (11-4-3): 1-2-0--3 First Period: 1. UC Chase Bradley 7 (Nick Capone, Harrison Rees), ev, 3:06; 2. MC Matt Copponi 8 (Alex Jefferies), ev, 16:51. Second Period: 3. MC Ryan Leibold 3 (Will Calverley), ev, 5:52; 4. MC Ben Brar 7 (Filip Forsmark), ev, 8:40; 5. UC Justin Pearson 5 (Samu Salminen) ev, 9:02; 6. MC Alex Jefferies 6 (Adam Arvedson, Ottoville Leppanen), pp, 11:40; 7. UC Samu Salminen 3 (Andrew Lucas, Matthew Wood), pp, 13:06; 8. MC Mark Hillier 3 (Alex Jefferies), pp, 17:33. Third Period: 9. MC Zach Bookman 3 (unassisted), ev, 8:05; 10. MC Jordan Seyfert 3 (Mick Messner), ev, 17:39. Shots: Merrimack 9-13-4--26; UConn 11-9-16--36 Saves: MC Borgiel (60:00) 33/36; UC Terness (40:00) 17/22; Sergeev (19:41) 2/3. Power Play: Merrimack 2 for 7; UConn 1 for 5 Penalties: Merrimack 6-12:00; UConn 8-16:00 Attendance 3,846