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Merrimack sprints past UNH on opening night at Lawler
NORTH ANDOVER — On a night when Merrimack and UNH honored Merrimack assistant coach (and former UNH captain) Josh Ciocco, the Warriors played like Ciocco’s UNH teams of 15 years ago.
The Warriors attacked with speed in transition, often with numbers heading over the offensive blue line, and their offense exploded in a 6-1 win over the Wildcats at Lawler Arena.
“I was really nervous about the game becoming a track meet because they’re very good at playing that track meet game,” said Merrimack coach Scott Borek, a former UNH assistant who recruited Ciocco to the Wildcats program. “We played really well at the start of the game and we had a couple of fortunate pucks go in the net. It didn’t feel like a 6-1 hockey game.”
Both Merrimack and UNH wore “Ciocco” on the back of their jerseys during the game, in honor of the Merrimack assistant coach, who died suddenly two weeks ago. Even the on-ice officials exchange their regular nameplates for Ciocco’s.
“The pregame, the crowd, it was really nice and it was a tribute to Josh,” Borek said. “We had a lot of UNH people here as well.”
Merrimack sophomore Matt Copponi put the Warriors ahead 1-0 early in the first period. He stepped up in the defensive zone and blocked a shot from Nico Devita with his shin pads. The puck flew into the neutral zone and Copponi raced to it to score on a breakaway; it was his second goal of the season.
Copponi, 19, is in his last season of NHL Draft eligibility. At least two NHL teams had scouts at last night’s game.
“Alex (Jefferies) is a special player,” he said. “You don’t really find a lot of players like him. He can shoot, he can move, and he can fly. He’ll get you the puck in areas that not many other guys can. Otto has been a great addition for us because he can put the puck in the net.
“We know our identity. It’s going to be chipping pucks and then attacking those pucks with speed. You can’t get the puck unless you beat them to the puck. We will be the hardest-working team.”
Next up was Alex Jefferies, who scored the first of his two goals on the night. On both of Jefferies’ goals, all three Merrimack forwards touched the puck on a rush. Both goals were assisted by Ottoville Leppanen and Copponi, who had three points on the night.
"It's a hard play, but we were attacking with speed," Copponi said.
“They all compete like animals,” Borek added. “They have really good chemistry. It’s special to watch it develop so quickly. The development of that line has been a huge benefit for our team. We have confidence in all four lines that we can score at any time, but right now that line has a chance every shift. They’re explosive.”
Will Calverley’s first goal as a Warrior chased UNH freshman goaltender Tyler Muszelik in the second period.
UNH forward Liam Devlin continued his torrid early-season start with a goal with his fourth goal in four games to break the shutout for Hugo Ollas (30 saves). Minutes later, Merrimack’s new captain, Ben Brar, scored his first goal of the season to give the Warriors a 6-1 lead.
The Warriors improved to 2-1-0 on the season and will face Colgate for two games this weekend at Lawler Arena. Puck drop on Friday and Saturday is set for 7 p.m.
New look power play for the Warriors
Both of Merrimack’s power-play units featured four forwards for most of the game. Will Calverley and Mark Hillier were the forwards who operated at the point on both units. Zach Bookman and Adam Arvedson were the lone defensemen on their units.
“We don’t have a lot of guys who are naturals on the point,” Borek said. “Bookie is a natural and Adam is pretty close. We have a backup for each guy who can go out if we think we need them to, and Slava Demin actually made a really nice play later in the game on the power play. Right now, I just think we’re more explosive with four forwards.
“I think (Hillier) has played the point before he got here. Will has not, he has been a goal-line guy, but he’s smart and he makes good decisions and that’s what you want back there.”
Ed. Note — Portions of this story will be featured in Wednesday’s Eagle Tribune
Merrimack 6, UNH 1 at Lawler Arena New Hampshire (2-2-0) 0-0-1--1 Merrimack (2-1-0): 3-2-1--6 First Period: 1. MC Matt Copponi 2 (unassisted), ev, 7:33; 2. MC Alex Jefferies 1 (Otto Leppanen, Matt Copponi), ev, 10:50; 3. MC Tristan Crozier 2 (Mac Welsher, Mike Brown), ev, 12:16. Second Period: 4. MC Alex Jefferies 2 (Otto Leppanen, Matt Copponi), ev, 3:11; 5. MC Will Calverley 1 (Mark Hillier, Filip Karlsson-Tagtstrom), ev, 4:17. Third Period: 6. UNH Liam Devlin 4 (Robert Cronin, Chase Stevenson), ev, 4:32; 7. MC Ben Brar 1 (Ryan Leibold, Christian Felton), ev, 9:14. Shots: MC 7-15-9--31; UNH 6-11-14--31 Saves: MC Ollas (69:42) 6-11-13--30; UNH Muszelick (24:17) 4-1-x--5; Fessenden (35:40) x-12-8--20 Power Play: MC 0 for 2; UNH 0 for 2 Penalties: MC 2-4; UNH 2-4 Attendance: 2,814 (2,549)