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Merrimack's back end came to the forefront in win over Northeastern
Warriors get two goals from defensemen and Borgiel made 30 saves
BOSTON — On a night where Merrimack was missing three of its top-six forwards, the back end provided enough offense as the Warriors went on the road and beat Northeastern 4-1 at Matthews Arena.
Defensemen Zach Bookman and Liam Dennison scored their first goals of the season, which gave the Warriors a 2-0 lead and plenty of breathing room against a Northeastern team that's also limping through some injuries.
Michael Citara scored two goals in the third period to ice it.
"We had a lot of new faces in the lineup," said Merrimack coach Scott Borek. "Our team played like a team. (Northeastern) is a good team, they put a lot of pressure on us, but we didn't break."
Merrimack was without Alex Jefferies, Chase Stevenson, and Tyler Young. Jefferies, a finalist for Hockey East Player of the Year last season, hasn't appeared in a game yet due to a lower-body injury. Stevenson and Young were hurt in last Sunday's win over St. Lawrence.
Bookman's goal was no surprise. He's become known for his playmaking ability from the blue line. Dennison's goal was just the third of his career, and it came in his 100th game as a Warrior.
"When you throw pucks on net, stuff can happen," Borek said. "They blocked a shot right before that. There was a lot of traffic in front and Denny put it in the right spot. He was on the ice a lot, it would be hard for him not to score. He played a lot of minutes for us tonight, and it was good to see him rewarded."
The Warriors are finding ways to win. That's what good teams do, right?
Through five games, the Warriors have just one loss in regulation (3-1-1). On top of the forwards missing from the lineup, Merrimack's two best shutdown defensemen -- Mike Brown and Ivan Zivlak -- are also on the shelf.
Not only were Merrimack's defensemen chipping in offensively, they were stout in their own end as well. Merrimack blocked 25 shots in the game. Christian Felton led the team with four blocks. Max Wattvil blocked three shots. Frank Djurasevic had an assist on Bookman's goal, and Trevor Griebel blocked a shot and laid a heavy hit on Matt Choupani in the first period, which set the tone for the game.
Every defenseman contributed.
"Northeastern is so good laterally that we didn't want to chase the puck," Borek said. "We wanted to hold lanes. We spent a lot more time in our zone because of it, but I didn't mind that. I thought we were able to play well enough there to get through those stretches."
Shot blocking has become a staple of this Merrimack group. The bench exploded with each one.
Zachary Borgiel (29 saves) appreciated the help.
"One of our goals was to block 20 shots," he said. "I think we had that done after two periods. We knew they liked to spread the puck around the offensive zone so we tried to pack it in and get pucks away from net. Our guys did a great job."
Snapping the streak
Merrimack's win over Northeastern snapped a nine-game winless streak against the Huskies, dating back to Jan. 5, 2019.
"It's the first time we've beaten this time since I've been here," Borgiel said. ... He's a senior.
The last Merrimack win over Northeastern featured a 42-save shutout from Craig Pantano, who later went on to play for the Huskies after he transferred the following season.
Borgiel didn't quite get the shutout, but he was close. Northeastern didn't score its goal until midway through the third period.
Through three starts, Borgiel's goals-against average is less than one (0.99), and he has a .961 save percentage. He's No. 1 in the country in both categories (among goalies with at least 3 appearances).
"I worked with Stop It Goaltending the last two summers," he said. "They really helped me simplify my game. They've helped me bring it in and use less athleticism and more positioning, which I'm looking to use more this year."
Merrimack 4, Northeastern 1 at Matthews Arena Merrimack (3-1-1): 1-1-2--4 Northeastern (2-2-0): 0-0-1--1 First Period: 1. MC Zach Bookman 1 (Matt Copponi, Frank Djurasevic), ev, 14:41. Second Period: 2. MC Liam Dennison 1 (Ben Brar, Luke Weilandt), ev, 2:46. Third Period: 3. MC Michael Citara 2 (Mac Welsher), ev, 7:55; 4. NU Brett Edwards 1 (Matt Staudacher, Vinny Borgesi), ev, 10:41; 5. MC Michael Citara 3 (unassisted), eng, 18:18. Shots: MC 12-12-11--35; NU 10-11-9--30 Saves: MC Borgiel (60:00) 29/30; NU Whitehead (59:45) 31/34. Power Play: MC 0 for 0; NU 0 for 2 Penalties: MC 2-4:00; NU 0-0:00 Attendance: 2,132