DURHAM, N.H. — The Merrimack men’s hockey team is living in the moment. The way the Warriors have played since January, a lot of those moments are adding up to a potentially historic season.
The Warriors won their 18th game of the year last night, 4-1, over New Hampshire at the Whittemore Center. The win tied this year's team with the 2011-12 team for the second-most wins in the Division I/Hockey East era of the program, which dates back to 1988.
“I haven’t thought about that and I don’t think the players have either,” said Merrimack head coach Scott Borek. “We’re in the moment right now. Hockey East is so tight, anything can happen. You can go from second place to eighth place in a night. We’re playing the games as they come. I think it’s helped that we have some maturity. We didn’t have that a year ago.”
The Warriors have been finding ways to win for two months. Dating back to Jan. 3, Merrimack is now 12-3-1 in their last 16 games. They’re top-20 in the Pairwise and moved into a second-place tie with Northeastern in the Hockey East standings with one weekend to go. The highest the program has ever finished in the Hockey East standings was fourth (2011). The Warriors will play a home-and-home series with Northeastern next weekend.
Merrimack has won four straight, coming from behind in each game after allowing the first goal of the game.
“It’s maturity,” said Borek. “It’s leadership, and not just from the guys wearing the letters. We had grad transfers come in and they’re older and more mature. Then we have the guys who have been here for a few years, and they earned the right to be in these games. I couldn’t be more proud of them and the way they put themselves forward this year. I give our juniors a lot of credit.”
The Warriors trailed 1-0 before scoring four unanswered goals and led 4-1 early in the third period. One of those goals was a power-play goal from Ben Brar, which extended Merrimack’s streak to 14 straight games with at least one power-play goal.
Liam Walsh held the puck behind the net and Brar swooped in from the corner. Walsh and Brar came around opposite posts at the same time, and UNH wasn’t aware of which player had the puck. It was Brar, and he tucked it around the post.
“We have practiced that play,” Borek said. “The credit goes to one of my assistants. He practiced it. If I knew we were running it, I think I would have questioned it, but once it went in, it was a great play. That unit is finding ways to score.”
UNH scored twice in a five-minute span late in the third period — including a shorthanded goal — to give the Warriors a scare but Merrimack was able to close out the victory in the final minute as UNH had the goalie pulled for an extra attacker.
Merrimack blocked three shots in the final 1:05 and goaltender Zachary Borgiel came up with a huge glove stop with 18.9 seconds left.
“I would have liked to have an empty-net goal so I could have breathed in the final minute rather than holding my breath,” Borek joked, “but we did a good job there. (UNH) moved the puck well. We just wanted to stay in lanes.”
Added UNH head coach Mike Souza, “Merrimack is a good team. I’ve said it all year. When you’re a good team you find ways to win. They have guys selling out blocking shots, it didn’t matter who it was. They had big saves from their goalie when they needed them. They deserved to win.”
GAME NOTES: The Warriors now have seven players who have scored at least 20 points, which is the most since the 2010-11 team (that team had nine). Zach Uens (17) and Zach Vinnell (16) both have a chance to hit the 20-point plateau as well. … Merrimack outshot UNH 18-14 over the final two periods after being outshot 14-9 in the first period.
NEXT: The Warriors will travel to Northeastern on Friday to begin a home-and-home series with the Huskies. Next weekend’s series will conclude the regular season.
Ed. Note — Portions of this story will appear in Sunday’s edition of The Eagle Tribune
Merrimack 4, New Hampshire 3 at Whittemore Center Merrimack (18-12-1): 1-1-2--4 New Hampshire (14-16-1): 1-0-2--3 First Period: 1. UNH Colton Huard 6 (Robert Cronin, Jackson Pierson), ev, 11:05; 2. MC Filip Forsmark 10 (Liam Walsh), ev, 19:27. Second Period: 3. MC Christian Felton 2 (Alex Jefferies, Declan Carlile), ev, 6:52. Third Period: 4. MC Ben Brar 11 (Liam Walsh), pp, 2:59; 5. MC Liam Walsh 9 (Ben Brar, Zach Uens), ev, 4:13; 6. UNH Jackson Pierson 12 (Ryan Verrier), sh, 12:15; 7. UNH Robert Cronin 6 (unassisted), ev, 17:46. Shots: Merrimack 9-10-8--27; UNH 14-6-8--28 Saves: MC Borgiel (60:00) 25/28; UNH Robinson () 23/27 Penalties: Merrimack 3-6:00; UNH 5-10:00 Power Play: Merrimack 1 for 4; UNH 0 for 2 Attendance: 5,348