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Reuniting with Copponi, Alex Jefferies scores a hat trick for Merrimack in a win over UConn
STORRS, Conn. — Alex Jefferies and Matt Copponi are reunited.
Jefferies made his season debut last week after missing the first five games with an injury. He returned as a center but was moved to Copponi's line as the left wing on Friday. Jefferies spent most of his time on Copponi's wing last season, where he played alongside graduated winger Ottoville Leppanen.
Michael Citara took Leppanen's spot, and the line looked as lethal as ever.
Jefferies recorded a hat trick, and Copponi had two assists in Merrimack's 6-3 win over UConn on Friday night at Toscano Family Ice Forum.
"Playing with Matty again, we had such good chemistry last season," Jefferies said. "That familiarity helped me a lot coming back from injury. Last week, playing a new position it was a tough first couple of games. So it's good to be back with Matty and Citara, I thought we played well. It just allows me to not have to focus so much on my own end and it allows me to be a little more free offensively."
Merrimack head coach Scott Borek liked what he saw.
"I thought we struggled offensively last week against Maine," he said. "Alex and Matty were great together last year, and this gave Alex the chance to get outside and just play. As a center, he was less effective offensively because of the responisibilities that requires in our own end. He was a lot more effective tonight."
Jefferies led all skaters in the game with a whopping 11 shots on goal. Since his return, he has five goals in just three games. That's more than anyone on the team, and he's played in five fewer games.
"I feel good now," he said. "I'm still getting back into things. But there's no pain or anything like that, which is great. I'm just getting back into things as far as game speed. It's totally different than when you're just practicing, but I think I'm starting to get some of my explosiveness back."
If this is Jefferies at less than 100 percent, what is he going to look like when that explosiveness returns?
Jefferies was drafted by the New York Islanders in the 2020 NHL Draft. He opted to return to Merrimack last offseason despite a chance to sign with the Islanders. He was a finalist for Hockey East Player of the Year last season and could be on his way to that distinction again.
The craziest part about Jefferies' performance on Friday may have been that one of his best plays of the game didn't result in him even recording a point.
Late in the second period, the Warriors were on a power play. Jefferies was pressured by a UConn defender but protected the puck with his body and was able to slide it to Zach Bookman. Instead of the Huskies getting a clear, which would have ended the period with the game tied 3-3, Bookman got the puck to Filip Forsmark, who scored a power-play goal with 1.9 seconds left on the clock and the Warriors entered the third period with the lead.
It was the play of the game and completely shifted the momentum to the Warriors.
"I think it went through their guy's triangle (the space between his stick and his feet)," Jefferies said. "I knew there wasn't a lot of time left, so I wanted to make a play and just try to draw them to me. I protected the puck and Bookie made a great play walking down the wall, and then Fil made an incredible play to get the puck off and bury it."
Merrimack and UConn will finish the home-and-home series on Saturday at Lawler Arena.
GAME NOTES: Bookman had a five-point night (1g-4a) ... Mac Welsher was Merrimack's best faceoff performance (10-5). ... Merrimack was not assessed a penalty. It was the first time the Warriors played a penalty-free game since a playoff game on March 10, 2018 against Boston College. ... Mark Gallant scored his first goal as a Warrior in the third period.
Merrimack 6, UConn 3 at Toscano Forum Merrimack (4-3-0-1): 1-3-2--6 Connecticut (4-6-1-0): 2-1-0--3 First Period: 1. MC Alex Jefferies 3 (Mark Hillier, Zach Bookman), ev, 4:12; 2. UC Matthew Wood 6 (Chase Bradley, Andrew Lucas), ev, 10:05; 3. UC Hudson Schandor 1 (unassisted), ev, 16:41. Second Period: 4. MC Zach Bookman 2 (Matt Copponi, Alex Jefferies), ev, 10:30; 5. MC Alex Jefferies 4 (Zach Bookman, Matt Copponi), ev, 12:30; 6. UC Andrew Lucas 3 (unassisted), ev, 15:58; 7. MC Filip Forsmark 1 (Zach Bookman, Alex Jefferies), pp, 19:59. Third Period: 8. MC Alex Jefferies 5 (Matt Copponi, Zach Bookman), pp, 16:19; 9. MC Mark Gallant 1 (Ethan Bono), ev, 19:29. Shots: MC 4-8-12--24; UC 9-14-6--29 Saves: MC Ollas (60:00) 26/29; UC Sergeev (40:00) 8/12; UC Haider (20:00) 10/12 Power Play: MC 2 for 8; UC 0 for 0 Penalties MC 0 for 0:00; UC 8 for 27:00 Attendance: 2,630