By Mike McMahon firstname.lastname@example.org
---- — BOSTON — Merrimack College defensemen are among the most fearless in the league, regularly dropping down to the ice to block rapidly approaching shots.
Last night was no different — the Warriors blocked a whopping 23 of Northeastern’s 48 shot attempts — only this defensive unit got offensive in the process.
Even including the empty-netter in the waning seconds, defensemen accounted for all five of the Warriors’ goals last night in a 5-2 win at Matthews Arena in Boston.
The Warriors improved to 3-3-1 on the season, bouncing back from a 3-2 loss in this very building last month.
Junior defensemen Brendan Ellis and Jordan Heywood (2 goals) each found the net while senior Kyle Bigos and Dan Kolomatis tacked on third-period goals.
Kolomatis netted an empty netter from behind his own goal line with 1:14 remaining, sending the puck the entire length (200 feet) of the ice sheet.
Defensemen now represent nearly one third of the team’s total goals through seven games, scoring seven of the Warriors’ 24 goals so far this season (29.2 percent).
“If you’re going to score, the way the game is played now as defensive as it is, your defensemen have to get into the rush,” Merrimack head coach Mark Dennehy said. “I love defensemen who love the puck. We work on it a lot. That first goal by Jordan (Heywood) was great. He worked his tail off to get there. (Getting offense from the defensemen) is definitely part of what we do.”
Collins heats up
Mike Collins, a junior forward, figured to be a central piece of Merrimack’s offense this season. Suffice to say he hasn’t disappointed. Through seven games, Collins, who was Hockey East Player of the Week last week, leads the team in scoring with 10 points (4 goals, 6 assists). Including his three helpers in last night’s win, Collins has eight points (2 goals, 6 assists) in his last three games.
Charging up the power play
Since starting the season 1 for 15 with the man advantage, Merrimack’s power play has shined of late. In the last four games, the Warriors are 7 for 20 including 2 for 6 last night. The Warriors have now potted a power-play goal in each of their last four games.
”At the start of the year, guys are getting used to each other,” said junior defenseman Brendan Ellis, who works the point on one of Merrimack’s power-play units. “We’ve been working on it a ton, and that helps. With more reps the younger guys are getting to see how things work. We’re moving the puck quicker, and then sometimes you just get lucky, too.”
Last night, the Warriors had two freshmen — Brian Christie and Justin Hussar — logging significant minutes on the power play.
The Big(os) man returns
The return of Kyle Bigos on the back end provided a spark in the third period. Bigos, who has a booming shot and figured to have a central role on the power play, was set up by Mike Collins in the third period. He delivered a thunderous one-timer that beat Northeastern goaltender Bryan Mountain.
”A lot of it is good work by the guys in front,” said Bigos, who injured his knee in the first game of the season. “They worked the puck out on a cycle and then there were a lot of screens in front and those are things that don’t show up on the scoresheet.”
No stranger to the sin bin — Bigos is now just 41 penalty minutes away from setting Merrimack’s career record — he was assessed 14 penalty minutes in the first period. He had a pair of minors (roughing and interference) to go along with a 10-minute misconduct later in the period.
“Bigs is a presence out there and we missed him,” Dennehy said. “It’s good to get him back. He needs to play a little smarter, and he knows that, but he gives you everything he’s got and he’s done that from day one with us.”
The Warriors host the Huskies tonight at 7:30 p.m. as the teams wrap up their season series.
Merrimack 5, Northeastern 2
at Matthews Arena
Merrimack (3-3-1): 2-0-3–5
Northeastern (2-3-1): 1-0-1–2
First Period: 1. MC Jordan Heywood 2 (Connor Toomey, Mike Collins), ev, 8:41; 2. NU Ludwig Karlsson 1 (Colton Saucermann, Kevin Roy), ppg, 17:54; 3. MC Jordan Heywood 3 (Brendan Ellis, Mike Collins), ev, 19:21.
Third Period: 4. MC Kyle Bigos 1 (Mike Collins, Connor Toomey), ppg, 1:22; 5. MC Brendan Ellis 1 (John Heffernan, Brian Christie), ppg, 10:15.
Shots: Merrimack 12-6-14–32; Northeastern 9-9-7–25
Saves: MC Marotta 8-9-6–23; NU Mountain 10-6-11–27
Power Play: Merrimack 2 for 6; Northeastern 1 for 7
Penalties: Merrimack 9-26; Northeastern 8-27
Faceoffs: 46-36 Merrimack