By Mike McMahon
---- — NORTH ANDOVER – Despite outshooting UMass 41-18, Merrimack College needed to climb back from a second-period deficit to beat the Minutemen, 4-2, yesterday at Lawler Arena.
The Warriors will now face Boston College on Friday here at Lawler Arena. Merrimack sits a point back of Boston College for first place in Hockey East, meaning Friday’s game will be a showdown for first place in the league.
New Hampshire is tied with Merrimack with 24 points in second place. The Wildcats play Providence on Wednesday, but Merrimack owns the tiebreaker by virtue of winning the regular-season series.
The Warriors dominated the first 20 minutes, outshooting Massachusetts 18-3 and out-attempting 35-7. But, they had just a single goal to show for it – off the stick of Justin Mansfield – and Branden Gracel tied the score with 13.2 seconds left on a shorthanded goal.
“Having lived through it, that (shorthanded goal) did nothing to our confidence,” Merrimack head coach Mark Dennehy said. “We handled that letdown by looking at the positives in that period and moving on.”
The Minutemen took a 2-1 lead in the second period when Eddie Olczyk’s wrister beat Sam Marotta (16 saves), but Merrimack sophomore Quinn Gould tied the score 29 seconds later on a quick wrist shot after a cross-ice pass from Mike Collins.
The Warriors won the game in the third, after Shawn Bates sent a puck up ice and the speedy Josh Myers was able to squeeze in behind UMass defenseman Darren Rowe before sneaking a wrister over the glove of Kevin Boyle (37 saves).
“Great pass by Shawn,” Myers said. “Didn’t expect for it to hit my stick. It was a great pass, right on my stick. Clayton (Jardine) was with me on a 2-on-1 and he was a little behind and I just came in, slowed down at the last second and put it by him.”
For Myers, it was his fifth goal of the season and first since Dec. 1, when he scored at Providence, which was also a game-winning tally.
Myers has been playing alongside Bates and Clayton Jardine, forming one of the faster units on the team.
“We’ve really worked a lot in practice the last few weeks (as a line),” Myers said. “It’s good now that we’re clicking to not have to just rely on one line to score goals and hopefully we can keep that up down the stretch run. For us, it’s about getting pucks behind the defense and working down low, that’s where our game is right now. Clayton and Shawn, we’ve all been doing great with that.”
Getting on the grind
The Warriors were relentless on the forecheck and were able to sustain long possessions in the offensive zone, cycling the puck and tiring out UMass defenders.
“We got on the forecheck well,” Dennehy said. “We wanted to let the puck do the work, advance the puck. We got odd-man chances and when we got it deep we put pressure on them on the grind. ... If you’re doing it well you can cycle. If you can do that for 35 seconds, now when the opponent gets the puck, they’re thinking about getting it down ice and changing.”
He continued, “I loved the Celtics in the 80’s, and we’re definitely a half-court team. We’re not the Lakers. We don’t have (James) Worthy flying down the middle. We’re like Rick Robey. Mikey Collins would make a nice Larry Bird, though. But that’s how we want to play. We want to play a half-court, puck possession game.”
Merrimack 4, Massachusetts 2
at Lawler Arena
Massachusetts (10-13-2, 7-10-1 HE): 1-1-0–2
Merrimack (13-10-1, 11-6-2 HE): 1-1-2–4
First Period: 1. MC Justin Mansfield 3 (Shawn Bates, Dan Kolomatis), ev, 16:35; 2. UM Branden Gracel (Michael Pereira), sh, 19:46.
Second Period: 3. UM Eddie Olczyk 2 (Zack LaRue), ev, 7:26; 4. MC Quinn Gould 5 (Mike Collins, Brian Christie), ev, 8:15.
Third Period: 5. Josh Myers 5 (Shawn Bates), ev, 14:13; 6. MC Mike Collins 15 (Jordan Heywood, Rhett Bly).
Shots: Merrimack 18-10-13–41 ; UMass 3-5-10–18
Save: MC Marotta 18 shots, 16 saves; UM Boyle 40 shots, 37 saves
Power Play: Merrimack 0 for 6; UMass 0 for 3
Penalties: Merrimack 3-6; UMass 8-27
Faceoffs: Merrimack 40-30
Attendance: 2,197 (2,489)
Next: Hosts Boston College Friday, 7