By Mike McMahon
NORTH ANDOVER — The opening five minutes of the second period saw Merrimack College unravel in a 6-1 loss to Providence College last night at Lawler Arena, marking the Warriors' worst home loss since a Jan. 2007 defeat to Boston College by the same score.
It's also the first time No. 1 Merrimack was swept in a home-and-home Hockey East series since a Feb. 2009 series against UNH after the Friars upset Merrimack, 2-1, at Schneider Arena on Friday night.
Merrimack's undoing started after Jordan Heywood was ejected on a questionable contact to the head penalty just 45 seconds into the second period.
With Heywood, one the Warriors' best penalty killers, gone and Ryan Flanigan, another regular on the Merrimack penalty kill, in the box for a 10 minute misconduct Providence went on to strike three times in a 4:05 span on that power play and never looked back.
"I feel bad for the players on both teams," Merrimack head coach Mark Dennehy said, alluding to the officiating. "There were three teams out there tonight, one good one and two bad ones."
After a relatively even first period — the game was scoreless and shots were 11-9 Providence — the Friars outshot Merrimack 20-5 in the second period, spending 7:08 of the 20 minutes on the power play.
"I don't know what happened in the second and the third," Dennehy said. "I don't know why teams do that, just decide they're going to take penalties. ... It's too bad, I really feel for the players, I know how hard both teams trained for this.
"My biggest struggle is I feel for guys on our bench. They're working hard and not getting rewarded. This is a full-time job for these student athletes. This is a full-time job for these coaching staffs."
After Flanigan's misconduct, which was the result of a scrum in front of the Providence bench as time expired in the first, he immediately returned to the locker room and did not play the rest of the game. Dennehy said postgame that his senior forward was not injured.
"No, that was my call," he said.
Providence created a lot of traffic in front of Merrimack goaltender Joe Cannata the entire weekend, including on the three power-play strikes early in the second.
"(Cannata) is a terrific goalie," Providence head coach Nate Leaman said, "if he sees it, he's going to stop it."
Dennehy wasn't happy with the amount of punishment his senior netminder took.
"I'm not sure of the goaltender rule," Dennehy said. "To this day I don't understand it. If he comes out of the net you can't hit him but you can knock into a goalie as much as you want if he's in his crease? I just don't understand it. Listen, they're good athletes and it's getting harder and harder to score goals but the goalie should have a right to his crease and I felt like both nights, out potential Hobey Baker candidate was knocked around. And unfortunately, this isn't the NHL, so we don't go Lucic against whoever they have."
The Warriors have an unusually quick turn around, hosting Vermont on Wednesday night at Lawler Arena.
"That's the best part," Dennehy said. "We don't have to wait another week. Our guys were chomping at the bit. They wanted to keep playing and I'm not sure that was the case on (Friday)."
Providence 6, Merrimack 1
Providence College (7-6-1): 0-4-2—6
Merrimack College (9-1-1): 0-0-1—1
First Period: None.
Second Period: 1. PC Drew Brown 3 (Matt Bergland, Tim Schaller), PP, 1:05; 2. PC Drew Brown 2 (Tim Schaller, Matt Bergland), PP, 4:32; 3. PC Tim Schaller 9 (Daniel New, Ross Mauermann), PP, 5:10; 4. PC Myles Harvey 6 (Kevin Hart, Derek Army), PP, 18:49.
Third Period: 5. MC Connor Toomey 4 (Mike Collins, Karl Stollery), EN, 3:10; 6. PC Chris Rooney 2 (Alex Velischek, Matt Montesano), EV, 12:09; 7. PC Matt Bergland 2 (Tim Schaller, Drew Brown), PP, 14:59.
Shots: Merrimack 9-5-10—24; Providence 11-20-12—43
Goalies: MC Cannata (8-2-1) 42 shots, 36 saves, Marotta 1 shot, 1 save; PC Beaudry (7-7-1) 24 shots, 23 saves.
Penalties: Merrimack 17-72; Providence 8-16
Faceoffs: 37-29 Providence
Power Play: Merrimack 0 for 5 (3 shots); Providence 5 for 13 (20 shots)
Attendance: 2,489 (sellout)
Time: 2:11 Next: Hosts Vermont Wednesday, 7 p.m.