By Mike McMahon
---- — NORTH ANDOVER — Considering how crazy the Hockey East race has been this season, we should have only expected these final games to finish in an equal frenzy.
UMass, which needed at least a tie to keep its playoff hopes alive, scored three goals in the last 4:01 — all three with its goaltender pulled — to force overtime. But Merrimack, which needed a win to keep its home-ice hopes alive, got an extra-session goal from Connor Toomey to beat the Minutemen, 4-3, at Lawler Arena last night.
“It feels good to keep getting these overtime goals,” said Toomey, who also potted the game-winner against Boston College in overtime three weeks ago. “(Brendan) Ellis had the puck at the point and I just wanted to get to the net. He had a good shot off the pad and it fell right on my stick.”
Getting bodies to the net was a point of emphasis for the Warriors this week. Merrimack head coach Mark Dennehy pointed to Lowell’s ability to get to the net front last week in sweeping the Warriors.
“We were better than we were but I still think we were behind the next too much with our second and third guys,” Dennehy said. “We still had opportunities to plant ourselves in front but I thought it was better for sure. We’ll continue to work on it because it needs to be better, that’s how you score goals.”
Merrimack took a 2-0 lead on goals from Jordan Heywood and John Gustafsson. UMass scored its first extra-attacker goal at the 15:59 mark of the third period before Mike Collins made it 3-1. Conor Sheary and Rocco Carzo both scored in the final 2:37 to tie the score before Toomey’s overtime winner.
“We’ve been having a little trouble scoring lately,” Merrimack freshman winger John Gustafsson said. “Four goals is good for us. We just need to not let in three now so we don’t have to play overtime. But it’s always nice to get that confidence back.”
One scenario to host
There’s only one scenario in play where Merrimack can host a Hockey East quarterfinal series next weekend Tonight, the Warriors need to beat the Minutemen at the Mullins Center. That, combined with losses from New Hampshire (vs. Maine) and Boston University (at Northeastern), and the Warriors would host the Wildcats at Lawler next weekend.
There are six teams still in contention for the final four home-ice berths. The Warriors can still play any of the other five, but can only host UNH.
The only thing decided heading into tonight’s final game of the regular season are the eight teams that will be involved in the Hockey East tournament next week. UMass, by losing to Merrimack last night, was eliminated from playoff contention due to Maine beating UNH. Northeastern was eliminated from playoff contention last weekend.
Merrimack honored seniors Kyle Bigos, Brandon Brodhag, John Heffernan and Andover goalie Nick Drew who were all playing, potentially, their final game at Lawler Arena. ... Every Merrimack forward recorded at least one shot on goal. ... UMass senior forward Eddie Olczyk appeared to injure his right shoulder in the first period and did not return. ... Merrimack goalie Sam Marotta had 37 saves. ... UMass center Branden Gracel took 39 of the game’s 89 faceoffs for the Minutemen.
agateHed:Merrimack 4, UMass 3 (OT)
agateText:at Lawler Arena
agateText:Massachusetts (11-19-3, 8-16-2 HE): 0-0-3--3
Merrimack (15-14-6, 13-10-3 HE): 1-0-2-1--4
agateText:First Period: 1. MC Jordan Heywood 8 (John Heffernan, Shawn Bates), ev, 11:53.
agateText:Third Period: 2. MC John Gustafsson 2 (Quinn Gould, Justin Mansfield), ev, 5:56; 3. UMA Shane Walsh (Rocco Carzo, Zack LaRue), ex, 15:59; 4. MC Mike Collins 16 (Brian Christie, Jordan Heywood), ev, 16:48; 5. UMA Conor Sheary 10 (Branden Gracel), ex, 17:23; 6. UMA Rocco Carso 9 (Darren Rowe, Branden Gracel), ex, 19:19.
agateText:Overtime: 7. MC Connor Toomey 5 (Brendan Ellis, Vinny Scotti), ve, 1:45.
agateText:Shots: Merrimack 19-5-8-4--36; UMass 10-18-12-0--40
Goalies: MC Marotta 40 shots, 37 saves; UMA Mastalerz 36 shots, 32 saves
agateText:Power Play: UMass 2 for 6; Merrimack 0 for 1
agateText:Penalties: Merrimack 7-14; UMass 1-2
agateText:Faceoffs: 49-40 Merrimack
agateText:Attendance: 1,700 (2,489)