BOSTON — Sometimes young teams need to learn hard lessons.
Merrimack College head coach Mark Dennehy hopes that last night was one of those moments.
Falling behind three goals in the first eight minutes of the game, the Warriors dropped a 4-2 decision to Northeastern at Matthews Arena in the Hockey East opener for both teams.
The loss comes just four days after the Warriors topped then fifth-ranked Union, 4-1, on the road.
“We weren’t ready to play,” Dennehy said. “I felt like the guy at the top of the Titanic screaming ‘iceberg!’ this week. To quote Bill Gates, which we did, ‘Success is a terrible teacher. It fools smart people into thinking they can’t lose.’ We beat Union, the No. 5 team in the country, and then we didn’t practice well after that. It goes hand in hand, and the sooner our guys understand that the better we’ll be.”
Merrimack’s defensive-zone coverage lacked urgency and organization the first 10 minutes of the game.
Garrett Vermeersch was left alone in the slot and tipped in a slap pass from Colton Saucerman just 53 seconds into the game. Four minutes later, Joseph Manno walked in uncontested and flipped a backhand shot over the shoulder of sophomore goaltender Rasmus Tirronen. Four minutes after that, Kevin Roy was left by himself on the doorstep and was fed a one-timer after Merrimack failed to clear the puck from the zone on the penalty kill.
It was uncharacteristic of a Merrimack team whose foundation is defense.
The Finnish-born Tirronen was starting his first career game after missing all of last season — he was allowed to practice with the team — due to an issue with his NCAA paperwork, which isn’t uncommon for European players.
“He played fine,” Dennehy said. “Of the three he gave up, I’m not sure any were his fault. He was not our problem.”
Instead of deteriorating, Tirronen flourished as the game progressed, not allowing a goal in the final 51 minutes and stopping the last 29 shots that came his way.
“He did a tremendous job,” said junior captain Jordan Heywood. “I’m sure he was pretty nervous, naturally, but he battled back and showed a lot of mental toughness.”
The Warriors are idle for nine days before traveling to Alaska to play Fairbanks and Alaska Anchorage on Oct. 19 and 20.
“Hockey is an honest game, that’s what makes it great,” Dennehy said. “If you don’t put in a full 60 minutes then you get what you deserve. That’s a good lesson for us.”
What you want in a leader: Merrimack captain Jordan Heywood, when asked what he chalked up the lackluster start to, immediately put it on himself, saying, “leadership.”
“We were probably overconfident after Union and we just have to make sure we practice hard every time we step on the ice and stick to our game.”
A junior captain — wearing the lone “C” no less — is rare breed.
Getting to the cage: The Warriors mustered just five shots in the first period (outshot 16-5) before outshooting Northeastern 29-18 in the second and third periods combined.
“There were times when I thought we held onto the puck waiting for something better and the way the game is played today you can’t do that,” Dennehy said. “You wait a half a second and someone is in that shooting lane.”
Northeastern 4, Merrimack 2
Merrimack (1-1-0): 0-2-0–2
Northeastern (1-0-0): 3-0-1–4
First Period: 1. NU Garrett Vermeersch 1 (Colton Saucermann, Vinny Saponari), ev, 0:53; 2. NU Joseph Manno 1 (Kevin Roy, Ryan Belonger), ev, 4:57; 3. NU Kevin Roy 1 (Vinny Saponari, Adam Reid), pp, 8:33.
Second Period: 4. MC Quinn Gould 1 (John Heffernan, Justin Hussar), ev, 4:20; 5. MC Justin Mansfield 1 (Connor Toomey, Josh Myers), pp, 15:08.
Third Period: 6. NU Robbie Vrolyk 1 (unassisted), sh (eng), 19:02
Shots: Merrimack 5-13-16–34; Northeastern 16-8-10–34
Saves: MC Tirronen (0-1-0) 13-8-9--30; NU Rawlings (1-0-0) 5-11-16--32
Power Play: Merrimack 1 for 8 (6 shots, 9:08 total time); Northeastern 1 for 6 (11 shots, 7:23 total time)
Penalties: Merrimack 7-14; Northeastern 8-16
Next: at Alaska Fairbanks Oct. 19