By Mike McMahon
---- — ORONO, Maine — The series between Merrimack College and Maine dates back to 1978 and now spans 89 games. But despite a long history, the Warriors managed something this weekend that no team in Merrimack’s history had been able to accomplish.
Following last night’s 3-2 win at Alfond Arena, for the first time, the Warriors went to Maine for a two-game weekend series and came home with points in each game, taking three of four on the weekend.
Merrimack tied the Black Bears, 1-1, on Friday.
The Warriors also won the regular-season series with the Black Bears, 2-0-1, taking five of six points in three straight games against Maine going back to last Saturday.
The three-game series comes on the heels of the Black Bears ending Merrimack’s season on this same Alfond Arena ice in the Hockey East quarterfinals last season.
“We had a bitter taste in our mouths after last year,” said Merrimack junior Rhett Bly. “We had this (3-game series) circled on our calendars for a long time and we were looking forward to it. They’re a better team than their record shows and anytime you can get three of four points in Alfond, that’s a big accomplishment.”
Like they had in the first two games, the Warriors again struck for first blood.
Already on a power play, freshman forward John Gustafsson out-raced Mark Nemec for a loose puck in the neutral zone and the Maine defenseman was forced to hook him down to avoid a breakaway. It resulted on a 5-on-3 advantage for the Warriors and Kyle Bigos took advantage, taking a feed from Brendan Ellis and blasting a one-timer from the left circle that beat Ouellette short side.
“We had a 5-on-3 (Friday) and we had a little trouble,” Bigos said. “They had some pressure and Coach told us we needed to be better. I was able to run a couple of plays, got a nice pass from (Brendan) Ellis and I was able to find the net.”
Jordan Heywood extended the lead just 39 seconds into the second period. In the neutral zone, he fed fellow junior Mike Collins on the wall in front of the Merrimack bench. Collins carried it in the zone and rifled a pass to Heywood who was charging at the net and he tipped it past Ouellette.
At that point, the Black Bears started to claw back into the game.
With 1:03 remaining in the second, Joey Diamond picked off a Heywood pass in the neutral zone as Merrimack was breaking out on the power play and he gained ice quickly before firing a shot from between the dots that beat Marotta high to the stick side.
Bly gave the Warriors a two-goal lead back with 8:07 left in the third period with a quick one-time tap off a Collins’ pass, who notched his third assist of the night.
But Connor Leen again forced a turnover in the Merrimack defensive zone and whipped a puck past Marotta low to his glove side with 4:39 to play.
“I thought we played really well for large stretches of that game,” said head coach Mark Dennehy. “But on our bench, our older guys — Rhett Bly and Mike Collins — did a good job settling guys down.”
The Warriors were able to hold on late, clearing the puck twice in the final 19.5 seconds after Bly won a draw to the corner. Both teams called their timeouts before a faceoff, which came to Marotta’s right.
“(Merrimack calling their timeout after Maine’s) does help a lot,” said Bly. “We knew if we could get it out we had a good chance and our coaching staff drew up a great play there. Even if I did happen to lose the draw, we had d-zone coverage.”
Bernard takes a lick
Linesman Bob Bernard, trying to avoid Maine players coming off the ice for a chance, collided with Kyle Bigos as the 6-foot-5 Merrimack defenseman stepped on to the ice from the Merrimack bench in the second period.
Bigos set his feet, trying not to get in Bernard’s way, but the linesman skated into the Merrimack defender at full speed and laid motionless for several minutes while be attended to by Merrimack and Maine training staffs before skating to the locker room with the Maine trainer.
Bernard would join his crew back on the ice for the third period, though, and finished the game.
“I’m glad he’s OK,” Merrimack head coach Mark Dennehy said. “Bobby’s one of the best linesmen in our league, if not the best. I’m happy he came back.”
Merrimack 3, Maine 2
at Alfond Arena
Merrimack (9-9-5, 7-5-2, HE): 1-1-1–3
Maine (5-14-4, 1-9-4 HE): 0-1-1–2
First Period: 1. MC Kyle Bigos 4 (Brendan Ellis, Mike Collins), pp, 18:36.
Second Period: 2. MC Jordan Heywood 5 (Mike Collins, Brian Christie), ev, 0:39; 3. ME Joey Diamond 5 (unassisted), sh, 18:57.
Third Period: 4. MC Rhett Bly 5 (Mike Collins, Kyle Bigos), ev, 11:53; 5. ME Connor Leen 6 (Mike Cornell, Joey Diamond), ev, 15:21.
Shots: Merrimack 9-8-11–28; Maine 9-7-8–24
Goalies: MC Marotta 24 shots, 22 saves; ME Ouellette 28 shots, 25 saves
Power Play: Merrimack 1 for 8; Maine 0 for 7
Penalties: Merrimack 8-16; Maine 9-18
Faceoffs: 38-32 Merrimack
Next: Hosts UNH Friday, 7:30 p.m.