By Mike McMahon
---- — DURHAM — Time and time again, No. 3 New Hampshire peppered Merrimack goaltender Sam Marotta with shot after shot, but the junior turned aside 51 of the 52 he faced as the Warriors beat the Wildcats, 4-1, at the Whittemore Center last night.
The win moved Merrimack (12-10-5, 10-6-2 in Hockey East) into third place in Hockey East. The Warriors are idle until a date with fourth-place Boston University on Friday at BU’s Agganis Arena.
“Marotta played a very good game,” said a frustrated UNH head coach Dick Umile. “He put himself in position to make the saves on shots I don’t even think he saw. We had plenty of opportunities to score and we didn’t score.”
The Warriors were outshot 52-24, including 40-16 over the final two periods.
Marotta, who waited patiently behind All-American goaltender Joe Cannata the last two seasons, is now second in the conference with a 2.09 goals-against average and first in Hockey East with a .929 save percentage.
“The way it’s going they’ll have to change the name of the game from hockey to goalie,” Merrimack head coach Mark Dennehy said. “Obviously Sam played well. We bent, but we didn’t break.”
The Warriors have just one loss in their last seven games (6-1-1), a streak that has propelled them back into national conversation. Entering the night, Merrimack was 26th in the Pairwise rankings, the system the NCAA uses to determine teams and seeds for the NCAA tournament.
After last night’s victory, the Warriors jumped to 23rd. Typically, the top 15 teams make the tournament, with the 16th spot going to the Atlantic Hockey tournament winner. But Niagara, which leads Atlantic Hockey, is also ninth in the Pairwise, meaning if they win their conference tournament and stay in the top-16, there could in essence be an extra at-large team that gets an invite.
Before last weekend, the Warriors were not present in the Pairwise.
The Warriors’ power play went 1 for 3, but converted on its first chance after the Warriors made an adjustment. According to Dennehy, associate head coach Glenn Stewart noticed an opening during the Warriors’ first man advantage of the night, which resulted in little sustained pressure.
“Coach saw something there and we thought we could make a change to at least help set it up,” Dennehy said, “and with a rink that is this big, there are some seams.”
Mike Collins found one such seam, snapping a pass over to Vinny Scotti at the left circle and the freshman fired it over Casey DeSmith’s (20 saves) shoulder.
“The power play is really hard to coach,” Dennehy said. “It’s really personnel based. We’ve been jumping guys around and (Stewart) has been working his tail off at it.” And at the other end, Marotta answered nearly every chance. UNH’s only goal in the game wasn’t scored without some controversy. On a delayed penalty, the Warriors tipped a puck that resulted in UNH retaining possession, so the officials did not blow the play dead. Seconds later, Scott Pavelski beat Marotta.
On the weekend, Marotta stopped 76 of the 77 shots he faced, including a shutout win at home against Lowell on Friday.
“Whenever a goalie that size is stopping pucks he doesn’t it, which is what Sam was doing tonight, it’s a good sign that he’s in good position.”
Merrimack 4, No. 3/4 UNH 1
at the Whittemore Center
Merrimack (12-10-5, 10-6-2 HE): 1-2-1—4
New Hampshire (16-7-2, 11-6-1 HE): 0-1-0—1
First Period: 1. MC Shawn Bates 4 (Clayton Jardine, Josh Myers), ev, 6:18.
Second Period: 2. MC Shawn Bates 5 (Clayton Jardine, Josh Myers), ev, 8:50; 3. UNH Scott Pavelski 3 (Nick Sorkin, Jeff Silengo), ev, 12:52; 4. MC Vinny Scotti 4 (Mike Collins, Brian Christie), pp, 16:02.
Third Period: 5. MC Mike Collins 14 (unassisted), en, 18:41.
Shots: Merrimack 8-9-7—24; UNH 12-20-20—52
Saves: MC Marotta 52 shots, 51 saves; UNH DeSmith 24 shots, 20 saves
Power Play: Merrimack 1 for 3; UNH o for 3
Penalties: Merrimack 3-6; UNH 3-6.
Next: at Boston University Friday, 7