By Mike McMahon
NORTH ANDOVER — Kyle Bigos' blinding slap shot with 13:51 left in the game sealed victory for Merrimack College, which beat Northeastern 4-1 in front of yet another sellout crowd at Lawler Arena, the seventh straight for the Warriors.
He also added an assist, being named the game's first star. But believe it or not, his biggest impact wasn't on the score sheet.
Bigos, since his arrival three seasons ago, has been Merrimack's resident general. You can't drop the mitts in college hockey, but he's the closest thing to an enforcer you'll get.
"There are obviously big limitations as to what you can do out there as an enforcer," Bigos said. "But I have God-given size, thanks to my parents, and I have to go out there and use it. If I'm not striking fear into the opponent and using my size, I'm not doing my job."
At 6-foot-5 and 240 pounds, it's hard not to be a game-changer, and it doesn't have to always be with the puck.
Bigos patrols the ice like a predator eyeing its prey.
If he gets the opportunity to lay a body, you better watch out.
And when a 6-5 defenseman sends a smallish, 5-9 forward crumbling to the ice, it's hard for the officials to not take notice.
With hitting to the head penalties a focus across all levels of hockey, the size discrepancy between Bigos and some of Hockey East's smaller forwards — Northeastern, for example, dressed four players under six-feet, and the Huskies are one of the tallest teams in the league — means the junior often finds himself making friends with penalty timekeepers, justified or not.
"I don't like it too much, obviously," Bigos said. "They're doing as good as they can but obviously, sometimes, it baffles me. I don't always agree, but it's a tough job."
After he scored to make it 3-1, Northeastern freshman Ludwig Karlsson scooped up a puck in the neutral zone and ducked in front of the Husky bench, where Bigos was waiting to staple him to the boards.
"I worked really hard on restraining myself from running guys," he said. "I took myself out of the play a lot my first two years. But there, I just saw his two wingers changing and he was buying time carrying the puck so I just stepped into him and stayed on the right side of the puck. That's fun."
If one of his teammates get hit, that player can expect to get a receipt from California native, who was drafted by the Edmonton Oilers in the fourth round of the 2009 NHL Draft.
Bigos is a tone-setter. It's no mistake that he's started every game for head coach Mark Dennehy this season, no matter who his defensive partner is. Bigos is there to send a message.
"We want to be aggressive," Dennehy said. "We want our guys to be physical and he's the strongest and most physical. He's also in the best shape, athletically, since I've known him."
With the puck, his slap shot, which tends to ride low along the ice, practically breaks the sound barrier.
Dennehy has started to work his biggest weapon into more offensive situations, planting him in front of the net on some power plays or utilizing that booming slapper from the top of the right circle.
"It was a great move by him to walk that guy and tee it up," Dennehy said. "He has those lovely California hands that he sometimes tries to use too much. He has great poise. If he's playing (the way he played last night) we expect good things out of Bigs."
Merrimack 4, Northeastern 1
Northeastern (1-2-1, 1-2-1 HE):0-0-1—1
Merrimack (3-0-0, 2-0-0 HE):1-0-3—4
First Period: 1. Mike Collins 1 (Ryan Flanigan, Karl Stollery), ppg, 10:25.
Second Period: None.
Third Period: 2. MC Jordan Heywood 1 (Shawn Bates, Brandon Brodhag), ev, 0:48; 3. MC Kyle Bigos 1 (unassisted), ev, 6:09; 5. MC Ryan Flanigan 2 (Kyle Bigos), en, 19:54.
Penalties: Merrimack 6-12min; Northeastern 6-23min
Power Play: Merrimack 1 for 3 (8 shots); Northeastern 0 for 4 (10 shots)
Shots: Merrimack 17-16-14—47; Northeastern 8-11-9—28
Goalies: MC Joe Cannata (3-0-0) 28 shots-27saves; NU Chris Rawlings (1-2-1) 39 shots-36 saves; Clay Witt 7 shots-7 saves
Attendance: 2,449 (sellout)
Next: Hosts UConn tonight, 7 p.m.