NORTH ANDOVER, Mass. – Wednesday’s matchup between the only undefeated team in the country and the only winless team in the country went exactly as expected, as Merrimack pummeled Alabama-Huntsville 6-0. The Warriors (9-0-1) collected three goals in a four-minute stretch in the first period and tacked on three more in the second. They wound up outshooting the Chargers (0-12-1) by a 48-13 margin in the game, including an eye-popping 17-1 mark in the second. Five Warriors registered multi-point games and goalie Joe Cannata notched his first shutout of the season.
What I saw
-After not getting a single point from its freshmen in the first eight games of the season, Merrimack has now gotten six goals from its rookies in the last two games. Connor Toomey, the Billerica native who scored the overtime winner against Boston University two weekends ago, tallied the Warriors’ first two goals — one on a deflection and one on a bang-bang play at the top of the crease. Merrimack’s third and fourth goals also came from freshmen, as Clayton Jardine and Quinn Gould both netted the first of their careers. In addition to the goals, the Warriors’ rookies combined for four assists.
-From the start, it was evident that the Warriors were far and away the better team. It took them almost five minutes to score, but they had possessed the puck for most of those five minutes, and the shots on goal were 5-0 in their favor at the time of that first marker. Merrimack fell into a bit of a lull on the next shift and appeared to give up the tying goal, but it was reviewed and waved off for being tipped with a high stick. That seemed to wake the Warriors right back up, as they went on to tally two more goals in the next three minutes.
What I thought
-Merrimack’s offense could be on the verge of a breakthrough. Now I know what you’re thinking — “Hey idiot, they just scored six goals. Is that not a breakthrough?” But you have to remember that was against the worst team in the country. What I mean is that the Warriors are finally getting those aforementioned contributions from freshmen. As great of a start as Merrimack has had, its offense ranked just sixth in Hockey East entering tonight. You had to figure that the team’s top two lines, which are littered with veterans who broke the 20-point plateau last year, were going to be fine. But there was reason to be concerned about the bottom two lines, which several freshmen. If the rookies keep scoring like they have the last two games, though, there won’t be a concern any more, and Merrimack will be even more dangerous than it already is.
-If there was one positive for the Chargers, it was that Clarke Saunders looked very good in net. The sophomore is usually the starter, but he came on in relief Wednesday night after John Griggs allowed three goals on eight shots. Saunders went on to stop 37 of the 40 shots he faced, including nearly a dozen from the grade-A area. Merrimack got several odd-man rushes and had great puck movement around the net-front all night, but Saunders was in good position time after time and made a number of saves that drew oohs and aahs from the crowd. Despite his 0-9-1 record, Saunders has actually been solid all season, as he entered the game with a .915 save percentage.
What they said
“I was proud of my team. They were very business-like tonight. They came into this game, and you always worry about mentality, but they put their hard hats on. I thought we accomplished our goals of working hard.” -Merrimack coach Mark Dennehy on avoiding a letdown
“I think they buy into what we talk about, which is that it’s recognition, but it’s not an accomplishment. It’s voted on by people outside of our locker room. Really what matters is what our guys think about our team.” -Dennehy on his team being ranked No. 1 in both polls this week
Given what happened Tuesday night with a previously winless Sacred Heart squad beating Yale, there was at least some reason to think this might be a proverbial trap game. Merrimack was playing its first game as the top-ranked team in the country, and it happened to be a mid-week game against a bad team. That train of though might have creeped in a little more had the Chargers’ waved-off goal in the first stood, but it didn’t, and the game was never close after that. The Warriors forechecked hard and blocked shots (10 of UAH’s 32 shot attempts didn’t get through), and really showed no signs of overlooking the Chargers at all.
What else you should know
-Merrimack’s Jeff Velleca was helped off the ice in the second period after a leg-to-leg collision in the neutral zone, but he later returned to the game.
-Ryan Flanigan, the Warriors’ leading scorer, also hobbled off the ice in the third after blocking a shot, but Dennehy said after the game that it was just a stinger and that he seemed OK.