Durham, NH.- After New Hampshire defeated Merrimack in a 2-1 thriller on Friday night, Merrimack and UNH played to a 2-2 tie after regulation. The Warriors won it just 19 seconds into overtime on a goal by John Heffernan, who slipped a quick snipe right above the stick of Damon Kipp over the shoulder of the goaltender, Casey Desmith, and into the net to seal the win.
On a night where Merrimack made some key changes to their lineup, with the scratch of leading scorer Ryan Flanigan, the Warriors got two goals from their listed fourth line. This fourth line production coupled with the insertion of John Heffernan played dividends for them in the end as the latter scored the game winning goal in just his eighth game of the season.
UNH played from behind most of the game and used a goal midway through the third period to force the game to overtime, but it was just not meant to be. After a win against Merrimack on Friday night, UNH played arguably its best two games of the season on back to back nights. With the loss UNH stays in the eighth and final playoff spot by three points over Northeastern. With the win Merrimack moved up into a tie for second with Boston College with a two games in hand.
What I saw
-Merrimack played a gutsy game. On the first shift of the game, first line Center Carter Madsen was taken out on a stretcher. This must have been demoralizing on the bench but the Warriors instead turned it right around and controlled play for the first half of the first period. This strong play early led to Rhett Bly’s goal at 3:06 of the period, giving Merrimack an early lead in which they never fully relinquished.
-UNH played another phenomenal defensive game, their fourth in a row. The overtime game winner from Merrimack was a pretty snipe right over the stick of Damon Kipp. Every man was seemingly covered by New Hampshire which has not always been the case this season for them. Heffernan made a great play and shot. This is a loss that cannot be blamed on poor defense or lack of effort.
What I thought
-Merrimack struggled all weekend just to get shots to UNH freshman goaltender, Casey Desmith, but on Saturday they were very opportunistic on the 26 shots that they were able to get through. Playing with the lead is something that advantages every team, especially on the road. The Warriors were able to use this to their advantage.
-New Hampshire has come a long way on defense since their midseason and early season struggle with playing team defense. The team has seemingly rallied around the first line offensively and defensively. Although UNH gave up three goals on the night only one can be blamed on porous defense, but even that was a puck that found the stick of a Merrimack attacker all alone in front of the net. Giving up only five goals in four games is not bad and is an improvement for a team that gave up nearly four a game through the first half of the season.
What They Said
Merrimack coach Mark Dennehy said, “I thought this was a pretty gutsy performance by our guys. I shook up the lineup after what I thought was an ok effort by our guys last night. Joe Cannata made the one save he needed to make, which was the game winner and it was nice to see John Heffernan rewarded for his hard work.”
UNH coach Dick Umile said, “This was a tough one to lose. I thought the guys played well and it was as well as we have played. It was another night we competed and played 60 minutes but they got the winner. The kid made a pretty good play and shot off to beat us.”
UNH forward, Nick Sorkin said, “We played well enough to win, that was a really we good team we played. We have been playing good team hockey and played really well defensively.”
What they didn’t say
Merrimack coach Mark Dennehy, did not talk about exactly why Ryan Flanigan was taken out of the lineup. It seems as though he was a healthy scratch and benched to send a message to the team after a lackluster performance against New Hampshire on Friday night. A split weekend with UNH is never a bad thing, but based on the struggles that UNH has experienced this season this could have been an opportunity for Merrimack to pick up four points instead of two.
What else you should know
Merrimack plays only one game next weekend, on Sunday against Providence. This game will be a huge rebound game for the Warriors as they lost to Providence twice earlier in the season. The positives out this weekend were lessons learned and should benefit Merrimack in future weekends.
UNH played arguably their best two games of the season this weekend but only came out with two points. They have continued to improved defensively and this weekend showed that but they have another crucial weekend next weekend. On Friday night, the Wildcats will begin a home and home series against Boston College. Points are at a premium for UNH as they hang on to the eighth and final playoff spot.