The Takeaway: Merrimack Wins Penalty-Filled Game vs. Friars

Posted by: Scott McLaughlin

NORTH ANDOVER, Mass. – Merrimack scored twice during a five-minute power play en route to a 4-2 win over Providence on Sunday. With Ross Mauermann serving a five-minute major for charging, Karl Stollery scored with 56 seconds left in the first and Josh Myers scored on the same power play 3:01 into the second. Joe Cannata made 37 saves in the victory, while Rhett Bly scored the game’s first goal and Jesse Todd sealed the Merrimack (14-5-5, 10-4-3 HE) win with an empty-netter. Stefan Demopoulos and Myles Harvey registered the Providence (10-12-2, 8-8-1 HE) goals, both of which came on the power play.

What I saw

-A lot of penalties. The teams combined for 70 penalty minutes, including 43 in the first period alone. There were four majors and three game misconducts, as both teams toed the line between physical and dirty all game. On top of Mauermann’s charging major (which didn’t include a misconduct), Providence’s Chris Rooney and Merrimack’s Brendan Ellis were both ejected for facemasking — which is a nice way of saying “fighting” — and Merrimack’s Jordan Heywood was shown the gate for a blatant hit from behind.

-Merrimack scored twice on its five-minute power play and Providence failed to convert on Heywood’s major, marking the second straight game between these two in which five-minute power plays played a big role. Back on Dec. 3, the Friars scored three times after a Heywood hit to the head and wound up rolling the Warriors 6-1. Although the Friars did score two power-play goals Sunday, they were held off the board during their five-minute man advantage, when they had a chance to cut Merrimack’s lead to one.

-The Warriors played the final 27 minutes of the game with just four defensemen thanks to the ejections of Ellis and Heywood, both of whom are top four d-men. The veteran top pairing of Stollery and Kyle Bigos stepped up big, but so did the third pairing of sophomore Tom McCarthy and freshman Dan Kolomatis. Providence turned up the heat and outshot the Warriors 14-4 in the third period, but the Merrimack defense (not to mention Cannata) stood tall and ended up finishing the game with 18 blocks.

What I thought

This game was another unfortunate example of what our Dan Myers wrote about in this column last week. It’s OK for a game to be emotional and physical, but it’s not OK for players to go over the edge and throw hits that could seriously hurt someone. There was some debate in the press box over whether or not Mauermann’s charge was from behind or from the side, but either way, he went full bore into a player (Connor Toomey) who was in a vulnerable position just a foot or so away from the boards.

There was no debate over Heywood’s hit later in the game, as he just ran straight through the back of Derek Army without any making any attempt to slow down or hold Army up. When you see 70 penalty minutes, you might think the refs let things get out of hand, but John Gravallese and Chris Federico did everything they could and made all the calls they needed to make. In fact, cooler heads did finally prevail in the third, but only after there had already been four majors. This was a case of players just not being smart and not knowing how far is too far.

What they said

“Huge win. Great effort. I think we were down three guys by the end of the game. Playoff-type atmosphere. I thought our guys really fought through a lot of stuff. That’s what you need to do if you want to have success.” -Merrimack coach Mark Dennehy’s opening remarks

It certainly wasn’t a pretty win, but at this point in the season, all that matters are the points. The Warriors racked up 42 penalty minutes and got outshot 39-23, but they found a way to take two points. A big part of that was Cannata, whom Providence coach Nate Leaman called the best goalie in the conference and a serious contender for the Hobey Baker.

What else you should know

-Merrimack moved up to fourth in Hockey East and tied for fifth in the PairWise with the win. Providence remained sixth in the league and dropped to 32nd in the PairWise.

-Providence’s Stefan Demopoulos left the game after a collision in the second period, but later returned. Leaman didn’t give any specifics about what happened to him.

-Merrimack’s Elliott Sheen also left the game after suffering an apparent arm injury in the third. He did not return. Dennehy said it was too early to know anything definitive about the extent of the injury.

-The Friars were without leading goal-scorer Tim Schaller for the sixth straight game, as he continues his recovery from mononucleosis. Leaman said he had hoped to have Schaller in the lineup Sunday, but that he wasn’t quite ready to go. Schaller will have some blood work done Monday, and Leaman said he expects him to be ready for next weekend.

-Providence had already claimed the season series after sweeping Merrimack on the first weekend of December.

-Sunday marked Merrimack’s first game without senior forward Carter Madsen, who suffered a season-ending ankle injury at New Hampshire last Saturday. Madsen had two goals and five assists in 22 games.

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