NORTH ANDOVER, Mass. – Mike Collins scored twice for Merrimack as the Warriors forced a 2-2 tie against Vermont to take three of four points on the weekend. The Warriors (2-3-1, 1-1-1 Hockey East) opened the scoring with 3:05 left in the first when Brendan Ellis walked in from the left point and found Collins at the back door.
They held the lead for nearly a full period before the Catamounts (0-1-2, 0-1-2 HE) tied it. Pete Massar poked the puck past a Merrimack defender, walked in alone and beat Rasmus Tirronen (31 saves). Vermont took the lead just 34 seconds later when Nick Luukko shot through a pile of bodies on a delayed Merrimack penalty.
The Warriors battled back in the third, though. Josh Myers drew a penalty while charging hard to the net on a 2-on-1, and Merrimack capitalized on the ensuing power play. After Brody Hoffman (32 saves) turned away one quality chance, Collins found a loose puck in the left circle and buried his second goal of the game. The Warriors got another power play in overtime, but they couldn’t capitalize.
What I saw
-A defensive struggle. Don’t let the 67 total shots on goal fool you — nothing came easy in this game. Most of those 67 shots came from the perimeter — only 18 came from the grade-A area (10 for Vermont, 8 for Merrimack). Passing and shooting lanes were rarely clear. The neutral zone was clogged. Breakouts consisted mostly of chipping pucks instead of making clean passes. This wasn’t exactly a back-and-forth affair, save for a few short stretches.
-The Warriors had a great chance to win in overtime when Vermont got called for too many men on the ice. They got some good looks and ended up putting three shots on net, but Hoffman stood tall and the Catamounts were able to survive.
-Merrimack had a huge penalty kill right after Vermont’s second goal. The goal came on a delayed call, so the Catamounts went straight to the power play once they were done celebrating. Had they taken advantage, it would’ve been 3-1, a seemingly insurmountable lead given the way this game unfolded. Instead, the Warriors didn’t allow a single shot on goal and barely allowed Vermont to get set up. That was the only power play Merrimack gave Vermont.
What I thought
-The Catamounts matched the always-physical Merrimack hit-for-hit and were actually the more physical team at times. They did cross the line a couple times and end up in the penalty box, though. Jonathan Turk negated a power play by elbowing John Gustafsson after the whistle, Connor Brickley was sent off for hitting Josh Myers several seconds after the Warrior had gotten rid of the puck, and Yvan Pattyn took a bad boarding penalty midway through the third in a tie game. Still, a meaner Catamount team is definitely an encouraging sign. They aren’t usually known for being one of Hockey East’s most physical teams, but it looks like they could be this year.
-Although the Catamounts swung the score in their favor with two quick goals, they never really swung momentum or took control. Not scoring on the aforementioned power play obviously played a big role in that. At the same time, that big kill didn’t really give Merrimack a huge boost either. It kept the Warriors in the game, but Vermont still outshot them from that point on. Both teams struggled to generate any sort of sustained pressure for most of the game. That was partly due to good defense at both ends, but neither team got as much traffic to the net as they needed to. There weren’t many shots from in close, and there weren’t many rebound chances or shots through screens.
What they said
-Vermont coach Kevin Sneddon’s general thoughts: “I thought we played a much better game tonight than we did last night. I think our team’s still learning how to win. We got up 2-1 and we were hoping we could sting them on that power play and create some positive momentum and make it 3-1. We came out in the third period and I thought we did a great job. Both nights we played with a lot of energy. I thought we had them back on their heels a little bit.”
-Sneddon on playing physical: “That’s something we talked a lot about in the offseason. Justin Smith, our strength coach, has done a great job of building the guys up so they can feel confident playing that style. We need to play a blue-collar style. We’re not a team full of superstars. We’re a team full of guys who want to play hard. It’s a different mentality than we had last year. We need to have a little more offensive toughness — going hard to the net, middle lane driving, stopping at the net and paying the price to get second and third opportunities. That’s gonna come with time.”
-Merrimack coach Mark Dennehy’s general thoughts: “Points are hard to come by. You knew Vermont was gonna come out and play hard. The challenge for us as a somewhat inexperienced group was, would we be satisfied with two points in our first Hockey East win and move on? I liked how we came out. I thought for the majority of the game we played pretty smart.”
-Dennehy on killing the penalty after Vermont’s second goal: “Rhett Bly’s a guy that goes really underappreciated. All he does is win faceoffs and kill penalties for us and block shots, and he had a nice goal last night. His line with [Quinn Gould and Kyle Singleton] really epitomizes Merrimack hockey in my mind. They give everything they’ve got. They really helped stem the tide a little bit. You kill that power play and now the momentum’s back to at least zero.”