The Takeaway: Northeastern hangs on to defeat Merrimack

Posted by: Jill Saftel

BOSTON — A three-goal first period lead Wednesday looked like it might turn into the same old story for Northeastern when Merrimack battled back in the second period and left the Huskies fighting for the win in the game’s final minutes. An empty netter from assistant captain Robbie Vrolyk sealed it for Northeastern with a 4-2 victory over the Warriors.

After missing the postseason by a point last season, the Huskies began this year’s conference play with a big first period offensively. Fifty three seconds into play, freshman defenseman Colton Saucerman passed to senior forward Garrett Vermeersch from the right point and Vermeersch deflected it over the shoulder of Merrimack goaltender Rasmus Tirronen. Northeastern struck again within five minutes of puck drop when forward Joseph Manno took a feed from freshman Kevin Roy to make it 2-0.

The offensive contribution from Roy continued in the first period, this time with a goal of his own on the power play. With that the Huskies ended the first period with a 3-0 lead, but the Warriors answered in the second period. First, sophomore forward Quinn Gould beat senior goaltender Chris Rawlings on a bouncing puck in front of the net to put Merrimack on the board. Justin Mansfield made it 3-2 with just under five minutes to play in the second.

Northeastern managed to hold on throughout the third period, picking up their first two extremely valuable Hockey East points of the season.

What I saw

— A win is a win, but sloppy play from Northeastern in the second period looked an awful lot like the style that left them just short of a postseason last year. From retaliation penalties to poor shorthanded play, the messy period favored Merrimack. Their two unanswered goals left Northeastern scrambling to hang on to their lead. The Warriors left the first period with a 16-5 disadvantage in shots, but evened that out to match Northeastern’s 34 shots by the end of the game.

— Merrimack’s defense struggled tonight and the blame for the 3-0 first period deficit shouldn’t be placed solely on Tirronen. None of the three Husky goals were direct results of poor goaltending, and in most cases Northeastern players were left wide open in front of the net, a result of poor play from Merrimack’s defense and in no way a reflection on Tirronen. After those three goals, Tirronen was solid, saving all 17 shots that came his way.

On the other hand, Merrimack’s lack of defensive strength made it look easy for Northeastern, and that won’t be the case moving forward.

What I thought

— Kevin Roy is going to be an incredible contributor while at Northeastern. With an assist and a goal in his first conference game, some of the initial pressure has been removed. He’s getting used to the speed of college hockey, and while he’ll need to get his bearings against more competitive Hockey East teams, Roy can only mean good things for the Huskies. The combination of senior leadership from players like senior captain Vinny Saponari and Vermeersch mixed with a fresh group of young talent looks like it could turn out to be a good recipe for Northeastern.

— Chris Rawlings isn’t rock solid. Without a doubt, Northeastern’s offense will shine this season, but if the defense can’t keep it together in front of Rawlings, his shakiness could be a point of concern. While he made 32 saves tonight, the minute Rawlings is threatened he looks shaky. His ability to follow the puck is worrisome, but these are the same questions about Rawlings that were around last season. However, it seems the team is confident in their goaltender as Saponari said when calming freshmen nerves, he tells them not to worry about making mistakes because Rawlings is in goal and he’ll make saves for the team.

What they said

“By the time we woke up it was a three goal deficit. We tried to look at positives, stick with it and claw ourselves back into the game, but it was too little, too late.

“I thought he played fine. Of the three goals that he gave up, I don’t know that any of them were his fault. The first one was a really nice tip. He’s fine, he was not our problem. I like our goaltending, I do. I think our goaltending is good. They hold up their end of the bargain, we just need to make sure we do the same up front.”

— Merrimack head coach Mark Dennehy on the loss and goaltender Rasmus Tirronen

“This is game one. There are 26 more to go and every night is going to be a grind, we know that. We’re going to continue to get better.”

— Northeastern head coach Jim Madigan

“I came up with that loose puck and turned around and saw the biggest smile on his face. His eyes just widened and I knew he was going to bury that one.”

— Vinny Saponari on Kevin Roy getting his first collegiate goal

What else you need to know

— Chris Rawlings is one shutout away from breaking Brad Thiessen’s Northeastern career record of nine.

— Merrimack has a long flight to Fairbanks, AK for their next game Saturday. They’ll return to conference play Oct. 26 at home against Vermont.

— Northeastern welcomes reigning NCAA Champions Boston College Saturday night at Matthews Arena.

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