NORTH ANDOVER, Mass. – Merrimack beat Northeastern 4-2 Saturday night to sweep the weekend series and win the season series. Jordan Heywood scored what proved to be the game-winner with 3:28 remaining in the game. He took a pass from Mike Collins, walked in from the left half-wall and beat Chris Rawlings (29 saves) with a snap shot. Justin Hussar tacked on an empty-netter at the buzzer.
Vinny Saponari opened the scoring for Northeastern (2-4-1, 2-4-1 HE) 12:05 into the game when he took a pass from Mike McMurtry and beat Rasmus Tirronen (24 saves) for his first goal of the season. McMurtry added to the lead with a power-play tally six minutes later when he tipped in a Kevin Roy one-timer.
The Warriors (4-3-1, 3-1-1 HE) came storming back in the second, though. Shawn Bates cut the lead in half 2:51 into the middle frame when he collected his own blocked shot and beat Rawlings on the second opportunity. Collins tied the game with 27 seconds left in the period when a Vinny Scotti shot left him with a rebound right in front.
What I saw
-Collins’ goal was his fifth of the season, breaking a five-way tie for the conference lead in goals. He also leads the league in points with 12. Collins was actually held off the scoresheet in Merrimack’s first two games, so all 12 of his points have come in the last six games, including 10 in his last four. Collins showed a ton of promise with a 30-point freshman season, but he couldn’t take the next step as a sophomore last year. It certainly looks like he’s ready to as a junior. Merrimack coach Mark Dennehy said after the game that not only is he scoring, but he’s also doing everything else right.
-After these two teams combined for 17 penalties Friday night, they cut that number down to eight Saturday night. Both teams were more disciplined, leading to a much cleaner game. Both sides even seemed a little hesitant to play physical early on, but the hitting did eventually pick up. The discipline did break down in the final five minutes, though, as each team took a pair of penalties. Kyle Singleton killed a Merrimack power play with a crosscheck in front of the net, but the Warriors scored on the ensuing 4-on-4. The Huskies failed to capitalize on a late too many men penalty on Merrimack.
What I thought
-The Merrimack offense continues to impress. The Warriors lost four of their top five scorers from last season, but they currently lead the league in offense with 3.50 goals per game. Collins has been huge obviously, but he’s had plenty of help as well. Josh Myers has seven points, Connor Toomey and John Heffernan each have six, and Rhett Bly, Kyle Singleton and Justin Hussar all have four. Then there’s the defensemen chipping in — eight points for Jordan Heywood, seven for Dan Kolomatis, six for Brendan Ellis. If the Warriors keep getting offensive contributions from all over the lineup, they could end up in the home-ice mix, somewhere very few people thought they had a chance to be.
-Northeastern coach Jim Madigan changed up his lines from Friday night, but the offense continued to struggle. The Huskies are now 0-4-1 in their last five games, and they’ve scored just seven goals in those five games. They certainly have talent up front, but right now nothing seems to be clicking. Madigan said after the game that he’ll continue to tinker with the lines in hopes of finding some goals. A series against lowly Alabama-Huntsville next weekend might be just what the doctor ordered.
What they said
-Madigan: “Obviously disappointing to have a two-goal lead and then give it up. We’ve done that a couple times now. Lose with three minutes left in the game on a bad turnover in our own zone, it was disappointing. I liked our effort. It was much better tonight than it was last night. I liked the way we competed better, and we certainly played a lot more disciplined tonight. But at the end of the day, it’s about getting points in this league, and we didn’t get any points.”
-Dennehy: “Games like that and games like last night and even the game against Fairbanks out there, they go a long way toward giving you an idea of what you’ve got in there. Early on, I recognized that these guys, whatever the score is, are gonna keep playing. It’s a little early for playoff games, but that was a playoff game today. For our guys to grind it out and come back from a 2-0 deficit, I think it says a lot about our leadership in the locker room.”
-Dennehy on Collins: “I think it’s also the little things, like chipping pucks out of the zone, like playing the body when he gets the chance, blocking shots. Scoring’s gonna come and go, I don’t care how good of a scorer you are. But the game you bring to the ice every night, you control. Anybody who comes to watch him, any NHLer who comes to watch him, knows he can put the puck in the net. It’s, is he gonna be able to do those other things? He wasn’t doing them the first couple games. But he’s been our best player, our best forward, because he’s doing all that. It’s great because now the young guys see that and they think they can score like that too if they do those things. I hope they can.”