The Takeaway: Merrimack makes program history at Alfond, beats Maine

Posted by: Mike McMahon

ORONO, Maine — Merrimack College hung on for a 3-2 win at Alfond Arena Saturday night, taking three of four points in a weekend series with the Maine Black Bears. It’s the first time the Warriors have taken points in back-to-back games at Alfond Arena on the same weekend, as the Warriors took five of six points against Maine in three back-to-back-to-back games this season, starting last Saturday.

The Warriors got goals from Kyle Bigos, Jordan Heywood and Rhett Bly, while Mike Collins added three assists.

The Black Bears got goals from Connor Leen and Joey Diamond.

Sam Marotta made 22 saves for the Warriors, as he made his third straight start. He improved to 6-4-3 on the season, as his goals-against average dipped to 2.04 and his save percentage slid to .927. Martin Ouellette made 25 saves for the Black Bears.

Collins’ three assists keeps him second in Hockey East scoring behind BC’s Johnny Gaudreau, two points behind the BC sophomore, but Collins has the top points-per-game total in the conference.

What I Saw

- The Warriors held Maine 0 for 7 on the power play, and in the three games combined, limited the Black Bears to 1 for 19 (a kill rate of 94.7%). Both penalty kill units did an exceptional job blocking shots and finding openings for clears between the points.

- Already on a power play, Merrimack freshman forward John Gustafsson out-raced Mark Nemec for a loose puck in the neutral zone  in the first period and the Maine defenseman was forced to hook him down to avoid a breakaway. It resulted on a 5-on-3 advantage for the Warriors and Kyle Bigos took advantage, taking a feed from Brendan Ellis and blasting a one-timer from the left circle that beat Ouellette short side.

- Jordan Heywood extended the lead just 39 seconds into the second period. In the neutral zone, he fed fellow junior Mike Collins on the wall in front of the Merrimack bench. Collins carried it in the zone and rifled a pass to Heywood who was charging at the net and he tipped it past Ouellette.

- With 1:03 remaining in the second, Joey Diamond picked off a Heywood pass in the neutral zone as Merrimack was breaking out on the power play and he gained ice quickly before firing a shot from between the dots that beat Marotta high to the stick side.

- After Rhett Bly made the score 3-1, Connor Leen again forced a turnover in the Merrimack defensive zone and whipped a puck past Marotta low to his glove side with 4:39 to play for the game’s final score.

- Linesman Bob Bernard, trying to avoid Maine players coming off the ice for a chance, collided with Kyle Bigos as the 6-foot-5 Merrimack defenseman stepped on to the ice from the Merrimack bench in the second period.

Bigos set his feet, trying not to get in Bernard’s way, but the linesman skated into the Merrimack defender at full speed and laid motionless for several minutes while be attended to by Merrimack and Maine training staffs before skating to the locker room with the Maine trainer.

Bernard would join his crew back on the ice for the third period, though, and finished the game.
“I’m glad he’s OK,” Merrimack head coach Mark Dennehy said. “Bobby’s one of the best linesmen in our league, if not the best. I’m happy he came back.”

What I Thought

- Through two periods at least, the Warriors held the lead but trailed in Grade-A chances. In fact, in the first period, I didn’t count a single Grade-A opportunity for the Warriors. As the schedule gets tougher for Merrimack in the coming weeks, being able to get to the opponents’ net will be critical, and if there is something the Warriors take away from Saturday still needing to improve upon, it’s getting to Grade A.

- Maine crashed Merrimack goaltender Sam Marotta all weekend, as well as last Saturday at Lawler Arena. On more than one occasion, Marotta was steamrolled in his crease or was forced to shake out some cobwebs after taking a knee, leg or stick to the head. It was a stark shift for the Black Bears, who clearly don’t have the offensive firepower to out-skill teams as maybe they have in the past. Instead, they’re making an attempt for grittier, more hard-working goals. Ryan Lomberg in particular was constantly in around the Merrimack net.

- Maine never went away. Twice the Warriors extended their lead to two goals and twice the Black Bears cut it back to one, both times scoring off turnovers. The pressure Maine was able to put on the Warriors to cause the turnovers — both of which came from the defensive zone (Diamond’s shorthanded goal was picked off in the neutral zone, but the pass came from around the d-zone blue line) — resulted in each of their goals.

What They Said

“We had a bitter taste in our mouthes after last year. We had this (3-game series) circled on our calendars for a long time and we were looking forward to it. They’re a better team than their record shows and anytime you can get three of four points in Alfond, that’s a big accomplishment.” – Merrimack junior Rhett Bly on playing Maine three games in a row after last year’s HEA Quarterfinals.

“We’re obviously disappointed with the result, but the guys fought hard. We just have to keep working hard, and try to scratch and claw our way back into this race.” – Maine head coach Tim Whitehead

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