It’s always a special night when the seniors get one last chance to perform in front of the home crowd. Such was the case on Saturday night as the Merrimack College (18-14-1, 13-11-0 HEA) hockey seniors were honored before their game with the #13 Northeastern Huskies (24-11-1, 15-8-1). There was more at stake than giving the senior class a final send-off. There was a hockey game to play and seeding for the upcoming Hockey East playoffs to be decided.
Through nine minutes of the first period, both teams went up and down the ice at a pretty good clip. Neither team had any great chances to speak of, but the pace was entertaining. The best opportunity belonged to the Warriors. Off an offensive zone faceoff, senior Max Newton took a one-time pass in the slot and was stopped by Huskies goaltender Devon Levi. Merrimack would get one more good chance before the first period ended. Off of a turnover just outside the Huskies zone, Warrior forward Ryan Nolan skated in on Levi and fired a shot that the Northeastern netminder gloved with four seconds left in the first. The period ended scoreless with Northeastern outshooting Merrimack 12-10.
Northeastern’s best chance came early in the second period on a wraparound shot by Steven Agriogianis that was stopped by Warriors goalie Hugo Ollas. Six minutes into the frame, Merrimack was buzzing around the Northeastern net but could not get the puck past Levi. The first penalties of the game came at the 14:24 mark of the second frame, four on four hockey for two minutes. As was the case in the first, after the four-on-four ended, Merrimack had another great chance before the second period came to an end. An odd-man rush resulted in a shot on goal by forward, Mick Messner that was handled by Levi. Two periods ended with the game still scoreless.
Twenty minutes were left in the regular season for both teams. A couple of early shots on goal by the Huskies had the sold-out crowd a little nervous. Merrimack had a scoring chance denied by Levi and off a Huskies turnover in their own zone, Ryan Nolan’s shot in the high slot was stopped. Eight minutes into the third, Merrimack had a 24-23 shot advantage by still nothing had made the back of the net. Tyler Spott for Northeastern had a close chance that was stopped by Ollas. With just over eight minutes left, Merrimack had maybe the best chance of the game. From the slot, Matt Copponi rifled one low, and Levi came up with the save. Soon after that save, Northeastern got the first powerplay of the night as Liam Walsh went off for tripping. Merrimack would kill off the penalty, and with 5:38 left the game was still in doubt. Merrimack iced the puck with 14 seconds left. On the ensuing faceoff, the Huskies broke the tie. Aidah McDonough (23rd of the season), off a pass from Jack Hughes, beat Ollas with what would be the game-winning goal at 19:50 of the third. For Levi, the shutout was his tenth of the season. The final score was Northeastern 1 Merrimack 0.
After the game, head coach, Scott Borek called it “a really good hockey game” though both teams played hard. In the third period, he thought his team “had some chances that they could not finish.” On Maine, who they will play on Wednesday night, the coach said “they are a hot team at the moment.” The Hockey East playoffs get underway on Wednesday with Merrimack the #6 seeded playing at home vs the #11 seed Maine Black Bears.
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