Men’s hockey grabs four big points against Merrimack

BOSTON – After a rough set of games versus New Hampshire last weekend, the Northeastern Huskies hockey team responded in a big way this weekend. The Huskies pulled in four points against a struggling Merrimack Warriors squad. It was Northeastern’s first four point weekend since sweeping Vermont in Burlington in January of 2012. It was also the Huskies’ first conference win at home since defeating Boston College on October 13th, 2012.

On Friday, the Huskies traveled to North Andover to faceoff with the Warriors at Lawler Arena. Despite being outshot in the first period 9 to 3, Northeastern made its shots count and went into the first intermission with a 2-0 lead. Mike Szmatula jammed in a loose puck from the crease for the first score, while Dalen Hedges converted on a shot from the left-hand circle on a breakaway with linemate Cody Ferriero. Merrimack responded in the second period, cutting the Husky lead in half with a power play goal courtesy of Vinny Scotti. The score would remain 2-1 through the end of the second period.

In need of a knockout punch, Northeastern answered the call and played its best hockey for the majority of the third period. Kevin Roy netted an extra attacker goal for the Huskies early on in the period, picking the high, blocker-side corner with a perfect snipe from above the circles. About three minutes later, Dalen Hedges converted on another odd-man rush, posting his second score of the night and making it 4-1 Northeastern. Merrimack would score another power play goal on a backhanded shot from Quinn Gould that caught Clay Witt out of position, drawing the Warriors within 4-2 with almost 9 minutes to go. However, with about 5 minutes left, Merrimack goaltender Sam Marotta wasn’t quite able to stop Kevin Roy’s shot from the left faceoff circle. It trickled through Marotta’s pads, giving Roy his 11th goal of the season and finishing off the 5-2 NU win.

On Saturday at Matthews Arena, the Huskies again jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the first period. The first goal came on Torin Snydeman’s redirection of Colton Saucerman’s shot from the point at 10:28 gone. The second goal came nearly 5 minutes later, when Zach Aston-Reese cleaned up a rebound in front of Merrimack goalie Rasmus Tirronen while on the power play. From there on, Northeastern stonewalled the Warriors and finished for a 2-0 win. The impressive defensive performance, NU’s first shutout since opening night against Alabama-Huntsville, was largely because of the play of Clay Witt.

Despite a soft goal allowed to Gould on Friday, Clay Witt had a remarkable weekend. Witt stopped 69 of 7 1 shots over both games. He posted his first career shutout with 38 saves on Saturday, including a incredible post-to-post diving effort, knocking a Kyle Singleton shot out of the air. Perhaps most impressive was that Witt accomplished this despite 15 Merrimack power plays over the weekend. Witt held the Warriors to just 2 of 15 on the power play and did not allow a goal in 5-on-5 play.

Dalen Hedges had a huge weekend for the Huskies as well, posting 2 goals and 2 assists. In addition, he went 23-of-27 in the faceoff circle, including a 14 of 15 showing on Saturday.

The penalty issue cropped up again for the Huskies this weekend. They committed 17 over the two games after committing just 23 penalties total in their previous 5 games. Northeastern was fortunate that Merrimack’s power play ranked 10th in Hockey East, at 11.5%, coming into this weekend. Even so, the Warriors made the Huskies pay twice and stayed in the game far later than they should have on Friday. Northeastern will have to continue to improve in this area, as a stronger opposing power play  may have completely changed this weekend’s results.

Next up for NU: The Huskies will take a break from league play this weekend as they travel to South Bend, Indiana to participate in the Shillelagh Tournament hosted by Notre Dame. They’ll take on Western Michigan at 4PM on Friday evening. We’ll have you covered here at WRBB, with Craig White and Ryan Fallon on the call. Northeastern will then play either Alabama-Huntsville or Notre Dame on Saturday, depending on the results of Friday’s games.