Northeastern made the trip up to Andover, MA Sunday afternoon to conclude their home-and-home with Merrimack. It was the fourth time the teams had played in the last month, courtesy of a last-minute schedule change.
Northeastern, still carrying the momentum from last night’s thrilling come-from-behind win, entered with a ton of energy. The first line of Zach Solow, Grant Jozefek, and newly minted World Juniors gold medalist Sam Colangelo was putting loads of pressure on Merrimack goaltender Troy Kobryn.
The Husky defense was also impressive to start. Top pairing defensemen Jordan Harris and Julian Kislin did well to keep the puck away from the center of the ice in the defensive zone, making goaltender Connor Murphy’s job much easier.
The Merrimack style of dumping the puck into the offensive zone and chasing after it wasn’t working against this strong Northeastern defense, so they shifted things up. The Warriors started trying to find stretch passes to forwards on the blue line; this increased aggression left some Huskies open in the neutral zone, allowing for easier zone entry.
It wasn’t long before Northeastern’s second line got something going. It was a quick sequence, with Jordan Harris working the puck around the boards to Aidan McDonough. McDonough found his linemate Matt DeMelis cutting into the slot with a head of steam, and Demelis scored the one-timer to put the Huskies up.
About a minute later, the Huskies struck again. Riley Hughes skated the puck all the way from the goal line past the blue line, and a rocket was all it took to beat Kobryn again. The Huskies finished the period with a two-goal edge.
The Huskies took the ice for the second period with the same intensity. It didn’t take long for their full-ice pressure to pay off; Kobryn couldn’t control a shot from Gunnarwolfe Fontaine and Dylan Jackson netted the rebound. James Davenport, in his third college game, earned his first point as the secondary assistant. The Huskies led 3–0.
Connor Murphy, still playing between the pipes for Northeastern as Devon Levi recovers from a minor upper body injury, played admirably. His only blemish in the first two periods was a nice Logan Drevitch snipe late in the second period.
Northeastern forward Austin Goldstein headed to the box for interference, and the Huskies ended the second period on the penalty kill. They killed it off with ease in the beginning of the third, and immediately resumed their oppressive offensive pace.
About five minutes in, offsetting penalties yielded about a minute of four-on-four hockey. In the tight confines of Lawler Rink, Sam Colangelo displayed his NHL-level puck handling, weaving in and out of a number of Merrimack skaters and slinging a couple of shots on net.
“We’ve watched him on TV for the past month,” Northeastern Head Coach Jim Madigan said. “It’s his second college game. So the pace and the tempo, and learning how to play at this level each and every shift, I thought he did really well.”
Kobryn was tested more and more throughout the period as the Northeastern forecheck clamped down on the Merrimack defense. Fontaine created a couple of chances for himself, picking the pocket of the Merrimack defense a few times before turning and firing a quick shot toward the net.
After Murphy fought off a quick breakaway chance, Merrimack’s Filip Forsmark found himself in the box, giving Northeastern their fourth power play. Less than 20 seconds later, Jozefek joined him, marking the third time that a Northeastern penalty ended their own power play.
“The referees were calling a lot today, which is fine,” Madigan said. “The referees set the strike zone, and we didn’t do a good job at adjusting to that strike zone. We had some power plays on calls that probably Merrimack wasn’t happy with, but we should’ve learned how the referee was calling the game, and we didn’t.”
In the four-on-four action that followed, Merrimack clawed back into the game. Mac Welsher was the scorer this time, winning the puck back in the offensive zone and firing a wrister into the top corner.
The scrappy goal added wind to Merrimack’s sails, and the Warriors put even more pressure on the Huskies. Merrimack started to keep Northeastern on their heels, and flung a few shots toward Murphy. The increased pressure exposed a chink in their defense, which Colangelo exploited, getting a one-on-one look against Kobryn. Kobryn kicked Colangelo’s shot away, then neutralized Jozefek’s backhand shot off the rebound.
With under two minutes left to go, a phantom call against Jozefek gave Merrimack their best scoring chance of the afternoon. The Warriors pulled their goaltender, giving them a six-on-four. Down by a goal with under a minute to go, Merrimack threw everything but the kitchen sink at the Huskies, but the penalty kill unit withstood the pressure, the Warriors could not beat Murphy, and the Huskies held on for a 3–2 win.
The Huskies rose to 5–3–2, good for second place in the Hockey East standings behind UMass. Merrimack, having played fewer games and sitting at 1–5–0, is second-to-last.
Northeastern’s next game is at home against Providence at 6 PM on Wednesday. WRBB will call that game, with coverage commencing a few minutes before puck drop.