HISTORIC: Merrimack Triumphs, Advances to Hockey East Final
In front of 16,003 fans at TD Garden, the Warriors beat UNH 4-1 to advance to the Hockey East Final for the first time in school history.
Merrimack College made history at TD Garden last night.
Last night’s 4-1 triumph over the University of New Hampshire Wildcats was Merrimack’s biggest win in school history, as the team has never reached the Hockey East Finals until now.
Merrimack served as the away team, but fan support at the Garden was clearly in Merrimack’s favor.
“I would say probably a third of the people that were here just from the Andover, North Andover area,” said Warriors head coach Mark Dennehy. “They have no ties to the school except the excitement of college hockey, and they’ve sort of jumped on our bandwagon which is plenty big enough,” he said.
However, things did not start off exactly the way Merrimack drew it up.
In the first minute of play, UNH dumped the puck into the Merrimack zone. A Wildcat deflected the puck which took a funny bounce that handcuffed Merrimack goalie Joe Cannata.
Cannata looked demoralized after giving up the easy goal. The play would be reviewed by the replay booth.
“Good thing I’m not a shortstop,” said Cannata.
“I love how our team went over and tapped him on the pads; they know that we’re here because of him,” said Dennehy. “He ended up saving our bacon later.”
Upon review, it was determined that the deflection came from a player that was passed the blue line, therefore the play was ruled offside and the goal was taken off the scoreboard.
New Hampshire would still pot the first goal of the game. Seven minutes and 20 seconds into the opening period, Wildcat Mike Borisenok made a pass from deep in the Merrimack zone to Stevie Moses who was waiting in the right circle.
Moses one timed it passed Cannata to put UNH on the board. That would be the last time the Wildcats would beat Cannata.
Three minutes and 27 seconds later, Merrimack responded.
After Merrimack’s Karl Stollery went to the box for a hit from behind, UNH’s captain made a costly error.
Ryan Flanigan was able to steal the puck from UNH captain Mike Sislo. Flanigan found his line-mate Stephane Da Costa flying up the ice. The two were off on a shorthanded two on one bid.
Da Costa flipped the puck back to Flanigan who shot a beauty, stick side, for a shorthanded goal that tied it at one.
“That definitely hurt,” said Wildcats captain Mike Sislo.
Later in the first, Brendan Ellis ripped a shot from the left point. Elliott Sheen was creating traffic in front of the net and was able to deflect the puck into the net to give Merrimack its first lead of the night.
Merrimack’s 2-1 lead held through to the third period.
With time winding down and less than six minutes on the clock, Merrimack’s Mike Collins put the game away.
The Warriors were threatening diligently in front of the Wildcats’ net. Collins, from behind the net, banked a shot off the UNH goalie that trickled over the goal line to put the Warriors up 3-1.
In the closing moments of the game, Merrimack was shorthanded due to a tripping penalty on Karl Stollery.
With only four men on the ice to UNH’s six, Elliott Sheen made a steal and flew down the ice for a shorthanded empty netter to make it 4-1.
“We had our opportunities to score.” said UNH head coach Richard Umile. “We couldn’t get it done; that was the difference in the game,” he said.
Merrimack’s win puts them in the Hockey East Final tonight against Boston College. The Warriors took the season series against BC 2-1.
“The season series ended the day after Thanksgiving,” said Dennehy, hinting that Merrimack’s regular season success can now be thrown out the window, even after the Warriors set a school record for wins (24).
Merrimack, with a chance to bring a trophy back to North Andover, will also partake in the NCAA National Tournament. A selection show for the tournament will be televised on ESPN 2 on Sunday morning to determine the 16 team field.
Merrimack will undoubtedly be one of the 16 teams vying for the national championship.
For now, their focus is on tonight and Boston College.
“Anybody whose team might be out of it, feel free to cheer for Merrimack,” said Dennehy.
Check out our live blog from list night to get a recap of the game's play by play action.