Merrimack College’s best season in school history ended in catastrophe last night at the Verizon Wireless Arena in Manchester.
The Warriors, who held two goal leads on two occasions, gave up three unanswered goals and relinquished a seemingly inevitable Elite Eight berth to the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame.
Merrimack went up 3-1 in the second period on freshman Rhett Bly’s swift goal through the legs of Notre Dame goalie Mike Johnson.
Before long, the Warriors found themselves in sudden death overtime after a poor third period.
The Merrimack Warriors woke up from their third period slumber to dominate the first five minutes of the overtime period. The Warriors peppered shots on net to no avail despite completely regaining the momentum.
Then disaster struck for Merrimack.
Junior Carter Madsen took the puck behind the Merrimack net and mishandled it leaving Notre Dame’s Anders Lee with a desperate shot at getting the puck on net.
Lee fell to the ice and swiped his stick at the loose puck, and that was the end of Merrimack’s year.
The puck trickled through goalie Joe Cannata, and a marvelous season went up in flames.
“I just went into the fore-check as hard as I could and swung for it and the next thing I knew it was in the back of the net,” said Lee of the game winning goal.
It was the third strange goal of the evening for Notre Dame as the Fighting Irish made it 3-2 on a soft goal and tied it at three on a bad pass from defenseman to goalie.
Anders Lee scored his first goal of the game to make it 3-2 by beating Cannata with a slapshot in the second period. Cannata, a draftee of the Vancouver Canucks, got a glove on the screamer but could not control it.
In the third, Merrimack defenseman Brendan Ellis tried passing to his goalie Cannata but that allowed Notre Dame’s Billy Maday to stuff it in under Cannata to tie it at three.
Dennehy did not allow the tough luck to be an excuse. He acknowledged that Merrimack had been the benefactor of lucky bounces throughout the season as well.
“That's what I love about coaching sports; it all equals out and breaks even in the end,” said Dennehy.
Merrimack defenseman Karl Stollery chimed in on the unfortunate bounce that ended his season. “It was an unlucky break, but that’s what happens in sudden death,” Stollery said. “It’s tough either way but you can’t hang your head on it,” he went on.
Notre Dame head coach Jeff Jackson won his 299th game as a college hockey coach.
“He’s done that all season for us,” he said of his left winger Anders Lee. “Tonight was his night. It wasn’t pretty, but he pays the price and got rewarded,” he said.
Lee’s two goals were the difference.
Merrimack started the game off in the driver’s seat. “Merrimack put us on our heels early,” said Jackson.
Kyle Bigos got Merrimack on the board with a powerplay goal in the first period. He dug out a rebound in front of the Notre Dame net to make it 1-0.
Ryan Flanigan made it 2-0 with a pretty shorthanded goal. He and linemate Stephane Da Costa streaked up ice on a shorthanded, two on one bid. Da Costa gave Flanigan a perfect pass, and Flanigan took care of business to make it 2-0.
Just 27 seconds later, Calle Riderwall cut the lead in half with a goal from the slot to make it 2-1.
Then in the second came Bly’s goal through the legs of Johnson to make it 3-1. Anders Lee and Notre Dame responded to make it 3-2.
In the third, Billy Maday took advantage of Brendan Ellis’ miscue to make it 3-3 before Anders Lee ended it in overtime.
Defenseman Adam Ross played his final game in a Warriors uniform but acknowledged the team’s success and future.
“We’ve grown a lot as a team and a program,” he said. In 2010-11, Merrimack set new school records for wins, points, and sellouts.
“There are a lot of good years to come for this program,” Ross concluded.
For a play by play recap, check out our from last night.