Marcus Antonelli – Sports Editor & Pat Casey – Sports Writer
Photo by Lauren Hearn (hearnphotography)
NORTH ANDOVER, Ma. — Merrimack had a difficult time up in Durham when they last played UNH. In their previous matchup, the battered down Warriors had lost the battle 3-1, but lived on to fight another day.
In this game between the No. 17 New Hampshire Wildcats (14-11-1, 7-8-1 HE) and Merrimack (11-17-1, 4-14-1 HE), both were coming off their two worst losses for their respective programs this year.
Merrimack lost to BU 7-1, and with that, had conceded seven straight games. UNH was defeated at Boston College by a score of 6-1. It would be safe to say both teams were desperate for a win.
The Warriors, after what seemed like forever, finally got a win.
The puck dropped and the Warriors had a pretty similar start to the game versus BU, they were heavy on the forecheck and created turnovers in the neutral zone. At the very least a positive sign after last night.
As for a difference between the night prior and this one, Merrimack drew first blood. Luke Weilandt’s hand-eye coordination proved effective again. His redirection from a Frank Djurasevic point shot found its way past UNH goalie Jakob Hellsten to make it a 1-0 game.
Later on, the man himself, Alex Jefferies, found his groove again. In his second game back from injury he was able to find the back of the net off of a great pass from Adam Arvedson. All of a sudden, Lawler was full of life and the Warriors led 2-0.
However, UNH was rewarded with a power play and forward Cy LeClerc was able to beat Hugo Ollas thanks to a good screen. The first 20 minutes would expire with Merrimack up one.
As the second period approached, you’d hope the Warriors could avoid another collapse. They came out and dominated the first 10 minutes of the second, creating chance after chance and forcing turnovers in the neutral zone. Some might even say they were buzzing.
Towards the back end of the period, both teams were unable to capitalize on their chances and the score remained in a 2-1 stalemate.
In the third period, it felt like UNH played with a little more desperation. Merrimack goaltender Hugo Ollas was a factor to be recognized tonight. While there weren’t a lot of flashy saves, his performance was nonetheless stellar, coming up with saves when his team needed it.
“He was really solid,” Borek continues, “I thought we played better in front of him than we did in front of Zack last night. But I thought Hugo made the saves he was supposed to make and he did a really good job for us.”
More and more, time chewed off the clock and the score remained 2-1. With about 2 minutes to go, UNH called a timeout and pulled Jakob Hellsten.
Bringing out the extra skater would not be enough for the Wildcats. Filip Forsmark, who had a grinder type game was rewarded with an empty net goal.
Merrimack snapped their 7 game losing streak dating back to late January. A final score of 3-1 ripped the irritating chip off the shoulder.
“Really proud of our guys,” said Coach Borek after the game, “Last night was a tough game. Particularly being short of the bodies we are, I loved the way the guys answered today.”
There is no doubt that they needed a momentum builder going into this final stretch of the season. The hope is that this can be the start of something. Especially with the team getting healthier at the right time.
The Warriors have two huge games up at the Gutterson Fieldhouse in Burlington, Vermont next weekend. The Catamounts, who currently sit 5 points ahead of Merrimack in the conference, recently split two post-regulation games with UMass Lowell. Safe to say this one is a crucial weekend. Hopefully they are able to make up for lost time and put together a win streak of their own.
For more coverage on Merrimack Men’s Hockey follow Pat (@caseykid12) and Marcus (@antonelli7jr) on Twitter (X) for all things Warriors Hockey. Don’t forget to check out the Beacon Newspaper website for articles on games, players, and more!