Marcus Antonelli – Sports Editor
The Men’s Hockey team started off the season on bumpy roads, dropping 2 games to Arizona State out west. Since then, the comforts of home benefited the Warriors, as they’re now back on track with a .500 record of 2-2-0. Last year, Merrimack’s games against Clarkson and St. Lawrence split the series, beating the Knights but falling to the Saints. Already sitting at 0-2, it was important to get off to a good start in the new Lawler Rink. Let’s recap the weekend.
Clarkson came into town on a Friday where the Warriors were desperate for a win. Early in the 1st, MC had difficulty in transition with the dump and chase strategy. But later in the period, Matt Copponi saw an opportunity on the powerplay and took advantage of his amazing acceleration, scoring a highlight reel goal that got him on Sportscenter Top 10 (He was 2nd).
Heading into the 2nd Period, Merrimack continued their offensive dominance. Mac Welsher won a faceoff in the offensive zone that got back to Christian Felton on a connecting pass from Mark Hillier, Felton then snuck the pass right back to Welsher in the slot for a tap-in. Welsher’s goal would make it 2-0. Before the end of the 2nd, Clarksons Ryan Taylor would make it 2-1.
In the early stages of the 3rd period, it was Chase Stevenson scoring all alone on a loose puck pass from Tyler Young off the rush, that would make it 3-1. The Warriors would ‘hold the line’ (S/o the MC Band), clogging Clarkson’s passing lanes and blocking many shot attempts throughout the period. Overall this defensive stand held the Knights to just 16 shots total. To put the cherry on top, Chase Stevenson would bang home an empty netter and the Warriors would win 4-1.
Stevenson, when asked for one word to describe the team play, said, “Balance, I think top to bottom, it was a team effort tonight. That’s how it’s gonna be all year for us.” says Chase, “having a balanced lineup from lines 1 to 4 that’s all gonna play. It’ll be key that everyone is contributing.”
The team had a Saturday break to relax before business was to be handled on Sunday. The Warriors were hosting St. Lawrence, who historically have Merrimack’s number in hockey, with an all time record of 16 wins and 2 losses. Last season, SLU had a 1-3 record vs Hockey East opponents, Merrimack was their only win. The boys were looking to change that.
The first period was a deadlock at 0-0. Both sides had difficulty settling into their offense due to both teams on high pressure. St. Lawrence especially had a forecheck that was effective to their credit. When Merrimack would enter the zone, they made sure it was difficult to get into a rhythm, and vice versa. Along with that, the boards were dominated by the Saints early on. No team had made any crucial mistakes.
Midway through the 2nd, the Saints drew first blood. Felikss Gavars had a snipe of a shot over Hugo Ollas’s glove to make it 1-0. But the Warriors struck back. Matt Copponi would steal the puck in the defensive zone, which created a 2 on 1 opportunity for Devlin O’Brien to notch his first ever collegiate goal.
From there, Merrimack took advantage of SLU’s mistakes. The offense exploded for 4 goals in the third period. The first 2 came from defensemen Christian Felton and Trevor Griebel off of loose puck rebounds. Later, Mike Citara scored his first as a Warrior off a perfect pass from Zach Bookman on the powerplay to make it 4-1 Warriors. The score would be 5-2 when the clock hit zero. Merrimack got the job done.
The boys finished the weekend with 30 total blocks on the defensive side. Coach Scott Borek spoke further on the topic, “I was hoping we’d get to 20 (MC had 17 Sunday vs SLU), but it’s the block that means more than a goal sometimes.” Tells Borek, “When you’re not playing your best, and a guy makes a big block, that can change the game. It really lifts the team up.”
Additionally, 7 different players scored at least once in this weekend’s doubleheader. Matt Copponi needs a shoutout for his 20 faceoff wins on Sunday, ultimately winning, to his surprise, 80% of the draws. Copponi said that faceoffs were something he was working on over the offseason, for some help he studied none other than Bruins legend Patrice Bergeron!
The Warriors are back in the rankings at 20th according to USA Hockey Magazine. Heading into conference play with their first Hockey East opponent, they’ll take the road trip down to Northeastern against the Huskies at Matthews Arena. This will be the only game they’ll play in the coming weekend. So it is definitely important to walk away with a win.