Marcus Antonelli – Sports Editor
This weekend, there was motivation to get back into the win column. As many know, Merrimack was swept by Maine the weekend before, which dropped MC out of the national rankings all together. It was necessary to bounce back in a positive way to stay in the race for Hockey East glory. UConn needed some bounce back of their own as they had an under .500 record. Let’s get into it.
Game one was down in Storrs at the beautiful new Toscano Family Forum. UConn had yet to win in their barn this season. Alex Jefferies wasn’t gonna make it easy, opening the scoring for the Warriors. However, the goal was almost called for offsides, as he made a deke move in between the blue line before his initial shot. The replay didn’t exactly help determine the goal for the average viewer, but regardless, Merrimack led 1-0.
UConn didn’t back down though. The Huskies took advantage of their speed and relentless forecheck and it proved efficient. First linemen Hudson Schandor and Matthew Wood would quickly answer back to make it 2-1 to end the first. Things began to look grim for the Warriors.
As for the second, Merrimack made the most of the little shots they attempted. On just 12 shots towards the net of Husky goalie Arsenii Sergeev, The Warriors’ first line racked up the score, tallying 3 goals in that span. Notably, Alex Jefferies and Zack Bookman contributed towards all of those goals and in the end, both posted 5-point nights.
Huskies defenseman Andrew Lucas tied it and then a play later, was penalized for slashing. Merrimack took advantage of the man-up. While UConn pressured high in the D-zone, the chemistry of the powerplay unit was on display. The Warriors’ perfect puck movement made the Top 5 penalty-killing Huskies look like Swiss cheese. Graduate forward Filip Forsmark was found in the slot to make it 4-3 MC.
By the third, UConn Coach Mike Cavanaugh switched goalies. Arsenii Sergeev at that point allowed 4 goals, saving only two-thirds of the shots faced. The Huskies lost all sense of composure and fair play, conceding a whopping five penalties in the third period which allowed Merrimack to run away with the game on a final score of 6-3.
In the second game, UConn ran into Lawler looking to even the score. The first period was filled with penalties from both sides, so the powerplay action was abundant. Ben Brar had his first goal of the year, five minutes in off a rebound caused by a Matt Copponi shot.
Coach Scott Borek was happy for his Graduate Captain when asked about the goal, “Having that happen for him, I was really pleased.” says Borek, “He was really good below the circles tonight. When he plays like that he gets a lot of opportunities for us. It was a big goal at the time”
That didn’t stop UConn at all, as they had their share of power plays and took full control. Jake Richard and Nick Capone made it 2-1 at the end of the first. Then a minute into the second, Ryan Mashie was found all alone to make the lead 3-1 for the Huskies.
Merrimack, however, wasn’t going to quit. We saw more Warriors get their first collegiate goals on Saturday. Freshman defenseman Max Wattvil went first, scoring off the rush to make the deficit one.
Frank Djurasevic was next. Alex Jefferies and Zack Bookman played keep away with the Huskies, drawing away all the attention from Djurasevic, who snuck in front to tap in the game-tying goal. Coach Borek talked further on how Frank has risen above the difficulties he’s been facing off-ice, “He played really well. I am just amazed, I don’t know if I could do that in the same situation,” Borek says, “The team was excited when it happened.”
In the third, the Huskies implemented their infamous high-pressure offense which had Merrimack on their heels. In the last five minutes, the Warriors were getting pinned down in their defensive zone. With under a minute left, Andrew Lucas found the back of Zachary Borgiels net and the game was lost. “I thought they took it to us at certain times, we survived it,” Borek continues, “We just couldn’t survive that last time.”
The absences of the more ‘defensive defensemen’ on this team (Mike Brown and Ivan Zivlak) are starting to emerge noticeably. Merrimack has conceded 12 goals in the last three games. Not a confident look for a team that boasts a strong defensive scheme. But Coach Borek stayed optimistic on the subject, “It makes it more difficult. But the great thing is we’ve gotten some guys great experience,” claims Borek, “That is going to make us a better team when those guys come back. We are playing pretty young back there, and that’s tough to do. But that’ll make us deeper when they do come back.”
Merrimack has a huge week coming up, hosting their rival, the UMass Lowell Riverhawks. They’ll come into town on Wednesday at 7 pm at Lawler Rink for the NESN Game of the Week. Then we’ll have some rest before heading to Tsongas Center in Lowell to take them on Saturday at a 6:05 pm puck drop. “We’re gonna have to be smart on how we approach our recovery,” Coach Borek says, “We got to make sure we’re fresh and ready.”
The Riverhawks will walk into this one will revenge on their mind. We remember last year, Matt Copponi’s overtime winner that kicked them out from the conference championship. UML also sits at 1-4 record with an overtime loss in the Hockey East for 4 points. Merrimack is only 2 points ahead of Lowell. So we should be on our toes.