Marcus Antonelli – Sports Editor
NORTH ANDOVER – Merrimack Men’s Hockey has won four of their last five games coming out of the winter break. The win couldn’t have come at a better time and against a better opponent. #13 ranked UMass had been steamrolling their competition. For eleven games they had yet to lose to an opponent in regulation. These Warriors, however, had other plans.
The weekend began west in Amherst, where the Warriors took the trip to UMass for the first game of the weekend stint. The boys fought extremely hard but fell short and were unable to attain the lead throughout the whole sixty minutes. Losing 4-3 left a chip on the Warriors’ shoulder and they played like it heading into game two.
Merrimack came out in front of a packed home crowd and took it to the Minutemen. In the first period alone they attempted 22 shots, which had UMass goalie Michael Hrabal on his toes. “I think we needed to have a great fourth period (1st period of the second game),” said Head Coach Scott Borek, “last night was hard and heavy…I thought we did just that to get the game going in our momentum, and it went pretty well from there.”
It did go well from there, while there were no goals in the first, the Warriors quickly got on the board in the second period. Ty Daneault was found alone in the slot by Mark Hillier to make it a 1-0 game just 90 seconds into the 2nd frame. This goal marked Daneault’s 11th point in his last 11 games. (If WordPress let me paste the highlights in from Twitter I would, so here they are from YouTube.)
Another point of emphasis in the win was Merrimack netminder Hugo Ollas. He was absent for four games prior due to an illness. In his return to the crease, he made 24 saves on 25 shots for a .960 save percentage. Ollas had a series of good saves that kept the boys in it.
It felt like he activated his X-Factor in this game, “The fact that he hasn’t played for a while after being sick and being beaten up a little bit, and then to play like that is pretty, pretty special. I was really happy for him,” Coach Borek continues, “…Zack (Borgiel) has played well for us over the last four games, he played really well last night. And this is kind of what happened last year. Borgy played a really good game and then Hugo would do the same thing. And they both gave us chances to win.”
A win is a win, but the Warriors had an injury scare, one of extreme importance that hopefully won’t hurt them for the rest of the season. Senior forward Alex Jefferies, having scored his 13th goal of the season, suffered an injury late in the second period that left him immobile. Eventually, he went down the tunnel and didn’t make a return to the game.
Coach Borek had minimal information about the unfortunate situation, “We don’t know but it’s certainly not day-to-day, it looks like it’s gonna be a little while,” tells Borek, “which is too bad. He played great. I thought he was the best player on the rink. It’s unfortunate, but hopefully he’ll be back.”
Merrimack finished the game winning 4-1 over Amherst, ultimately splitting the season series, 1-1. Both teams will have one more chance to play and break the tie on February 2nd back home in Lawler. The Warriors are now back in the top 25 pairwise rankings with a record of 10-10-1.
That, however, isn’t the teams focus right now. MC has a huge series ahead of them if they want to continue this amazing run they have going. Next week, it’s onto Boston College, arguably the best team in the NCAA this year.
The Eagles boast one of the best records in the country at 13-3-1, which makes them 1st in the polls, and second in the Hockey East only behind Boston University. Last year, Merrimack swept the Eagles all season. Most notably, the Warriors bested them in the Hockey East quarterfinals, 1-0 in double OT to send them to the Garden.
However, both teams are in very different positions this year. Merrimack would like to continue their amazing play heading into this series. On the other hand, Boston College most recently was upset by Providence in a 4-3 loss. Anything is possible, people.
The first game of the series will be on the 19th of January at Lawler Rink for a 7 p.m. puck drop. Then, the Warriors will have a day’s rest before heading down to Chestnut Hill on a Sunday for a 3 p.m. start. The boys would love to give the Eagles their best shot and after this weekend’s results, it’s not out of the question.
For more coverage on Merrimack Men’s Hockey follow me on Twitter (@antonelli7jr) for all things Warriors Hockey. Don’t forget to check out the Beacon Newspaper website for articles on games, players, and more!