Marcus Antonelli – Sports Editor
NORTH ANDOVER – Merrimack is back to buzzing. The Warriors devoured their Thanksgiving leftovers, defeating the Army Black Knights and the Bentley Falcons in the Turkey Leg Classic Tournament. This was the program’s first in-season tournament victory since 2004 when Merrimack took home the Dunkin Donuts Coffee Pot (I was just a baby.) Enough about me though, MC needed a bounce-back win after an OT loss to Lowell at Tsongas the week before. Let’s recap the weekend for the boys.
The Warriors hosted Army in the first game on Friday. Coming into the game, the Black Knights were 2-9-0 and hadn’t made their mark. However, in the first period, they left something. Army went up 2-0 in the first on just five shots. Merrimack had fired 18 shots at Army goalie Evan Szary but he stood tall and made some good saves in close.
The boys didn’t fret, good things came to those who waited. The boys scored a whopping 5 goals in the second period, all goals coming from different players. Ben Brar and Max Wattvil both notched their second goals of the season to make it a tie game at 2 goals apiece.
Then another freshman got his first of the season. Ty Daneault redirected an oncoming point shot from Warrior defenseman Adam Arvedson, making it a whole new ball game. “Kinda been looking for it in the first couple of games,” said freshman forward Daneault, “Lucky enough to get one bouncing off me, definitely not how you draw it up but it was nice to get the first one.”
Merrimack had tallied on two more from Mac Welsher and a short-handed 2 on 0 goal from Mark Hillier that put the Warriors up 5-2 to end the second. “We knew what we were doing,” said Daneault, “We had a lot of shots, so it was kind of just keeping with it, sticking with it and it was going to come eventually.”
Daneault and Mark Gallant would tally their second goals of the season to make it a 7-3 runaway win for the Warriors. It was the response the boys were looking for, but the job wasn’t finished.
Merrimack had to host the Bentley Falcons, who won the previous night, defeating the UML Riverhawks 4-1. With Bentley’s win, Saturday was the Finals of the Turkey Leg Classic. Whoever won this game, would get the hardware.
Bentley, like Army, played hard. Their forecheck was textbook and its relentlessness proved to be an annoyance for the Warriors. Luke Weilandt broke through that ferocious forecheck and redirected a Zach Bookman shot from the point. Which would notch the first goal of his collegiate career.
Merrimack then went down 2-1 before the first period ended. After that, Bentley capitalized again on a second chance opportunity in the slot. Matt Thomson relentlessly in front made it 3-1 and the Warriors were once again down 2 goals.
“Bentley is a very good team,” said Coach Borek, “They bring a lot of pace and combat to the game, I thought they did a real good job of confronting the puck the whole night.”
Friends, that didn’t stop the Merrimack Warriors. The boys stuck with it and called it a comeback. Ty Daneault scored his third goal of the weekend on the setup from Alex Jefferies and Mac Welsher to make it a one-goal game. “They make it really easy to play with them, Mac and Jeff,” said Daneault, “they’re both really good players.”
Merrimack had yet to score on the power play this weekend (0-3 vs Army.) Bentley’s Seth Bernard-Docker went to the box for interference at the halfway point of the second period. One minute into the man advantage, Jefferies, Brar, and Copponi went tic tac toe, but Copponi was stopped on the initial shot attempt. Luckily for them, Filip Forsmark was right there to finish the rebound. It was a 3-3 tie.
The boys weren’t finished, the trio I mentioned earlier, had finally connected. Captain Ben Brar’s forecheck kept the puck in from Bentley’s breakout attempt. Brar initially attempted a shot that was blocked, so instead he dished the puck to Matt Copponi. Copponi found Jefferies in the slot and with patience, AJ19 scored the game-winning goal.
The third period was all desperation for Bentley. They tried everything they could to get a tie but Merrimack held on and won the Turkey Leg Classic.
These games were huge, not just in the acquisition of an in-season trophy, but for what’s ahead. “What I talked about to the guys during Bentley film was how fast they play and how they make you work,” said Coach Scott Borek, “I thought that was a good opportunity to play them, heading into our next few games, which are all Hockey East games.”
Coach Borek and the guys hope that they played at a good pace over the weekend. 12 goals and a test of a good opponent help the defense in the Warriors’ next battle, where they’ll take on the team that rode them of a Hockey East championship. Boston University.
“Army and Bentley played very hard, very good teams. It was good for us,” said Sophomore Defenseman Zach Bookman, “Good offense for us going into the BU weekend. It’s something we can build on for sure, as a group and for the D-Core.”
Merrimack will host BU on Friday at 7 for a Hockey Night in Lawler. Then the boys will take the trip down to Agganis Arena for a 6 p.m. puck drop. Those two games will conclude conference play for the fall semester. For MC, they sit in 8th place in the Hockey East with just 9 points. Their familiar foe, the Terriers sit atop the Hockey East mountain with 17 points. It would be nice to steal away some points from the team that stole the championship from you a year before. Friday would be a great start for that so if you’re reading this, show up and Get Loud, Be Proud, and cheer on the boys!