North Andover, MA – It’s crunch time in Hockey East, and the Merrimack College Warriors took care of business and the University of New Hampshire Wildcats, 5-2, to earn three crucial points in front of 2,177 at Lawler Rink on Friday. Merrimack got three goals from junior Mac Welsher as they opened up a sizable lead on the UNH but, more importantly, pulled even with Providence College in the standings in fifth place. Sophomore netminder Zachary Borgiel stopped 22 of 24 Wildcats shots as the Warriors improved to 8-8 in HEA play.
“We took the hard road for sure,” said Merrimack coach Scott Borek. “They’re (UNH) playing really good hockey, there’s a lot of stress in that game. Both teams played really hard. It was one of the most emotional games we’ve had all season…both teams understood the importance of it. I thought it was a heck of a hockey game and we were fortunate to come out on top.”
The Warriors were all over the Wildcats to open the game. New Hampshire goaltender Mike Robinson was under duress from the opening face-off but stood tall between the visiting Wildcats’ pipes. Those very same pipes helped Robinson (19 saves) out on more than one occasion in the first period.
The first time, Welsher was alone in front of goal when he fired off a snapshot that beat Robinson but hit the far post around the ten-minute mark. Robinson turned back a few chances there as Welsher ended up getting sent off for Tripping at 11:18. The Merrimack penalty kills limited the Wildcats to one shot on goal during two power-plays in the opening twenty minutes.
At 17:01, UNH’s Robert Cronin drew an Embellishment call on a Flip Forsmark Tripping penalty setting up a four-on-four. Warriors defenseman Zach Vinnell zipped a wrist shot past Robinson from the slot but hit the crossbar.
Sophomore defenseman Luke Reid gave the Wildcats the 1-0 lead while still on the four-on-four at 18:46. Reid was left uncovered to the right of Merrimack’s Borgiel with a wide-open net when Kalle Eriksson feathered a pass across to Reid for his third goal of the season. Tyler Ward also assisted on the lone goal of the period.
Alex Jeffries put the Warriors on the board at 3:18 with Wildcats center Lucas Herrman off for Roughing. Jeffries caught a Logan Drevitch pass and fired a wrist shot from the bottom of the left circle that beat Robinson near-side against the post for his fourth goal.
Just seconds later, the Warriors pulled ahead on Welsher’s first of the night at 3:58. The 5′-8″ centerman from Grosse Point Farms, Michigan, held onto the puck on a two-on-one and beat Robinson at the near post for his fourth goal of the year. Jordan Seyfert and Declan Carlile assisted the goal.
“I looked to pass, but I had so much room so I just took off,” said Welsher of his first goal. “I looked off Benny (Ben Brar) and just shot it. Luckily it went in.”
Things got a bit out of hand at 7:02 when Wildcats forward Eric MacAdams drove to the Warriors net. MacAdams was walloped behind the goal by Vinnell and got tangled up with Warriors defenseman Zach Uens. MacAdams took exception to a Uens cross-check and earned a Cross-Checking call as well as a Roughing penalty. Borgiel received a Hitting After the Whistle penalty in the ensuing scrum when he retaliated on MacAdams. Welsher served the two minutes for his goaltender.
Welsher struck for the second time in the period at 13:37 when he was the recipient of a Steven Jandric pass from behind the net. Welsher threw it on the net in front of Robinson and somehow put the puck past Cam Gendron and Robinson to make it 3-1 Merrimack. A solid hit by Jandric on Chase Stevenson led to Jandric getting the puck down low to dish to Welsher for his fifth goal of the year.
A Five-Minute Major call on Forsmark at the 16:00 minute mark gave the Wildcats some needed spark. Forsmark clobbered defenseman Nikolai Jenson in the UNH zone. The officials reviewed the hit, which led to the penalty being assessed to Forsmark for Contact to the Head.
Robert Cronin capitalized on the power-play at 17:32 when he buried a nifty pass from MacAdams, who came out of the corner with the puck, past Borgiel to cut the score to 3-2 Merrimack. MacAdams and Ward assisted Cronin’s fifth goal of the year.
Early in the third period, Merrimack made it 4-2 when Max Newton‘s shot trickled through Robinson’s pads at 2:21. The power-play goal was credited to Vinnell, even though he passed to Newton on the right side of the net.
The Wildcats pulled Robinson with just under four minutes remaining in the game. UNH managed to draw a Slashing penalty on Merrimack’s Uens at 17:50, giving the Wildcats a six-on-four. That’s when Welsher struck for his third of the game with just thirty-four seconds remaining on the clock.
Welsher corralled a loose puck in front of Borgiel and fired a clearing attempt the length of the ice for his first NCAA hat-trick.
“It’s a tight race right now, if you look at the standings,” said Welsher on the importance of the three points. “We’re not too far out, but you have to take it a game at a time. Hopefully we can catch those teams up there, but we put ourselves in a good position.”
“I thought we got outplayed. We knew they (MC) were going to play on their toes,” said Wildcats coach Mike Souza. “They’ve been playing great. We got outplayed, out-special teamed. We had moments but not nearly good enough.”
The Warriors will host Maine on Saturday at 7:00 pm while UNH hosts UConn at the Whittemore Center at 7:30 pm.