Huskies Shine in Third Period Again to “Sweep” Merrimack

One week removed from a 9-1 thrashing, the Northeastern Huskies and Merrimack Warriors did battle again on Saturday, this time in the tight confines of Lawler Arena in North Andover. While Merrimack kept this one close for far longer than the first matchup, a five goal third period ultimately staked the Howlin’ Huskies to a 7-2 blowout win. NU heads into winter break the winners of six consecutive games, sitting in a tie for third place in Hockey East with Providence. NU (13 points) is just one point behind UMass and Boston College for the top spot and holds a game in hand over both PC and BC.

The start of this game was a bit controversial. Within the opening two minutes, Zach Solow made a hit that can only be described as both high and unnecessary. No penalty was called on the play, and the hit went into review, at which point the only options for the referees are to keep the call on the ice or change it to a major (and likely an associated misconduct). They did not see a major penalty on replay and play continued. Just seconds later, Brandon Hawkins took a knee-on-knee hit from Michael Babcock. We went to review for the second time in a game that was barely 100 seconds old and this one was clear, resulting in a game misconduct to Babcock and a major power play for the Huskies.

The power play converted just 45 seconds in when Jeremy Davies stepped down from the point and rifled one past Drew Vogler. Merrimack killed the remainder of the major and nearly leveled the score as August von Ungern-Sternberg took multiple shorthanded breakaways towards Cayden Primeau and Christian Simeone found a post, then the rest of the period was relatively uneventful until the final minute. The Huskies entered the zone as the clock ticked down and the puck ended up with Tyler Madden, who fed it to Patrick Schule just above the crease and Schule beat Vogler with a bit of a one timed shot. Seconds after the ensuing faceoff, NU broke in and nearly scored yet again, before Cole McBride took the puck the other way, drove out wide, and beat Primeau to turn a potential 2-0 or 3-0 Huskies lead at the break into just a 2-1 game. The Huskies were the better team in the first, helped by all the time on the power play, but Merrimack was clearly more comfortable than a week prior and within striking distance.

Then the second period happened. The second period of this game was very possibly the worst period NU has played this entire year. Eric Williams hit a goalpost on basically the first chance of the period, then Merrimack held the puck and kept the Huskies in their own zone from that moment all the way to the finish and outshot them 11-4 along the way. Thankfully there was one positive, which was that in spite of Merrimack dominating the run of play, there were no goals scored on Primeau in the period and the Huskies’ star goaltender made the 2-1 lead survive safely to the third.

Just like in the second, Captain Williams started the third with a dangerous chance. Unlike before, he beat Vogler this time, stepping down basically uncovered from the point before ripping his signature slap shot. Williams then took a boarding minor, a savvy move by the Captain to put the Huskies shorthanded so Zach Solow could go the other way and score shorthanded for the second time in as many games against Merrimack. The flood gates were open at that point, and Grant Jozefek and Liam Pecararo each scored goals about 4 minutes apart to extend the lead to 6-1.

At this point, Scott Borek decided it was a good idea to call his timeout, a decision that some might think was just a bit too late. It worked though, as the Warriors quickly drew a Ryan Shea interference penalty and used a Sami Tavernier goal to make it 6-2. That looked like the way it would end, and credit to the Warriors for not getting dirty despite a run of games where they’ve been decimated (they also took a six goal loss to Providence between the two NU games). The same can’t be said for NU though, as with about 4 minutes to play Eetu Selanne did something that can only be described as “He was skating down the ice away from the play and decided to spear somebody.” He was immediately disqualified from the game and will be suspended for at least one more. Merrimack pulled Vogler at this point, and Tyler Madden connected for a shorthanded empty net goal for his fourth point of the game to give us our 7-2 final tally

Merrimack hung around in this one, and maybe it’s a different game if Solow is immediately ejected from it, but NU was the better team for the majority of the night and it showed in the end. The Huskies have faced all three of Vogler, Logan Halladay, and Craig Pantano within the past week and put pucks past all 3 of them.

Looking at individual performances, I was not a fan at all of the goal Primeau allowed in the first, but he redeemed himself in the second and never let the game get evened up, so we’ll cancel those out and say that as always he did what he had to do. 7 goals from 7 scorers is the name of the game from the Huskies this season, and Davies and Williams were lethal from the point on their shots as well. Jozefek scored his tenth of the young season and is one of the top scorers in the conference while Schule continued his breakout senior season. Even Lincoln Griffin (2 points) and both Austin Plevy and Austin Goldstein found the scoresheet. Good job everyone.

The exception to that paragraph is Eetu Selanne, who had a good showing at Matthews a week ago but followed it up with a bad look here. As was said above, he’s going to be suspended for at least one game, and it’s deserved. The only question is whether he gets back into the lineup in January. The gut instinct would be no, but NU is battling a number of depth injuries right now and with Madden potentially away at World Juniors there may not be a choice in the matter. We shall see. Luckily everyone now has 3 weeks off to heal up over the break.

The Huskies will now be without Associate Head Coach Jerry Keefe, top center Tyler Madden, and star goaltender Cayden Primeau as they all head to World Juniors camp. Keefe will obviously be there for the duration of the tournament and Primeau is expected to be the team’s main goaltender after they rotate goalies in the group stage. Madden can certainly make the final roster but I’m not sure I’m willing to call him a lock just yet, there are a lot of talented forwards there and many were members of the NTDP,  and Team USA has always shown that that matters to their selection process regardless of whether or not it should.

That’s about it for the first half, so enjoy your holidays, watch Primeau be good at goaltending at a bigger stage, get ready for some big games starting in mid-January (at Maine x2, UMass x2, Providence x2, Lowell, Beanpot is a stretch that will likely decide how this whole season goes), and as always, Go Huskies!