For the second night in a row, Merrimack took a 2-0 lead into the first intermission against Massachusetts. And again the Minutemen found a way to erase the deficit and tie the game at three in third period.
But this time it was Tony Johnson and the Warriors who scored a late goal to take a 4-3 win.
“We played really well in the first period,” Merrimack coach Chris Serino said. “But we were kind of hanging on there at the end.”
Goaltending was the difference in the game. Joe Exter turned in a sterling 34-save performance, while Gabe Winer made only 14 saves and was handcuffed by the game winner.
“Gabe made some good saves,” UMass coach Don Cahoon said. “Joe was the showstopper for sure but I’m not going to hang this loss on Gabe.”
Johnson caused a turnover in the offensive zone before crossing the right faceoff circle and shooting across Winer’s body and over his glove.
“We had a turnover in our own zone,” Cahoon said. “I actually thought the defenseman played it pretty well but Gabe got caught sagging into the net.”
The Minutemen pressed to score the equalizer but Exter was up to the task. Even after Matt Anderson (three points) took a pick penalty with under three minutes left, it was Merrimack that looked like it was shorthanded.
The Minutemen’s best chance came on a two-one-one between Chris Capraro and Tim Turner. Capraro gained the blue line with speed and elevated a cross-ice feed over Bryan Schmidt’s stick and onto Turner’s tape for a one-timer that rang off Exter’s mask.
“We worked hard in the third period,” Thomas Pock said. “It’s always tough, you know, after going down in the first period. We have to play a full 60 minutes.”
Johnson’s tally was the capper on a seesaw third period that saw the momentum repeatedly change hands. UMass looked in control when Anderson scored to tie the game at three. The freshman cycled off the back wall with the puck and fired a wrist shot past Exter’s glove. The goal bolstered UMass to a dominant portion of the period in which it outshot Merrimack 10-3.
Prior to Anderson’s score, Merrimack held all the momentum. Ryan Cordeiro scored early in the period after collecting a loose puck in the slot. That seemed to tilt the ice in the Warriors’ favor until Anderson scored.
Merrimack’s spirited third followed a second period of UMass domination. The Minutemen outscored (2-0) and outshot (13-5) Merrimack to bring a two-goal deficit back even. Stephen Werner scored on the power play at 9:52 to make it two goals apiece. Mauldin fired a heavy shot that squeezed past Exter and Werner was there to clean up the garbage.
Just over seven minutes prior, Anderson scored his first of the game to open UMass’ scoring. Werner took a bad angle shot that Exter steered to the weak side but Anderson flew in from the wing and shoveled it into the shelf.
UMass got three goals from one line on the evening while senior Tim Turner was held without a point for the first time in 11 games. Schmidt, a freshman defenseman, had himself a first period by capping two power-play goals with a defensive gem.
Schmidt’s third goal on the season came after Peter Alden entered the box with an interference penalty. Eric Pederson fed Schmidt for an open point shot to give the Warriors a 1-0 edge.
UMass defenseman Jeff Lang had a chance to tie it up when a scramble caught Exter out of the net. The sophomore picked up a loose puck and fired it toward the gaping net, but Schmidt went down to steer the drive to safety.
Schmidt then got his fourth of the year on an identical power play with Pederson playing the feeder again. Schmidt took the pass and beat Winer past the glove with a slapshot.
“We came out with a lot of energy,” Schmidt said. “On both my goals Pederson found me and I was wide open at the point.”
With the win Merrimack breaks a three-game losing streak and moves to 5-6-1 in Hockey East (8-9-3 overall). UMass ended its three-game winning streak and drops to 7-6-0 in conference (13-8-1 overall).