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Karl Stollery wore a hard hat to the postgame press conference, and his effort earned the right to. He scored two goals, including the game winner, and the Merrimack Warriors beat the University of New Hampshire Wildcats 3-2 at home Friday night. UNH hadn’t lost a Hockey East game in over two months.
Merrimack’s win tied the season series at a game apiece. New Hampshire won the first game, also at Lawler Arena, 5-4 in November.
Scott Foster had 40 saves for UNH, with a handful of them being highlight reel material.
New Hampshire coach Dick Umile was frank in his explanation of the Warriors’ win. “We missed our opportunities, whether we set up shots or not,” Umile said. “They executed when they got their chances.
Only 2:45 into the game, UNH had its first scoring chance.
“‘Braithe’ set the tone for us on [Bobby] Butler’s breakaway,” Warriors coach Mark Dennehy said.
Andrew Braithwaite came out of the net to stifle Butler’s shot after a Merrimack turnover gave the Wildcats the opportunity. Braithwaite finished the game with 28 saves, earning his ninth win.
Merrimack played well all night on defense, which Dennehy said assisted in the victory.
“UNH is one of the best teams in the country with their sticks, and we played a similar game against them,” Dennehy said.
The Warriors opened the scoring with the only goal of the first period. Barton found the back of the net for the 13th time of the season. After a pass from Da Costa, Barton and Jeff Velleca passed back and forth twice. The last pass set Barton up with a wide open net, and he beat Foster glove side.
“You always have to be ready when Velleca or Da Costa has the puck,” Barton said. The Barton, Da Costa and Velleca line has 14 points in the last four games.
The Wildcats tied the game at one less than a minute into the second. Butler received a pass from Blake Kessel in the corner, brought it to the red line and shot the puck past Braithwaite. The puck nailed the post and slipped in for a 1-1 score.
Merrimack notched a goal of its own in the second period, giving the team a second lead in the game. Stollery got on the board on the man advantage to make it 2-1. Barton and Da Costa set Stollery up behind the left faceoff circle, and his low shot made its way past Foster.
As the second period came to a close, the Wildcats tied the game once again. With 2.5 seconds on the clock, New Hampshire took three shots in a row right in front of Braithwaite. Paul Thompson stayed with it and ended the string of shots with a goal of his own.
“Momentum from a previous period only affects your team mentally if you let it,” Dennehy said after the game.
According to Barton, Dennehy calmed his team down in the intermission, and his words led to a quick Warriors attack in the third. Although there were more than fifteen minutes between the periods, there were just over 30 seconds of game time before the next and final goal of the game.
Da Costa went on a breakaway for the Warriors early in the third and had help behind him. Foster made a diving save, smacking the puck away with his glove in the center of the crease, but Stollery was there to beat the off-balance goalie on the rebound.
New Hampshire pulled its goalie for the last minute of play, but didn’t create a serious threat before the clock ran out.
Merrimack’s next game is against New Hampshire Saturday night at the Whittemore Center, when the teams will close out their regular season series.
New Hampshire is 5-2-3 at home, and went 1-1 against Merrimack there last season.
“We can’t forget about tonight, and we can’t commit turnovers tomorrow,” Barton said in anticipation of the series finale. “They make [the puck] fly in a bigger rink.
“We have to forget about tonight,” Butler said. “It’ll be a different game tomorrow.”