Gustafsson’s two points lead Merrimack past Maine

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A sense of optimism permeated the University of Maine campus on Friday. Early that morning, Athletic Director Karlton Creech announced a two-year extension of coach Red Gendron. It is also senior weekend, and home ice for the first round of the Hockey East playoffs remains up for grabs.

The optimism didn’t last long, as Merrimack scored three times in the opening period and hung on for a 6-4 victory. The Warriors got goals from six different players in a well-rounded offensive effort.

The back-breaker for Maine was the fourth goal, which made the score 4-1 and resulted in Matt Morris being pulled. Brett Seney took a pass from Hampus Gustafsson, broke in alone and fired a laser from the top of the right circle that beat Morris clean.

In a statistical anomaly, Rob McGovern was tagged with his 11th loss of the season when he surrendered a long rebound goal by Michael Babcock to make it 5-1 at 15:25 of the second period.

“We clawed our way back, but this game was lost long before that,” said Gendron. “To be blunt, that’s in the room. They’ve battled, they’ve faced adversity, but tonight the other team dictated the game for most of the first two periods.”

Maine tried to make it a game through Will Merchant’s team-leading 11th and 12th goals, which cut the Merrimack edge to 5-3 and brought the crowd back to life. Both goals were scored less than two minutes apart on the power play off rebounds of Steven Swavely shots.

Eric Schurhamer continued the comeback with a seeing-eye shot from the left point that Merrimack goaltender Collin Delia didn’t see until the puck came to a rest behind him.

Merrimack coach Mark Dennehy was happy to take the points, but was not pleased with his team’s performance.

“Regardless of the score, I don’t like the way we played. We turned the puck over, got on the wrong side of piles … but we’ve played well recently but didn’t get rewarded. Some nights you make a deposit, some nights you make a withdrawal. Tonight was a withdrawal.”

Gustafsson opened the scoring at 7:01 of the first period when he took a feed from Seney and rifled the puck past Morris.

Just 1:21 later, Maine evened the score when traffic in front prevented Delia from stopping Dan Renouf’s shot from the point. After a short review, the goal was allowed to stand.

For the next 18 minutes it was all Merrimack. The Black Bears didn’t even muster a shot for almost 10 minutes while Merrimack put up two more goals.

With the score 5-4 with just over a minute left, Maine pulled McGovern and set up for an offensive zone draw. The faceoff was won back to the point, but when the pass crossed to the other defenseman for a one-timer, Ben Bahe jumped the play and streaked in for the empty-net goal to seal the deal.

“Just what you expected from two teams that struggle to score goals, right, 6-4?” quipped Dennehy.

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