Perez the OT hero as Maine defeats Merrimack

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ORONO, Maine — “Just what you expected from two teams that struggle to score goals,” joked Merrimack coach Mark Dennehy after Friday night’s 6-4 Warrior victory.

This was more in line with the defensive styles and the offensive troubles both teams have had this season.

For 45 minutes anyway.

The final few minutes Saturday were breathtaking and more than made up for the “watching paint dry” feeling — especially for the home fans who celebrated an overtime goal by Daniel Perez that lifted Maine to a 3-2 triumph.

It was a story of two games.

The first 45 minutes were not only scoreless Saturday, but few legitimate scoring chances were created. The best opportunity came with five minutes remaining in the second period when Andrew Tegeler collected a loose puck at center ice and quickly crossed to Cam Brown to start a two-on-one break. Brown waited for the defender to commit and saucered a pass to Tegeler, but the senior missed on the one-timer.

Shots through two periods were 18-16 for Merrimack, but almost all came from the outside and presented little challenge to Warriors netminder Drew Vogler (30 saves) or Maine’s Rob McGovern (21 saves).

Maine finally hit pay dirt when Steven Swavely lassoed a rebound chance off a Will Merchant shot and deposited the puck in the back of the net.

“It means everything to score a goal and go out a winner [on senior night],” said Swavely.

Minutes later, Brown followed his own shot and cut across the net to put Maine ahead 2-0 with 6:47 left.

It appeared Merrimack would go quietly into that good night, but the Warriors have become skilled at late-game heroics. Extra-attacker goals against Connecticut and Boston College were merely a warm-up act for tonight.

With just under two minutes left, Dennehy pulled Vogler and Merrimack set up in the offensive zone with Brett Seney behind the net with the puck. Chris LeBlanc was parked at the right post begging for a pass. After several fakes, Seney finally passed it and LeBlanc put the puck top shelf behind McGovern.

Merrimack again got control and pulled Vogler, but the puck came free to a Maine defenseman in front of his net. He attempted to clear the puck down for an empty-net goal but his attempt was easily blocked by Jared Kolquist, who immediately sent it towards Maine net. His shot was tipped by Seney into the net with just 22 seconds remaining.

“We’ve gotten very good at that, which is good and bad,” said Dennehy. “It’s bad because that means you’re losing, but good because it means you haven’t quit. I think that’s probably the type of game everyone expected.”

The overtime ended quickly.

Freshman defenseman Rob Michel fired a shot from the left point that was blocked, but came right to Perez, who made no mistake.

“I was just in the right place at the right time,” Perez said.

He fired the puck though Vogler, who was still prepared to face Michel’s shot.

“For them to have, potentially their last memory at Alfond Arena, to be a victory [on senior night[, that means everything to me personally,” said Maine coach Red Gendron.

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