NORTH ANDOVER, MA - In front of a sellout crowd of 2,431, the 17th-ranked Merrimack hockey team returned to the completely renovated Lawler Arena in grand fashion, defeating #9/11 Maine 7-1 Saturday afternoon at Lawler Arena.
Off to its best start in its Division I history, Merrimack (10-4-4, 6-4-3 HEA) returns to action Wednesday against #14/15 Boston University at Lawler Arena at 7 p.m. Limited tickets remain and are available for purchase online at merrimackathletics.com. Maine (9-6-4, 6-4-2 HEA) will host Providence College Friday night at 7 p.m. in Orono, Maine.
Twelve different Warriors picked up points, led by three-point efforts from Stephane Da Costa (Paris, France) and Chris Barton Calgary, AB). The victory propels the Warriors into fourth place in Hockey East, one point ahead of Maine and one point behind Boston University, who will make the trip to North Andover on Wednesday.
After Robby Dee gave the visitors the 1-0 lead at 4:11 on a two-man advantage, Merrimack fired back with three goals in a 2:44 span to take a 3-1 lead at the first intermission, while outshooting the Black Bears 13-5.
Joe Cucci (Melrose Park, IL) was credited with his fourth goal on the power play at 12:02 after his centering pass went off a Maine defender and past goaltender Martin Ouellette.
Forty-two seconds later, Shawn Bates (Ft. Saskatchewan, AB) gave Merrimack the lead with his fourth of the year. Ryan Flanigan (Rochester, NY) centered the puck to Bates, who had just jumped on the ice, and the freshman one-timed it past Ouelette for his first goal since November 19.
Da Costa picked up his second point of the period at 14:46, wristing a blast into the net for his ninth of the year at 14:46. With the teams skating four aside, Brendan Ellis (Kelowna, BC) dribbled the puck deep into the Black Bear zone and found a wide open Da Costa at the blue line, who stick-handled in between the circles and buried it to cap off Merrimack's three-goal, first period outburst.
The Warriors were outshot 14-8 in the second, but Joe Cannata (Wakefield, MA) turned aside all 14, and Barton added a big insurance goal, shorthanded with 1:23 left in the period. Adam Ross (Red Deer, AB) worked the puck up the boards to Elliott Sheen (Lethbridge, AB), who broke in on a 2-on-1 with Barton. Sheen's shot was stopped, but Barton knocked in the rebound for his seventh of the year and second shorthanded to give the hosts the 4-1 lead through two periods.
Merrimack remained strong in the third, netting three more in a 3:22 span as Brandon Brodhag (Brooklyn Park, MN) knocked in a rebound off a Cucci shot at 5:06. Da Costa made it 6-1, taking a feed from Todd at 6:50, and Todd added a short-handed tally, converting a 2-on-1 with Barton at 8:28. Cannata was sharp, turning aside 29 shots, as Maine outshot the Warriors 33-32 in the game. Sam Marotta (Bridgewater, MA) made three saves, taking over for Cannata in the final 4:05.
Eighteen Warriors were even or better in the victory, led by Adam Ross (Red Deer, AB), who posted a +4 rating. Cucci and Todd also recorded a goal and an assist in the win, as the Warriors' top-ranked defense killed five of six Maine power plays.
The seven goals for Merrimack marked the most scored by a Mark Dennehy coached team in his six seasons in North Andover.