DURHAM, N.H. - Matt Di Girolamo (Ambler, Pa.) finished with 34 saves, including 16 in the first period, but the sixth-ranked University of New Hampshire men's hockey team was defeated 4-2 by 11th-ranked Merrimack College in Friday night's Hockey East action at the Whittemore Center.
UNH, which entered the game with a four-game winning streak, is now 17-6-4 overall and 15-3-2 while Merrimack extended its win streak to five games to improve to 18-5-4, 12-5-3.
MC goaltender Joe Cannata was credited with 27 saves, 10 of which came in the third period. Brandon Brodhag, Adam Ross, Carter Madsen and Mike Collins netted the Warriors' goals, and Madsen also added an assist to finish with two points.
UNH's goal scorers were Brett Kostolansky (Denver, Colo.) and Stevie Moses (Leominster, Mass.). This marked the 11th time this season Di Girolamo has made 30 or more saves.
The teams scored 13 seconds apart in the first period as they skated to a 1-1 tie through 20 minutes. Merrimack nearly scoring in the opening minute but Di Girolamo stopped Chris Barton at the right post, then dove across the crease to cover the puck before Jeff Velleca's shot at the left doorstep crossed the goal line. The Warriors did take a 1-0 lead at 3:08 on Brodhag's fifth goal of the season. Madsen initiated the sequence with a pass from the right corner to Fraser Allan at the left point. Allan struck a slap-pass towards the far post that Brodhag redirected the puck into the open right side.
UNH tied the score at 3:21 when Kostolansky's slap shot deflected off a MC defenseman's stick in the low slot past Cannata.
The Wildcats generated a dangerous scoring chance in the closing minute of the first period on a rush by Mike Sislo (Superior, Wis.) down the right wing. His shot from the top of the circle was stopped by Cannata and Blake Kessel (Verona, Wis.), trailing down the slot, fired a shot off the left post. Cannata then dove back to cover the puck in the crease.
Merrimack netted goals 50 seconds apart in the second stanza to build a 3-1 lead. With a faceoff to Di Girolamo's left, MC's Rhett Bly drew the puck back to the high slot, where Ross' blast sailed into the upper-right corner at 12:31. The Warriors extended the advantage to two goals at 13:21 when Madsen scored off a rebound at the left post. Elliott Sheen moved the puck from the right half-boards to Karl Stollery in the high slot. His slap shot sailed wide left of the cage, but Madsen controlled the carom off the end boards and backhanded a shot into the near side.
UNH pulled within 3-2 at 17:31 of the second period. The initial shot by Damon Kipp (Salmon Arm, British Columbia) from the high slot ricocheted off Moses' stick wide right of the cage. Mike Borisenok (Watervliet, N.Y.) gained control of the puck behind the net and saucered a pass to the low slot, where Moses, with his back to the cage, shoveled a shot into the net.
The 'Cats nearly leveled the score at 5:12 of the third period. Paul Thompson (Derry, N.H.) won a battle for the puck in the right corner and threw a pass to the low slot, where DeSimone pulled the puck around Cannata and pushed the puck towards the open net, but the Warriors' goalie lunged back and covered it in the crease to preserve the lead.
Merrimack went on its fifth power play of the night at 6:45 and needed just 12 seconds to convert the skater advantage into a goal and 4-2 lead when Barton's backdoor pass from the left wing was redirected into the open right side by Collins. Joe Cucci, with the initial pass from the left point to Barton, was also credited with an assist.
UNH called time out with 2:27 remaining and pulled Di Girolamo in favor of an extra skater. The Warriors effectively neutralized the 'Cats, however, and yielded just one shot on goal the rest of the way.
New Hampshire and Merrimack face off again Saturday (7 p.m.) at Lawler Arena. UNH's next home game is Feb. 25 against Northeastern University. Game time at the Whittemore Center is 7 p.m.