Senior goaltender Chris Rawlings turns aside 32 shots for Huskies

Senior goaltender Chris Rawlings made 32 saves for the Huskies

BOSTON - The Northeastern men's hockey team used three first-period goals to fend off a pesky No. 19 Merrimack squad, 3-2, in the Huskies' season-opener at Matthews Arena Wednesday night.

Highly touted newcomer Kevin Roy netted the game-winner all the way back in the first period and tacked on an assist to debut on Huntington Ave. with a multi-point performance in the first outing of 2012-13. Senior captain Vinny Saponari joined Roy as a multi-point achiever, posting a pair of assists, including the primary pass on Roy's power play winner.

Veteran centerman Garrett Vermeersch, sophomore Joseph Manno and fourth-year assistant captain Robbie Vrolyk scored Northeastern's other three goals on Wednesday. Vermeersch's tally came 53 seconds into the contest while Vrolyk's sealed the game with a short-handed empty netter. Manno's was sandwiched in between Vermeersch's and Roy's in the first frame.

Senior goaltender Chris Rawlings earned his first victory of the season, 40th of his career, via 32 saves on 34 Warrior shots. MC backstopper Rasmus Tirronen stopped 30-of-33 shots faced in his first loss the 2012-13.

Wednesday's opener was a penalty-plagued affair that had Northeastern converting on 1-of-8 power play chances. The Warriors went 1-for-7 with the extra skater.

Fifty-three seconds after the opening faceoff, Northeastern drew first blood with a nifty redirect goal by Vermeersch. Northeastern won the draw and the puck squirted into the near corner behind Tirronen. Sophomore Ludwig Karlsson and Vinny Saponari won a battle against an MC defensemen and Saponari wrestled the puck free out to the point where Saucerman was waiting. Saucerman had a lane and fired his first collegiate shot, but Vermeersch was in perfect position for the redirect tip-in goal just eight feet from the goalmouth to give NU the early 1-0 lead.

Merrimack killed off a Quinn Gould hooking call at 2:20 but moments later, a broken play in the neutral zone yielded a 2-0 Huskies' advantage.

Belonger won a scrum along the boards and pushed the disc up to K. Roy waiting at the blue line. Manno was flanking through the middle and K. Roy doled out a perfect dish at the top of the circle. Manno raced past his defenseman and beat Tirronen with a crafty backhand at 4:57 for the 2-0 buffer.

The Huskies continued to dominate the time of possession and forced Justin Hussar into a tripping call at 8:04 of the first stanza. Twenty-nine ticks later, Northeastern netted its first power play goal of the season on a textbook one-timer.

Sophomore Adam Reid and Saponari pinched their forward along the boards and managed to gain possession of the puck between the blue line and the top of the circle. Saponari got free and linked up with a wide-open K. Roy on the near post. K. Roy smoked the one-time pass right over Tirronen's outstretched glove for a 3-0 cushion at 8:33 of the first period.

The second period started off with a melee, each team parading to the box one after another. Mike Collins went off for slashing at 1:08 followed by Saucerman's trip 28 seconds later to create a 4-on-4 at 1:36. Dan Kolomatis was whistled for a hook nine seconds later and Karlsson nearly capitalized on the 4-on-3 with a ringer off the crossbar, but unfortunately on the next play, he was cited for interference at 2:11 to cap the penalty-plagued window.

Immediately after Karlsson was released, Merrimack ended its scoring draught at 4:20 of the second frame. Hussar and John Heffernan crafted a nice give-and-go in between the circle and tossed the puck on Rawlings. Gould crashed the net and managed to swat the puck underneath Rawlings' pad to make it 3-1.

Rookie forward Cam Darcy took his second penalty of the second stanza (holding) at 14:10 and the Warriors cashed in to make it a one-goal game at 15:08. The Huskies nearly converted a short-handed goal but Merrimack turned it back up the other side and Justin Mansfield's snap shot beat Rawlings' near side.

Conor Toomey emerged from a battle behind the net and dished it out to Mansfield on the near post. Mansfield wheeled it around the other side and snuck the puck through Rawlings unattested to narrow NU's lead, 3-2.

The Warriors earned another power play opportunity in the closing minutes of the second when Vermeersch was called for slashing at 17:01, but the Huskies killed their sixth chance of the evening heading into the third frame.

The third period started just as quickly as the previous two had for both teams. Right off the bat, Merrimack's Justin Mansfield fired towards Rawlings, but the senior made a great save, less than a minute into the final period. The Warriors continued to pepper Rawlings with shots from deep in the zone, including after Saucerman was called for holding at 7:30.

Not long after, Rhett Bly earned a spot in the penalty box for interference at 10:34, setting off another Husky power play. But the Warriors canceled five NU shots to escape unscathed and still down just 3-2.

Following some back-and-forth hockey between the two teams, Ferriero had a chance at a score at the 17:08 mark, but was whistled for interference, sending him to the box for two minutes. With the man-advantage to begin with, the Warriors pulled Tirronen to go two men up on the ice.

Vrolyk would make Merrimack pay, however. After sophomore Dax Lauwers kicked it out to Vrolyk, the senior sent in a beautiful shorthanded, empty-net goal from just outside the redline to give the Huskies the 4-2 cushion they were looking for. The Warriors got off four shots, but to no avail as the Huskies escaped with the 4-2, season-opening win.

The Huskies stay at home on Saturday night, Oct. 13, and welcome in defending national champion Boston College to Matthews Arena for a 7 p.m. puck drop.

Game Notes

- The last time Northeastern won its first regular season game of the year was in 2007-08 under head coach Greg Cronin. The Huskies defeated Providence at Matthews Arena in overtime on Nov. 19, 2007. Chris Donovan buried the OT winner 44 seconds into the extra frame from Chad Costello and David Strathman.

- Four Huskies newcomers scored their first collegiate points on Wednesday against Merrimack, including Kevin Roy (1-1-2), Ryan Belonger (0-1-1), Colton Saucerman (0-1-1) and Dax Lauwers.

- Joseph Manno scored his first goal in 27 games. The last time Manno scored, he tallied twice against Boston College on Oct. 22, 2011

- Kevin Roy (1-1-2) and Vinny Saponari were the first to record multi-point games in 2012-13.

- Senior assistant captain Robbie Vrolyk potted his first short handed goal of his career via the empty net in the 4-2 win against Merrimack. The Boylston, Mass. native's last goal came at New Hampshire on Feb. 10, 2012. Vrolyk has scored 13 goals in his career.