“Every night is a grind.”
Jim Madigan, Northeastern University’s head hockey coach, couldn’t have summed up Wednesday night’s Hockey East opener better.
Merrimack College head coach Mark Dennehy’s opinions didn’t differ, stating simply “you have to play a full 60 minutes to win…we didn’t deserve to win this game.”
Merrimack got off to a tough start Wednesday night as goaltender Rasmus Tirronen, getting his first collegiate ice time during his first collegiate start, gave up 3 opening period goals, the first coming just :53 seconds into the game.
A rowdy, rousing NU student section was endlessly heckling Tirronen as soon as he took the ice, something he’ll have to get used to in the Hockey East.
Despite immediately facing an uphill challenge, Dennehy was relatively pleased with Tirronen’s performance.
“I thought he played fine,” said Dennehy. “He was not our problem tonight.”
To be fair, Dennehy had a point. After the first three goals, Tirronen settled and made several spectacular saves to stymie Northeastern’s offense. Merrimack just looked slower, as the Huskies skated figure eights around them throughout the first period. In the defensive zone, Merrimack was hitting hard when they could slow the game down, but all three goals came off a Merrimack turnover in transition.
Seeing this, Dennehy called a timeout and laid out the game plan very simply for his team, now trailing 3-0. The Huskies, who outshot Merrimack 16-6 in the first period, were seemingly unafraid to let loose on Tirronen.
“I said ‘well, look what they’ve done in just 8 and a half minutes…we’ve got 51 and a half left.’”
After the timeout, the Warrior forecheck suddenly reappeared, but it was “too little, too late.”
What Merrimack needed was their big, bruising, six-foot, five-inch defenseman, Kyle Bigos. Bigos, who left Saturday’s game with an undisclosed injury, said about his injury before Wednesday’s game simply “I don’t know. Lower body injury.”
Dennehy didn’t clarify the problem in his post game press conference, copying Bigos’ sentiment, saying “Let me see if I can do my best Bill Belicheck: lower body injury.”
In Bigos’ stay, freshman Sean Robertson suited up, making his collegiate debut.
In fact, Merrimack had 4 freshmen active tonight, including the debut of forward Ben Bahe and center Brian Christie, as well as a second appearance for wing Justin Hussar.
Merrimack came out much stronger in the second and took advantage of a chippy period featuring 10 penalties. Asked about the chippiness of the game, Dennehy was unsurprised, stating “that’s just Northeastern and Merrimack…gritty hockey at both ends.”
Sophomore Quinn Gould put Merrimack on the board just 4:20 into the second with a transition 4 on 4 goal on assists from John Heffernan and Justin Hussar. In the minutes before, the Warriors were controlling possession during a 3 on 3 and a brief 4 on 3 Power Play. After ripping several hard shots, Gould finally scored on a one timer coming off a cross-ice pass.
A questionable interference call to Justin Mansfield midway through the second led to an NU power play, eventually killed by the Warriors. Just seconds after Mansfield got released from the box, he ripped a one timer from Josh Myers that rebounded, which he followed, and eventually squeezed past goalie Chris Rawlings for Merrimack’s second goal of the night.
“We clawed ourselves back in,” said Dennehy, but the Huskies had already clawed away at the Warriors too much.
In the end, a back and forth final period ended with just one empty net goal scored, and Northeastern pinched out a 4-2 win.
Something to note: both Merrimack goals came off of penalties from Northeastern freshman Cam Darcy, who was in the penalty box to watch both. Madigan highlighted this in his post game press conference, reminding everyone “you don’t win in this league without senior leadership.”
Mark Dennehy knows this all too well, as this year’s squad features only four seniors, three of whom were inactive tonight.
“We kind of shocked them,” said Huskies Captain, senior Vinny Saponari.
Shocked was an understatement. Said Dennehy about tonight’s game, “I felt like the guy on the top of the Titanic screaming ‘iceberg!’”
Well coach, the good news is that once you’ve sunk and reached rock bottom, the only place to go is up.
At least we hope.