UNH men’s hockey can’t complete rally in 4-3 loss to Merrimack

  • Eric MacAdmas (19) controls the puck near center ice with Merrimack’s Sami Tavernier in pursuit during a Hockey East matchup at the Whittemore Center in Durham on Sunday. Helene Bartsch / UNH Athletics

  • ABOVE: UNH sophomore Patrick Grasso (center) handles the puck away from Merrimack’s Alfred Larsson during a Hockey East matchup at the Whittemore Center in Durham on Sunday.BELOW: Michael McNicholas (right) looks to pass in UNH’s offensive end as Merrimack’s Ludvig Larsson (left) pursues. UNH scored first, but lost to the Warriors, 4-3. Helene Bartsch photos / UNH Athletics

  • Michael McNicholas looks to pass in UNH’s offensive end as Merrimack’s Ludvig Larsson pursues during a Hockey East matchup at the Whittemore Center in Durham on Sunday, Dec. 10, 2017. Helene Bartsch / UNH Athletics

Monitor staff
Published: 12/10/2017 11:28:09 PM

DURHAM – A promising start for the University of New Hampshire men’s hockey team spiraled into a deep hole the Wildcats couldn’t quite dig themselves out of.

Michael McNicholas scored just 34 seconds into the game but Merrimack snapped back with four unanswered goals and the Warriors protected their lead long enough to defeat No. 13 UNH, 4-3, Sunday afternoon at the Whittemore Center.

“It’s never easy to come back two or three goals,” McNicholas said. “We were almost able to pull it off tonight. ... We didn’t get the job done.”

It was the first time the seniors on the Merrimack squad won at the Whittemore Center. The last time the Warriors won on UNH’s home ice was February 2013.

The Wildcats (9-7-1, 4-5-1 Hockey East) trailed 3-1 at the end of the first period despite outshooting Merrimack 14-9 in the frame.

After McNicholas gave UNH an early 1-0 lift, the Warriors responded with three goals on its first nine shots.

This felt familiar.

UNH fell behind in similar fashion Saturday night as Army pulled ahead 3-1 in the second period with its ninth shot on goal.

The Warriors tied it 1-1 on Derek Petti’s goal 6:57 into the game. Petti gathered the puck to the left of the slot on a break into UNH’s end, hesitated on his first shot to draw goaltender Danny Tirone out of the crease and slipped it around Tirone’s pad into the net.

Sami Tavernier lit the lamp next for Merrimack, punching a backhand shot through Tirone’s legs less than two minutes later for a 2-1 lead.

Alfred Larsson gave Merrimack its 3-1 lead it would take into the intermission. After a scrum near the right post, the puck slipped out to Larsson in the slot. Larsson gripped his stick and wristed a shot past Tirone with three and a half minutes left in the first period.

Only six and half minutes passed in the second period before Tyler Irvine gave Merrimack a three-goal cushion.

That marked the end of the night for Tirone (sevens saves), who has started all 17 games this year for the Wildcats between the pipes. Coach Dick Umile replaced Tirone with Mike Robinson, a freshman from Bedford and a San Jose Sharks prospect.

Robinson (12 saves) gave UNH a good performance in his 32 minutes in net. It was just his second time getting in a game this season and the first time he has played significant minutes. Robinson played most of the third period when he was subbed in for Tirone against Boston University on Nov. 11, a 4-0 loss.

UNH found some new life in the third period. Marcus Vela scored his fourth goal of the season 2:17 into the frame, cutting Merrimack’s lead to two goals. Patrick Grasso cut deeper on a power play chance 90 seconds later, firing a shot from the left dot into the twine past Merrimack netminder Craig Pantano (25 saves).

Trailing 4-3, the Wildcats had plenty of time and two more power play chances to tie it up, but nothing came to fruition.

Vela sent a shot with less than five minutes to play that bounced off a skater and slowly glided across the crease. The 3,731 attendees at the Whittemore Center rose to their feet as the puck crept toward the goal line and Pantano seemingly unable to find it, but the rubber instead glanced off the far post, a half inch wide of a tied game.

The Wildcats had another push in the final minute, but Pantano turned them away, including Grasso’s attempt at a buzzer beater from the slot.

New Hampshire enters its holiday break with more than two weeks off. The team heads to Hanover on Dec. 29-30 to face Dartmouth and Yale in the Ledyard Classic.

When the calendar turns to the new year, UNH will face Brown of the ECAC on Jan. 6 and then a slate of Hockey East competition through the end of the season.

Kind words

At every home game this season against a Hockey East opponent, UNH has featured a short clip on its video board of the opposing coach sharing their thoughts and memories of coaching against Dick Umile, who will retire from the UNH bench at the end of this season.

Merrimack coach Mark Dennehy had more to say about Umile when meeting with reporters after the game.

“I think sometimes people get taken for granted,” Dennehy said. “He’s as good a coach as I’ve ever coached against. It’s been an honor. ... Any young coach who wants to know how to do it and do it right, just follow his career because he’s a pretty special guy.”

(Nick Stoico can be reached at 369-3339, nstoico@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @NickStoico.)

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