Men’s Hockey: NU sweeps Merrimack for first conference wins

Men’s Hockey: NU sweeps Merrimack for first conference wins

By Matt Nielsen

After going winless in its first nine Hockey East contests, the men’s hockey team (4-8-2, 2-7-2 Hockey East) posted its first two conference wins of the season last weekend.

The Huskies overcame key injuries to dominate a home-and-home series, with Merrimack College (1-12-1, 1-8-0 HE), who came into the weekend tied with NU for last place.

Northeastern opened the scoring Friday night at Matthews Arena at 12:27 in the first period. After sophomore forward Joe Vitale and junior forward Jimmy Russo each put shots on goal, sophomore forward Rob Rassey collected a rebound and beat Merrimack goalie Patrick Watson to put NU up 1-0. It was Rassey’s first goal of the season.

As the first period wound down, Merrimack went on a 5-on-3 power play. With 20 seconds left in the period, MC freshman defenseman Joe Loprieno scored the game-tying goal with an assist from freshman forward Pat Kimball. It was the last time the Warriors would score in the two games.

The Huskies took the lead at 16:17 in the second period when sophomore forward Dennis McCauley scored his third goal of the season. Vitale and freshman forward Chad Costello, the Hockey East Rookie of the Month for November, assisted on the power play goal.

Costello is tied for the Husky lead in points with senior captain Mike Morris at 13. He has six goals and seven assists in his rookie season. Five of Costello’s goals and six of his assists came in November.

McCauley also spent 16 minutes in the sin bin during a physical and penalty-filled game. The teams combined for 33 penalties on the night, including 15 during the slow, stuttering third period.

“It was a sloppy game,” said head coach Greg Cronin. “I wasn’t comfortable even when we were up three to one. I was happy with the win, but it was a sloppy game.”

The Huskies padded their lead a couple minutes into the third period. While the team was down a man, senior forward Ray Ortiz fed senior forward Bryan Esner, who streaked down the ice and beat Watson for his third career short-handed goal and his second of the season. Sophomore defenseman Louis Liotti also earned an assist.

“When you’re short-handed, you just try to put pressure on them,” Esner said. “Keep pressure on them and hope they make a mistake. Ray [Ortiz] did a good job and got me the puck right in stride.”

Finally, the Huskies put the game away with a 4-on-4 goal from sophomore defenseman Denis Chisholm. He was assisted on his first goal of the year by Ortiz and Esner.

Already without assistant captains Steve Birnstill, who is battling a shoulder injury, and Yale Lewis, who has seen limited action this season, the Huskies lost Morris halfway through the first period when he injured his neck. Morris didn’t return to the ice this weekend, but his injury is not expected to keep him out for an extended period of time. The Huskies overcame the loss of their senior leadership, in part because of freshman goalie Brad Thiessen. Thiessen saved 22 of 23 shots, earning him Hockey East Player of the Week.

The Huskies went into Lawler Arena expecting a similarly physical game Saturday night, and got exactly that. The teams tallied 29 penalties for a total of 99 penalty minutes, making special teams play key.

The teams were held scoreless in the first period, with impressive goalkeeping from Thiessen and Merrimack goalie Jim Healey. The Huskies outshot the Warriors 10-6 in the period.

The second period saw much of the game’s action. Halfway through the period, Costello scored his sixth goal of the year with assists from Russo and sophomore defenseman Andrew Linard. Eight minutes later, McCauley fed freshman forward Chris Donovan on the left side. Donovan’s shot deflected off Healey and into the net for his third goal of the year, and a 2-0 lead for the Huskies.

The second period also saw 12 penalties, including three 10-minute misconducts and the disqualification of Maine forward Mike Alexiou. Neither team could find the net on the power play, as the Huskies killed two 5-on-3 man-disadvantages.

Thiessen made 10 saves, earning his first career shutout. On the weekend, Thiessen saved 52 of 53 shots, never giving the Warriors a chance to get back into the game.

The Huskies are back in action Friday at 7 p.m. when they host Maine at Matthews Arena.

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