By Gordon Weigers, news correspondent
The first round of the Hockey East playoffs didn’t go as planned for the Northeastern men’s hockey team as it was swept at home by Merrimack College in two overtime games on March 6 and 7. Merrimack won the first game 3-2 in overtime and the second 2-1 in double overtime.
Head Coach Jim Madigan returned to the Husky bench after serving a two-game suspension that kept him out for the final two games of the regular season. Madigan was suspended for unsportsmanlike behavior following games at the University of Maine and TD Garden.
NU’s power play was a disappointment in both games, going 1-for-8 on Friday and 1-for-7 on Saturday. Forwards junior Mike McMurtry and sophomore Zach Aston-Reese tallied the Huskies’ only power-play goals in the series.
Merrimack’s senior goalie, Rasmus Tirronen, allowed only three goals on 102 shots-on-goal over the course of the two games.
“Their goalie was the difference in the series, plain and simple,” Madigan said. “If not for him, I’m singing a different song.”
Merrimack got on the board first on Friday night with a power-play goal by junior forward Justin Hussar. Freshman forward Jace Hennig tipped a long shot past redshirt senior goalie Clay Witt in the second period to give Merrimack a 2-0 advantage through two periods.
Under five minutes into the third, Aston-Reese lasered a shot over the shoulder of Tirronen to bring NU within one goal. Just before the halfway mark of the period, McMurtry shoveled home a rebound on the power play to tie the game at 2-2.
Still tied after three periods, NU and Merrimack took game one into overtime. Just one minute into the extra time, junior forward John Gustafsson took a tripping penalty that put NU on the power play. After a shot by Merrimack sophomore defenseman Matt Benning rang off the post, Warrior senior forward Kyle Singleton stormed up the ice and beat Witt on the glove side.
After a scoreless first period on Saturday night, the Huskies opened the scoring in the second period. Redshirt senior forward Torin Snydeman’s shot from the crease was stopped by Tirronen, and the rebound came to sophomore forward John Stevens. Stevens’ shot was stopped again by Tirronen, but Aston-Reese backhanded the puck inside the post to put NU up 1-0. Merrimack answered less than five minutes later when Hennig chipped a loose puck past Witt, leveling the score at 1-1.
No goals were scored in the third period and the teams geared up for overtime again. The first period went without a goal, forcing a second overtime. With under six minutes left, junior forward Kevin Roy made a rush through the Merrimack zone and got a shot on Tirronen. Tirronen steered the shot aside and was then pummeled by Roy who had built up a lot of speed. Roy was handed a two-minute minor penalty for goalie interference and Merrimack went to the power play.
On the power play, freshman forward Mathieu Tibbet sent a shot on goal between Witt’s legs. Witt’s pad nudged the puck just over the goal line before Aston-Reese flew in and cleared it away. Merrimack began to celebrate and NU kept playing. After a review, it was determined that Tibbet’s shot just crawled across the goal line, giving Merrimack the 2-1 win.
“I’ve been here before, losing a game on the power play in overtime,” Madigan said. “The Beanpot and then today, it’s déjà vu all over again.”
Saturday’s loss was the final college hockey game for Witt and Snydeman and seniors defenseman Dax Lauwers and forward Adam Reid. The four seniors addressed the Husky fans in a YouTube tribute this season.
“I really think we have the best fans in college hockey,” Reid said.
Aston-Reese led NU in goals in the series by scoring a goal in each of the two games. Aston-Reese’s production peaked in the final 11 games of the season, where he scored 10 goals and added three assists. In those same 11 games, NU’s leading scorer, junior forward Kevin Roy, scored eight goals along with 10 assists for 18 points. He finished the season with a total of 19 goals and 25 assists, good enough to put him in ninth in the National Collegiate Athletic Association scoring race.
Photo by Ethan Kaley
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