March 19, 2011 PRINT Bookmark and Share

Merrimack Advances to First Hockey East Championship

by Mike McMahon/Staff Writer

BOSTON — Deficits don't scare this bunch.

Merrimack upended New Hampshire, 4-1, Friday night at TD Garden in the semifinals of the Hockey East tournament, moving on to Saturday's championship game for the first time in program history.

And the Warriors did it coming from behind.

Merrimack nearly trailed just 25 seconds into the game when UNH's Blake Kessel dumped a puck into the Merrimack zone that was tipped by the Warriors' Stephane Da Costa and took a funny bounce over Joe Cannata's glove.

But it was called back after a UNH player had failed to clear the zone and was offside.

"Our team went over and tapped Joe on the pads," said head coach Mark Dennehy. "That's great to see. We got back to playing our type of hockey and possessing the puck down low."

But the Warriors hadn't taken control yet.

Stevie Moses fired a puck from the top of the left circle minutes later that beat Cannata five-hole to make it 1-0 UNH.

That's when the Warriors were kicked into gear, scoring four unanswered goals en route to the win.

"We just had to get back to playing our game," said junior Ryan Flanigan. "It's only one goal. It's still early at that point."

Flanigan laid out Mike Sislo just over three minutes later and Da Costa picked up the loose puck.

Flanigan joined the rush and took a crisp feed from Da Costa before firing a puck past UNH goaltender Matt Di Girolamo for a shorthanded tally that tied the score.

"That first goal was my fault," Sislo said. "I should have got it deep."

Flanigan's goal provided the wakeup call according to Dennehy. It was the moment that perhaps the jitters were shaken.

"That's when we started to play more of our game," he said.

Added Elliott Sheen, who potted two goals, "You watch Bruins games on television and you spend warmups just trying to get your legs. You never picture yourself being on this ice."

Sheen scored just under five minutes later to give the Warriors a lead they would never relinquish.

"Everybody was asking how we would deal being here for the first time in a while and you were there, it wasn't great," Dennehy said. "We were not off to a great start but we were able to handle adversity. Our guys did a real good job emptying the tank."

The Warriors continued to apply pressure throughout the second period and frustrated UNH at the other end, constantly getting sticks and bodies in the Wildcats' passing and shooting lanes.

In one power play in the first period, UNH had trouble getting anything deep, instead shuffling the puck back and forth high in the umbrella setup.

"There were times throughout the game we were putting pressure on them," said Sislo. "They capitalized on our mistakes and we didn't capitalize on our opportunities."

Mike Collins was able to add insurance late in the third period, despite being behind the net, firing a puck into a pile of UNH bodies that ricocheted its way past the goal line.

"I saw Jesse [Todd] sort of give me a nod and I just threw it in front and it found its way into the net."

Now, it's on to the Boston College, which the Warriors beat in the season series 2-1. However, the last game against BC for Merrimack was the day after Thanksgiving.

"I'm excited for the players," Dennehy said. "I asked them to do some things I'm not sure I would do at their age and they have done them with a smile on their face. I am truly happy they will have the opportunity to play for a championship [Saturday]."

This story originally appeared in the Eagle Tribune. 

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