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MADISON, WI - In the first-ever meeting between Wisconsin and Merrimack, the Warriors took a 2-0 lead and scored twice in the third to even the score, but the seventh-ranked Badgers added a late power-play tally for the 5-4 victory in front of 13,962 fans at the 21st and final Badger Hockey Showdown at the Kohl Center.
Merrimack (7-9-0, 4-6-0 HEA) is back in action Sunday at 5 p.m. eastern time when it battles Ferris State (13-4-2) in the consolation game of the Badger Hockey Showdown. In the first game Saturday, #8/7 Yale (8-3-2) defeated #11/11 Ferris State 6-1. Yale will meet Wisconsin (12-5-2) at 8 p.m. eastern Sunday in the Championship game.
Karl Stollery (Camrose, AB), Chris Barton (Calgary, AB) and Stephane Da Costa (Paris, France) each registered a goal and an assist in the loss, while Joe Cannata (Wakefield, MA) stopped 35 shots.
The announced attendance of 13,962 is the biggest crowd a Merrimack hockey team has ever played in front of.
Stollery one-timed a shot past Scott Gudmandson on a two-man advantage at 9:06 of the first, giving the visitors the early lead. Da Costa and Pat Bowen (Marshfield, MA) picked up the assists on Stollery's second of the season. They doubled that lead at 13:06 as Justin Bonitatibus (Walpole, MA) blasted his fifth of the year taking a centering pass from Jesse Todd (Camrose, AB) and firing it past Gudmandson to give Merrimack the 2-0 lead and silencing the Badger faithful. Jeff Velleca (Waterbury, CT) started the play with excellent board work, along with Todd, who worked the puck to Bonitatibus for the goal.
But Wisconsin stormed back with four unanswered goals as Craig Johnson netted his first of the year past Cannata just 35 seconds later to cut Merrimack's lead in half.
They evened the score 2:50 into the second behind a blast from Justin Schultz on the power play. Jordy Murray put the hosts ahead at 7:06 as he broke down the right side and made a nifty move around Cannata for his fifth of the year. The Badgers' puck-control dominance continued throughout the period, and Sean Dolan made it four straight tallies as he knocked in a rebound for his second of the year.
Wisconsin outshot Merrimack 21-11 in the second, while the Warriors took the only three minors of the period.
"In the end, we were forced to exert too much energy in the second period killing penalties," said head coach Mark Dennehy, who was a player at Boston College in the first-ever Badger Hockey Showdown. "Even if they don't score, they still have the momentum, and it forces us to shorten our bench when we already have tired bodies."
Barton cut the lead to one, as he was credited with his eighth of the year at 6:36 of the third. Stollery worked the puck up to the junior captain who threw it at the net, and the rebound was knocked in by a Badger defenseman.
Just 3:24 later, Da Costa emerged with the tying goal as his wrister beat Gudmandson glove side. The leading scorer among rookies in the country took a feed from Barton and blasted it low on the netminder for his tenth of the season.
But 97 seconds later with the Badgers back on the power play, a shot from the point off the stick of Ryan McDonagh beat a screened Cannata, regaining the lead for the hosts at 11:37 of the final frame.
Merrimack had its chances in the final minutes, going on the power play for the final 1:25 of regulation, but shots from Barton, Da Costa, and Todd were all deflected away from Gudmandson.
"We just didn't get the puck to the net in the end," said Dennehy. "We have players who can make plays, but we need them to think about shooting quicker."
Gudmandson made 26 saves, nine in the third period, improving to 6-2-2 with the win. Five different Badgers scored, while Michael Davies tallied three assists.
The Warriors went 1-for-4 on the man-advantage, while the Badgers were 2-for-7. Wisconsin controlled the faceoff circle, winning 45 of 70 draws.
Da Costa, who was named the Hockey East Rookie of the Month for the third straight month earlier Saturday, extended his point streak to 11 games, the longest streak in Merrimack's Division I history.