BOSTON, Mass. - The Merrimack College Warriors punched a ticket to their first-ever Hockey East championship game on Friday night by defeating the UNH Wildcats, 4-1, courtesy of another outstanding effort from junior goaltender Joe Cannata (Wakefield, Mass.), who finished the game with 30 saves.
Oddly enough, the contest began on a seemingly innocent dump-in that almost cost the Warriors as a quirky redirection bounced up and over Cannata's elbow in the first minute of play. But the goal was immediately overturned upon review as a UNH player was still clearing the zone when the puck was fired in.
Cannata was nearly perfect after that, especially in the first period, stopping Paul Thompson (Derry, N.H.) point blank twice on great chances set up by linemate Mike Sislo (Superior, Wis.), and denying Stevie Moses (Leominster, Mass.) on a brilliant power move that split the two Merrimack defenders. Moses was the only Wildcat to beat Cannata, finishing off a perfect give-and-go with Mike Borisenok in the right circle during a UNH power play to make it 1-0 at the 7:20 mark of the first.
Merrimack responded with two of their own before the period was over, the first courtesy of a solid Ryan Flanigan (Rochester, N.Y.) check that knocked Sislo right off the puck and created a short-handed 2-on-1 break that Flanigan capped himself by converting a cross-ice pass from sophomore star Stephane Da Costa at 10:47. The second goal came on a bouncing shot from the point from rookie blueliner Brendan Ellis (Kelowna, B.C.) that Elliot Sheen (Lethbridge, Alta.) added a little extra to in front, giving UNH goaltender Matt Di Girolamo little chance of making the save. That goal made it 2-1 Merrimack at 16:17 and the Warriors never looked back.
The frenetic pace of the first period dissolved at the start of the second as both teams exercised caution and tightened up their defenses. Most of the 23 combined shots in the second were of the non-scoring-chance variety.
The third period opened with a great flurry just two minutes in as both Jeff Silengo and Dalton Speelman had great chances to beat Cannata but were denied just seconds apart. The deadlock was finally broken by Merrimack freshman Mike Collins (Boston, Mass.) with just five minutes remaining in the game when he banked in a shot from behind the UNH net to make it 3-1. Streaking down the right side, Jesse Todd managed to work the puck to Ellis, who got off a point blank shot that was stopped in front. The loose puck was picked up by Collins, and he was able to pinpoint the fortunate ricochet angle. Sheen added the final goal, an empty-netter in the closing seconds.
UNH's Di Girolamo finished with 31 saves in the loss.