HAMDEN, Conn. - Senior forward Mike Collins (Boston, Mass.) scored his fourth goal in six games and the Merrimack College men's ice hockey team led fifth-ranked Quinnipiac by a goal early on, but the reigning national runner-up Bobcats exploded in the second period and withheld the Warriors the rest of the way, as Merrimack dropped a 6-1 decision in the opening round of a home-and-home series Friday night at Highpoint Solutions Arena.
A one-goal lead quickly evaporated for the Warriors, who led at the end of the first thanks to Collins' team-leading sixth marker of the year. Quinnipiac, who entered the night unbeaten in its previous six, ripped off four goals in less than four minutes early in the second period, and the visitors were unable to recover en route to their eighth road setback of the season.
Merrimack did not need much time to get on the board, as the visitors scored the game's first goal just 4:45 into the contest. Junior Justin Mansfield (Arlington, Mass.) sprung classmate Josh Myers (Colorado Springs, Colo.) up the right wing wall before the latter fired a shot that evaded QU netminder Michael Garteig and nearly snuck through before a Bobcat defender cleared it to the half wall. Myers was able to gather that clear attempt and fed Collins in front, who banged in his own rebound to push the Navy and Gold ahead for the rest of the period. Sophomore Brian Christie (West Chester, Pa.) also picked up an assist on the play.
But that lead was short-lived in the second frame, as the Bobcats exploded for four goals within a span of 3:56, prompting junior Rasmus Tirronen's (Espoo, Finland) early exit in the process. Jordan Samuels-Thomas put the home side on the board a minute into the period on a shot from the right circle before Bryce Van Brabant one-timed the go-ahead goal past Tirronen 55 seconds later.
The hosts weren't finished, as Kellen Jones pounced on a Merrimack turnover and beat Tirronen 1-on-1 to make it 3-1 at 3:54. Finally, with senior Sam Marotta (Bridgewater, Mass.) into the game, the Bobcats wrapped up their scoring spurt just ahead of the five-minute mark after Connor Jones clanked one off the bar and in to make it a three-goal lead for the Bobcats.
Merrimack recovered after the early struggles in the second but was stymied by Garteig through the remainder of the period, as Quinnipiac outshot the Warriors by a 15-10 margin in the middle frame.
After going 40 minutes without being whistled for a penalty, Merrimack went to the box early in the third period and the hosts promptly capitalized, with Van Brabant cashing in on the power play at 6:33 of the third to up the Bobcats' edge to four goals (5-1).
With just over two minutes left in regulation, Brayden Sherbinin netted the Bobcats' final tally of the night on a slaper that deflected in to make it 6-1.
Garteig finished the night with 22 saves, while Marotta, who wound up with the majority of time in net, turned away 17. Tirronen, who lasted 22:43, posted six saves for the visitors, as well.
The two sides conclude the weekend home-and-home series tomorrow (Jan. 18) night back in North Andover, when the Warriors and Bobcats square off at Lawler Rink for the first time since 2003. Puck drop is set for 7 p.m.