Sophomore forward John Gustafsson scores game-winning goal for Warriors

Sophomore forward John Gustafsson scored the game-winning goal for the Warriors

NO. ANDOVER, Mass. - Trailing by a goal heading into the final period, two underclassmen scored back-to-back goals to propel the Merrimack College men's ice hockey team past Massachusetts, 3-2, to split a weekend home-and-home series on Saturday night at Lawler Rink.

Entering the final intermission down by two goals after UMass erased a first-period deficit with a pair of tallies in the second, Merrimack staved off a weekend sweep and picked up two huge points after freshman Chris LeBlanc (Winthrop, Mass.) tied the contest less than four minutes into the third, and then three minutes later, sophomore John Gustafsson (Ljungby, Sweden) tapped in the game-winner after being fed by his younger brother and linemate Hampus Gustafsson (Ljungby, Sweden) to send the Warriors to victory.

After coming out flat in last night's series opener, the Warriors garnered the opening momentum thanks to an early Jonathan Lashyn (Camrose, Alberta) goal in the first, but Michael Pereira potted back-to-back goals for the visitors to steal that momentum away in the second period.

Hoping to avoid its third straight loss, Merrimack controlled most of the third period and stormed back with goals within the first seven minutes of the period.

First, Lashyn stole the puck at the far blue line and skated down the ball before turning his sights on net. Trying to do it all himself, Lashyn's drive to the crease created a scrum in front of UMass netminder Steve Mastalerz, and in the ensuing chaos, LeBlanc appeared to get a stick on a loose puck and tap it home to tie it up at 3:53.

Then, not even three minutes later, LeBlanc started the game-winning play when he fed Hampus Gustafsson down the far wall while creating a 2-on-1 with his brother John. After Hampus drew the attention of both the defender and Mastalerz, the rookie passed laterally to John, who deked around Mastalerz and finished backhanded to account for the game-winner.

Thanks to junior Rasmus Tirronen (Espoo, Finland), who finished with 24 saves, UMass was kept at bay the rest of the night, as the Warriors remained unbeaten on the year when scoring three or more goals.

In the first period, and similar to last night at the Mullins Center, when the long trip across the state was not kind to the road team, it was Merrimack taking advantage of UMass' bus legs, outshooting the Minutemen by a 13-4 margin and taking an early lead at 4:32 off a shot from the point from Lashyn, who beat Mastalerz after a clean draw win from sophomore Vinny Scotti (Vineland, N.J.).

But despite the domination in the first period, all good vibes for the Warriors disappeared early in the second when UMass connected on the first of two power-play tallies in the period. Ben Gallacher head-manned Conor Sheary, who came in 1-on-1 with Pereira, and the latter' managed to the poke the puck in while crashing on the weak side of the crease to tie the match at 2:41.

Both sides were given power-play chances midway through the period but were unable to do much with them. The two teams skated even through most of the second, but the Minutemen were given another man advantage late in the frame, and yet again it was Pereira, deflecting in a shot in front after Gallacher put it on net, allowing the visitors to skate into the intermission with a 2-1 lead.

Fortunately for the Warriors, their two-goal spurt in the opening seven minutes of the third was enough to seal the deal, as the Merrimack penalty-killers kept UMass off the board on a pair of third-period power-play chances.