Marotta, Merrimack stonewall Wildcats
Opportunities were abundant for the University of New Hampshire men's hockey team on Saturday night, as the Wildcats' offensive unit accumulated 52 shots on goal as UNH played host to Hockey East foe Merrimack College at the Whittemore Center.
Unfortunately for New Hampshire, Warriors' goaltender Sam Marotta - who ended up being named Hockey East Defensive Player of the Week for his efforts over the weekend - was lights out in net, making 51 saves in what ended up being a 3-1 victory for Merrimack.
"We bent, but did not break," Merrimack head coach Mark Dennehy said about his team's play on Saturday.
Saturday's game came after the Wildcats upended Northeastern University on the road on Friday night, holding the Huskies to one goal in a 3-1 victory for New Hampshire.
The UNH loss on Saturday has the Wildcats' overall record drop to 16-7-2, while falling to 11-6-1 in Hockey East action. For the Warriors, the win moves their overall record move up to 12-10-5 while increasing their record in Hockey East action to 10-6-2.
The nail in the coffin for the Wildcats came 18:41 into the third period, when Merrimack's Mike Collins netted an empty net goal to push the Warriors lead up to three.
Until that point, despite what the scoreboard said, New Hampshire was in as much control as a losing team could have been.
After a close first period - which saw the Warriors come out with a 1-0 lead after a defensive breakdown allowed MC's Shawn Bates to get a shot past UNH goaltender Casey DeSmith - the Wildcats took over the game, keeping Merrimack away from the puck while trying to penetrate Marotta and the Warriors' defense.
In the second period and third period UNH produced 40 of its 52 shots, while also holding Merrimack to just 16.
"You can't always go by the number of shots, but I thought we had plenty of Grade A chances," UNH head coach Dick Umile said after the game. "Their goalie played well. We couldn't get it by him."
The Wildcats' only goal came off the stick of Jeff Silengo, who tipped in Scott Pavelski's shot to cut Merrimack's lead - which had increased to two after Bates was able to tally his second of the night after another UNH defensive breakdown - to just one, with the score 2-1 12:52 into the second period.
From there it seemed as if UNH was going to make it a game, as the Wildcats continued to control the puck for much of the second period.
But 16:02 into the second period Vinny Scotti netted a powerplay goal that increased the Warriors' lead to two once again.
Dalton Speelman had a couple of good opportunities for New Hampshire, but came up empty.
One such chance bounced off the crossbar from an unusual angle, hitting the line before bouncing out of the goal. The play was reviewed by the officials, but was confirmed as a no goal.
"I didn't get a great handle on [the puck] but I took the shot," he said. "I think it hit the corner of the post. It came off at a weird angle. I didn't really see it after I took the shot. I was off-balance. It came out kind of funny."
Another solid chance came in the closing seconds of the second period, but Marotta stopped Speelman as a Merrimack player pulled Speelman to the ice. No penalty was called on the play.
Saturday's loss also makes things tighter in the Hockey East standings, as just a point separates four of the top five teams.
"Just makes everything even closer now," Umile said after the loss.
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