Saints, Merrimack Tie 6-6, SLU Advances To Final in Shootout
Kyle Flanagan and George Hughes combined for three goals and three assists in their return to action following injury and St. Lawrence University's men's hockey team advanced to the championship game of the Ledyard Bank Classic at Dartmouth College with a nine-round shootout win after skating to a 6-6 tie with nationally seventh-ranked Merrimack in the tournament opener Friday night.
The game, the tenth of a year against a nationally ranked team for the Saints, was a wild one as SLU fell behind 3-0, came back to take a 5-3 lead with five unanswered second period goals, regained the lead at 6-5 after Merrimack tied it with two in the first 11 minutes of the third and finally headed into overtime when the Warriors scored an extra attacker goal to force the extra period with 42 seconds to play.
"That would have been a great one to win against a quality opponent, but we'll certainly take the tie," said Saint associate head coach Mike Hurlbut. "Having Kyle and George back in the lineup obviously made a big difference for us, and we had some other guys step up offensively as well. We would have preferred a little more defense, but Merrimack took advantage of its opportunities."
Officially a tie after a scoreless five minute overtime, the shootout had nearly as much drama as the first 65 minutes as it took 16 shots to decide who would move on to play the winner of the Dartmouth-Holy Cross game in Saturday's 7 p.m. tournament championship. Dartmouth was a 3-2 winner over Holy Cross and will meet the Saints for the tournament title.
Jesse Todd connected for Merrimack on the first shot of the shootout, and the Saints were on the verge of being eliminated when shots by Flanagan and Greg Carey were saved by Cannata. But, Jeremy Wick, the Saints third shooter, put one behind Cannata off the post to extend the shootout. Matt Weninger and Merrimack goaltender Joe Cannata each saved the next four shooters and after Merrimack had two shots go off the crossbar, Chris Martin ended it for the Saints, scoring on the 16th shot of the shootout.
The Saints will take a 7-10-1 record into Saturday's championship game with eight of the 10 losses and a tie coming against nationally ranked teams.
Merrimack took advantage of a pair of odd-man rushes in the first period to take a 2-0 lead. Junior wing Brandon Brodhag opened the scoring with his second of the year, taking a lead pass from linemate Kyle Singleton and getting behind the Saint defense for a breakaway. While Weninger was able to get a pad on Brodhag's shot from in tight, the puck trickled under the pads at 3:26. The Warriors made it 2-0 just over three minutes later as Todd sped into the Saint zone on a two-on-one with Clayton Jardine, made a move as if to pass and then snapped a hard wrist shot which beat Weninger just under the crossbar for his sixth of the year at 7:01.
While the Saints were down 2-0 after the first 20 minutes, they did have their chances with Merrimack goalie Joe Cannata making six saves including a big power play stop on George Hughes. Saint defender Justin Baker also had a shot from the center slot glance off the goalie's pads and off the post with just over 3:20 to play in the period.
Merrimack made it a 3-0 game just two seconds after the expiration of a power play when Mike Collins scored his sixth of the year on a rebound 1:17 into the second period, but the Saints came up with a big response to that goal, scoring five straight, two of them just 27 seconds apart, to take a 5-3 lead after two periods.
Hughes put the Saints on the board when he intercepted a Merrimack clear just outside the Saint blue line. The Saint defenseman walked in and gunned a shot just under the blocker of Cannata for his second of the year at 3:20. SLU then cashed in on a five-on-three power play, scoring with both the two-man and one-man advantages. Chris Martin got his seventh of the year when he tipped a shot by Hughes into the net with Kyle Flanagan also assisting at 10:20 and 27 seconds later Flanagan scored his seventh from Greg Carey and Patrick Doherty to tie the game.
Freshman defenseman Nelson Armstrong scored his first collegiate goal as he cut to the bottom of the faceoff circle, took a pass from Rick Carden and put the puck in off the goaltender's pads at 15:36 with Sean Logue also assisting, and Riley Austin completed the big second period with his first of the year, putting away a rebound from close range after a shot by Flanagan with Doherty picking up his second assist of the period.
Merrimack came charging back to start the third period and cut the Saint lead to 5-4 8:40 into the period when Kyle Singleton put the puck into the net off the post after a failed Saint clear. The Warriors tied it just over two minutes later when Bates was all alone at the left post on a three on two and slammed third of the season at 10:53 to tie it at 5-5.
The Saints came back to take a 6-5 lead when George Hughes scored his second of the night on a power play at 12:25 as Flanagan's shot bounced off a leg and right to Hughes who strode in and snapped the puck behind Cannata with Carey also assisting. The Saints had a chance to ice it with just over 1:20 to go, but Gunnar Hughes shot just wide on an empty net, and Merrimack finally tied it with 42.4 seconds to play in regulation as Bates scored his second on the night when the Saints missed a clearing opportunity deep in their own end.
Neither team scored in overtime despite a power play each with the Saints getting the only two shots on goal as the game officially ended in a 6-6 tie.