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Sacred Heart spoils Merrimack’s season opener, 2-1

Mitch Nylen
Sacred Heart senior captain Mitch Nylen
Sacred Heart Athletic Communications

NORTH ANDOVER, Mass. -- It took Merrimack until the third period to gets its offense going in Sunday’s season opener against Sacred Heart, but the third period was too little too late.

The visiting Pioneers scored the only two goals they would need in less than a five-minute span in the second period and hung on to take a 2-1 win out of Lawler Arena, their third win over a Hockey East opponent in four seasons.

“Our guys really fought hard tonight,” Sacred Heart head coach C.J. Marottolo said. “They came together. They bent but didn’t break when Merrimack had a great push in the third. I’m just proud of the way our kids competed.”

As has been the case across much of college hockey in the early going, penalties took control of the game right from the start. Both teams went 0-for-2 on the power play in the first period, but that number ballooned over the final two frames.

Merrimack finished the night with 13 chances on the power play, only scoring on its final chance.

Marottolo owed the contest to his penalty kill, and sophomore goaltender Brett Magnus who made 12 of his 20 saves in the final frame.

“Never,” Marottolo said, when asked if he had ever coached in a game with as much special teams action. “(The PK players) were great. They sacrificed, they blocked shots and had great sticks in lanes. When our guys didn’t get it done, our goalie came up big. That was the story of our game tonight, and the PK guys deserve a lot of credit.”

The Pioneers carried the pace of play in each of the first two periods, but the game remained scoreless after 20 minutes despite the visitors’ 14-4 shot advantage.

Merrimack sophomore Drew Vogler was equal to every task with which he was faced in the first, making 14 of his 26 saves in one single period. That total was almost half of his career-high 30 for a full game.

It could have been a much different game without Vogler’s strong play early, as the Warriors blocked just one of SHU’s 19 first-period shot attempts.

“He’s a good goaltender,” said Merrimack head coach Mark Dennehy. “He needed to be tonight because (Sacred Heart) might have run us out of our own building otherwise.”

SHU held Merrimack to just four shots on goal again in the second, but added two goals in the frame to continue a dominant performance just two nights after being shut out in its Atlantic Hockey opener against Army West Point.

Senior Nick Lotito scored first at the 5:07 mark, following up classmate Jeff Carroll’s shot for a rebound goal in the low slot. Vogler made a great save on Carroll, but his defense left Lotito uncovered as the drove through the slot.

Captain Evan Jasper scored SHU’s eventual winning goal in a similar fashion ― but shorthanded ― just 4:10 later, beating Vogler on a clean shot after he made a save on Justin Danforth.

“It’s emblematic of our game that we lose the game on a shorthanded goal where we have four guys back and they have two, so we have three guys basically doing nothing,” Dennehy said. “There’s a lot to work on; it’s that time of year.”

Merrimack had a decided third-period advantage ― 13-2 in shots on goal, but Magnus made 12 of his 20 saves in the final frame.

Junior defenseman Jared Kolquist’s slapper from the right side at the 17:27 mark of the third was the lone shot to beat SHU in the contest as Magnus fought off a late Merrimack rally, including a try from junior Brett Seney with 15 seconds to play.

“He was our best player in the third period, no question about it,” Marottolo said of Magnus. “It’s a hard game in the first couple periods when he didn’t get a lot of pucks, so for him to be mentally engaged and be there when we needed him was nice to see.”

Kolquist’s defense partner Aaron Titcomb set up the one-time goal, shot from just above the circle.

From Dennehy’s perspective, the game really came down to a willingness to compete. Merrimack’s intensity was not there for a majority of the game, as evidenced by its taking just six penalties, and that was the difference.

“We were in quicksand and not willing to win battles and move our feet,” Dennehy said. “You know how many penalties they’re calling nowadays, so there’s no way we played hard enough. If you only take six penalties the way they’re calling them now, you basically didn’t show up for two periods.”