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Third Period Explosion Lifts Merrimack Over Bentley

Merrimack senior defenseman Matt Cronin scored two goals, including one of the team's four in the third period, in a 5-1 win on Wednesday night at Bentley.

Matt Dewkett

WATERTOWN, Mass. -- Road games in college hockey are hard to play.

But head coach Mark Dennehy's teams always play hard hockey.

It wasn't pretty through two periods on Wednesday night at the John A. Ryan Skating Arena, but the Warriors got the job done in the final 20 minutes.

The 16th-ranked Warriors scored four times in the last frame to coast to a 5-1 win over Bentley, improving to 4-1-2 on the young season.

"On the road, it's a 1-1 game going into the third period," Dennehy said. "I don't care who you're playing, as the road team, that's a good position to be in. I liked how we finished, I liked how we got to the paint. We got contributions from a lot of people."

The Warriors' five goals came from four different scorers with senior defenseman Matt Cronin scoring twice for the first time in his collegiate career.

Merrimack took a 1-0 lead at 18:44 as Cronin rocketed a shot from just inside the left point. His second goal of the season and his collegiate career was a great follow-up effort on a shot from sophomore Brett Seney took at the end of a breakaway against Bentley's Jayson Argue.

"(Cronin) might have the best one-timer on our team, so it's just a matter of encouraging him to shoot more," Dennehy said. "This is a kid who has worked his tail off for three years and hasn't been rewarded very much. It's not always about instant gratification, and I don't know if there's anybody in that locker room who isn't happy for Matt."

Bentley's sophomore goaltender faced 17 shots in the opening frame with the Warriors failing to take advantage of a pair of breakaways, including Seney's.

The first period was the game's most even as Merrimack sophomore Collin Delia was tested and made seven of his 20 saves. He stood tall multiple times midway through the frame, including on a doorstop pad save to deny senior Michael Reardon of his first goal and point this season.

"You've heard me say this before," Dennehy said. "I said it to Joe Cannata, I said it to Sam Marotta, Rasmus Tirronen. You only have to make one save a night ― the game-winning save. If they score early, it couldn't have been a different game."

Merrimack controlled the pace of play in the second, despite being credited with just six shots. It finished the period in a 1-1 tie as the hosts battled to an even score on junior Max French's fourth goal in three games at the 19:27 mark.

Senior Andrew Gladiuk got credit for the primary assist, feeding French for a one-time shot in front of Delia's net.

"He's continuing to move his feet," Bentley head coach Ryan Soderquist said of French, the reigning Atlantic Hockey Player of the Week. "Obviously, his speed is hard for teams to control. As long as he continues to move his feet, I think he'll find success."

In the third period, the scoreboard swayed in the direction of the team that controlled play for much of the game. The Warriors scored four times in less than seven minutes to take a commanding four-goal lead it would never come close to giving up.

French's late goal was definitely one that could have changed the momentum of the game greatly, but the Falcons did not come out of the second intermission with the urgency they needed.

"They played 60 minutes and we didn't, so that's why we lost 5-1," Soderquist said after his team slipped to 3-3-1 this year. "We got manhandled in the third period. They outmuscled us at the net front and we had guys who were standing next to guys, not covering them and picking up sticks."

Junior Hampus Gustafsson was the first to find the back of the net in the third for Merrimack, taking freshman Mathieu Foget's feed at the 1:44 mark.

Senior Justin Hussar picked up linemate Ben Bahe's initial shot for a rebound goal at the crease at 3:33, a minute before Cronin placed home a wrist shot from the left side.

"They were from pretty much the exact same spot," Cronin said. "The first one was more of a noone in front kind of thing. I just shot and hoped, but on the second one I had my head up and kind of placed it where the guys were."

Merrimack scored on three of its first four shots in the closing frame, and Michael Babcock continued the offensive outburst by closing the scoring with the first goal of his Merrimack career at the 6:27 mark. The freshman center tipped home sophomore Alfred Larsson's centering feed.

The Warriors play their second straight road game against an Atlantic Hockey foe on Saturday night as they travel to Canisius.