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Strong third period lifts Merrimack past Canisius, into holidays

Merrimack scored all four of its goals in the third period, skating to a 4-1 win over Canisius on Sunday afternoon at Lawler Arena.

Jace Hennig scored twice for Merrimack on Sunday.
Jace Hennig scored twice for Merrimack on Sunday.
Matt Dewkett

NORTH ANDOVER, Mass. -- No. 20 Merrimack entered Sunday without a win in a six-game stretch, dating back more than one calendar month.

The Warriors closed the first semester with a strong third-period effort at Lawler Arena, scoring all four of their goals in the final frame to take a 4-1 win over Atlantic Hockey foe Canisius.

"It's a hard game to play," Merrimack head coach Mark Dennehy said, following his team's first win since Nov. 13 at UMass. "Both teams didn't get much done this week with final exams, but I thought we came out really hard and played."

With the win, the Warriors improve to 7-4-5 on the season. The victory also finished a season sweep of the Golden Griffins, now 5-12-1, which begun with a Nov. 7 win in Buffalo.

The Warriors controlled the first period of play, outshooting Canisius by an 18-8 count. However, it was the visitors that finished the frame ahead on the scoreboard.

Junior Shane Conacher continued his hot start to the season, scoring his team-leading 11th goal of the season. The Griffs dumped the puck into the offensive zone before sophomore Ryan Schmelzer fed Conacher the puck in the right circle.

Merrimack had a quick chance to counter the goal with one of its own in the next minute, but Chris LeBlanc's redirect from the slot slid wide of Canisius sophomore Reilly Turner.

Neither side has been particularly effective in the opening 20 minutes of games this season as Conacher's goal marked only the Griffs' ninth of the season in the first period.

Making his first collegiate start, Merrimack freshman Drew Vogler bounced back from allowing an early goal to post an 18-save victory. The Missouri native made 12 of his stops over the first two periods, earning the win in just his third appearance of the year.

"We got off to a really hot start and just had an unfortunate bounce that led to a goal," Vogler said. "Second period we built off the first, kept working, trying to get chances and by the time the third period rolled around, we started to capitalize and were able to bury a few."

The Warriors exploded in the third period, scoring three times while holding a 15-2 shots edge to break their six-game winless streak.

The Merrimack offense produced 40-plus shots on goal for the first time this season and since a March 7 win at Northeastern. Its late surge was just what the doctor ordered in getting the completely desired result to close the semester.

"When you get down to a team, they're the road team and got a little bit of life, I was proud of the way our team came back," Dennehy said. "They came back like a team that knows how to win and took care of business."

Ludvig Larsson scored the second goal of his freshman season and in as many games at the 2:24 mark, tying the game on a beautiful tip at the doorstep at 2:24.

Larsson, who also scored the Warriors' first goal in a three-goal comeback for a tie last Friday at Connecticut, deflected fellow rookie Alex Carle's shot from the top of the right side past Turner.

Senior Ben Bahe lifted the Warriors ahead for the first time in the game at 11:01, jumping behind the Griffs defense and into the offensive zone for a wrister from between the circles.

Bahe broke a seven-game point scoring drought on the goal, taking a feed ahead from senior captain and linemate Brian Christie. The assist was Christie's first of two on the night, marking his first multiple-point game since opening the season with three assists against Clarkson on Oct. 16.

Sophomore Jace Hennig scored the final two goals of the game for the Warriors, breaking a five-game pointless stretch with his second and third markers of the season.

"I thought he refocused over the last couple weeks and earned the right to jump into that spot (with Christie and Bahe, in Brett Seney's absence) and looked pretty good," Dennehy said. "I'm happy for him because he's someone that scored some goals last year."

First, Hennig followed up Bahe's shot at the doorstep for an easy goal at the 13:06 marker. Junior Hampus Gustafsson fed Hennig the puck ahead at the 18:44 mark, sliding his second of the game into the empty net from just beyond the blue line.

Merrimack's four-goal explosion was its second in the third period this year. The Warriors busted a 1-1 game wide open in an eventual 5-1 win at Bentley on Nov. 4.

The Warriors have some work to do during the spring semester, which begins in just nine days at Army, in order to get back into the thick of the Hockey East race. Dennehy knows Sunday's game can be used as a springboard to success.

"We have to get better in the second half, but that's an effort right there we can use as a positive," Dennehy said.