December 11. 2017 12:39AM

College Hockey: UNH falls behind, can't come all the way back

By ALEX HALL
New Hampshire Union Leader


Merrimack College traveled to the Whittemore Center on the UNH campus Sunday afternoon to face off with the Wildcat Hockey squad.UNH's Ara Nazarian splits the defense of Merrimack's Alfred Larsson and Dominic Dockery as he dives for the puck. (BRUCE TAYLOR/UNION LEADER)

UNH's Chris Miller takes a shot past Merrimack's Jared Kolquist. (BRUCE TAYLOR/UNION LEADER)


UNH goalie Danny Tirone takes a shot off is pad with teammate Anthony Wyse covering. Merrimack's Jackson Bales looks for the loose puck. (BRUCE TAYLOR/UNION LEADER)


Merrimack's Brett Seney shoots wide of UNH goalie Danny Tirone. UNH's Benton Maass moves to cover. (BRUCE TAYLOR/UNION LEADER)


A Star Wars Storm Trooper directs the UNH band on Star Wars Night at the Whittemore. (BRUCE TAYLOR/UNION LEADER)


UNH's Jason Salvaggio tkes the puck past Merrimack's Marc Biega and goalie Craig Pantano. (BRUCE TAYLOR/UNION LEADER)


UNH's Michael McNicholas opens scoring in the first period by shooting past Merrimack goalie Craig Pantano. Merrimack's Johnathan Kovacevic trie to defend. (BRUCE TAYLOR/UNION LEADER)


DURHAM — The University of New Hampshire men’s hockey team showed fire early and late in its game with Merrimack College Sunday at the Whittemore Center.

Merrimack owned the middle stages, though, and earned a 4-3 road victory.

The Warriors (4-9-3, 2-6-1 Hockey East) gave up the game’s first goal in the opening minute but responded by scoring the next four. No. 13 UNH closed the gap to one goal with two tallies over the first 3:50 of the third period and had some opportunities to tie, but couldn’t get the equalizer.

“There’s definitely a compete level there but it’s not a good formula for winning hockey games — falling behind,” UNH coach Dick Umile said.

The Warriors were winless in their past six Hockey East games entering Sunday’s contest.

Senior center Michael McNicholas scored from the doorstep just 34 seconds into the contest to give the Wildcats (9-7-1, 4-5-1 Hockey East) a 1-0 advantage.

McNicholas’ tally hardly rattled the Warriors, who scored three times on their first eight shots on goal to take a 3-1 lead into the first intermission.

“We might have got too happy there too quick or something, I don’t know,” McNicholas said. “After that goal, it seemed like we kind of shut down a little bit, let (Merrimack) get some good scoring opportunities, which they capitalized on early, and at that point it was hard to dig ourselves out.”

Merrimack chased UNH senior goaltender Danny Tirone at the 6:43 mark of the second period following Tyler Irvine’s rebound goal in front that made it 4-1 Warriors.

Umile pulled Tirone (sevens saves) in favor of Mike Robinson, a freshman from Bedford. It marked the third time this season Tirone was relieved during a game. Robinson, in his second career appearance and first at the Whittemore Center, logged 12 saves over 32:17 in net.

Warriors junior Derek Petti tied the game at 1-1 at the 6:57 mark of the first period when he shot around Tirone for his second goal of the season. Sami Tavernier broke the deadlock less than two minutes later. The Merrimack sophomore right wing skated around a Wildcats defenseman and beat Tirone with a backhanded shot that went through the goaltender’s legs.

Alfred Larsson’s first goal of the season built a 3-1 Warriors advantage with 3:24 left in the opening period.

Merrimack became the second team in as many days to find the back of the net often over its first several shots on goal. Army West Point scored three times on its first nine shots on goal en route to a 4-3 road win over the Wildcats on Saturday night.

“Obviously it wasn’t a very good weekend,” Umile said. “As I told the team in the locker room, you can’t win hockey games getting in the hole two, three goals and we did it again here tonight.”

Marcus Vela’s goal from the crease and Patrick Grasso’s power-play tally over the first 3:50 of the third period cut Merrimack’s lead to 4-3. The ’Cats could not capitalize on their other two power plays and had to kill off two penalties over the remainder of the third period. Vela hit the post with 6:43 left.

UNH mustered five shots on goal over its six power-play opportunities and killed off each of the four penalties it took.

Craig Pantano made 25 saves for the Warriors.

“I thought we battled hard in the third (period),” McNicholas said. “We didn’t come out as hard in the first two and I think that’s what kind of shot us in the foot...That one stings a little bit just because that’s two big points in Hockey East that we know we should’ve had.”

UNH plays next on Friday, Dec. 29 against Dartmouth College in the Big Green’s Ledyard Bank Classic.

ahall@unionleader.com