NORTH ANDOVER — Last Dec. 10, Merrimack made the long journey to Hamilton, N.Y., to face Colgate in a nonconference game.
The Warriors took the lead in the first, but the Raiders scored in the second and the game ended in a 1-1 tie.
Flash forward to Friday afternoon at sold-out Lawler Arena, where it was Colgate’s turn to travel 280 or so miles to face Merrimack again.
The similarities from a year ago were eerie. Merrimack scored first — at 7:19 of the first on a rebound by junior right wing Mike Collins — and Colgate countered at 4:51 of the second on a goal by Joe Wilson. That’s the way it remained in another 1-1 tie.
Despite the teams combining for nine power plays — including a five-minute major when Colgate senior right wing Robbie Bourdon was whistled for kicking and ejected, which brings an automatic one-game suspension — it was an afternoon for the penalty killers. The Warriors killed off four and the Raiders nullified five.
“I know how [Colgate coach Don Vaughan] feels,’’ said Merrimack coach Mark Dennehy, whose team is winless in its last four games (0-3-1). “Last year, we traveled all the way up to Colgate for a 1-1 tie, and that’s a long way to go. When I walked out, I said, ‘It’s only fitting that it’s another 1-1 tie.’ ’’
Colgate (6-6-2) is unbeaten in its last three (2-0-1), having rallied to beat ECAC leader Dartmouth, 5-4, and shutting down Harvard, 1-0. It was the Big Green’s first loss of the season.
“I watched them play Harvard, I watched them come back against Dartmouth,’’ said Dennehy. “They’re a good team. They put a lot of pressure on you, they’re really fast. They attack. They did some good things. I thought we did some good things, too. I think both teams will probably spend some time on the power play this week, but I probably prefer to tip my cap to both penalty kills at the job that they did and the adjustments that were made.’’
Merrimack (4-6-2) dominated much of the opening period, outshooting Colgate, 11-3. The Raiders came out more determined in the middle period, outshooting the home team, 9-5. The third period was even, as was overtime, giving each team a point.
There was little available real estate for either side. Scoring chances were few and far between because of the tight checking and strong defense.
“That’s one of those games I would have hated to have played in,’’ said Dennehy. “I’d have nowhere to hide. There were bodies flying. That was two very aggressive-minded teams, shrinking the rink, and there wasn’t a lot of ice even in the middle of the rink.’’
Vaughan said there was a little bit of déjà vu at work.
“After the first period, I really thought we responded,’’ he said. “I thought our energy was good after the first. We started to win more puck battles. Overall, I was pleased with our efforts. The teams are clearly evenly matched. Special-teams play was a big part of the reason it was 1-1. Both penalty-killing units were phenomenal and both power plays struggled a little bit, and the result is you get 1-1.’’
Both netminders played solidly, with Merrimack sophomore Rasmus Tirronen stopping 21 shots and Colgate freshman Spencer Finney turning back 23.
Dennehy said one area in which the Warriors can improve is how they play with a lead.
“I think sometimes we’re easily satisfied,’’ he said. “We don’t necessarily have that business-like approach to what we’re doing, whether it’s up three goals [as Merrimack was against Boston College Nov. 16]. There are some smiles. We have a lot of guys who haven’t been in that position before. And if they have, it’s at the junior level and they’re so much better than the other team that they just cruise to victory. Nothing is secure at the Division 1 college hockey level. I think that’s one thing we need to work on is that sort of killer instinct.’’