Winning in the Mariucci Classic is becoming difficult for its host. The Gophers were upset in the first round for a second consecutive year on Friday night and won’t win the tournament for the sixth time in the past eight years.
Merrimack won 3-2 in front of an announced 9,866 fans.
Warriors goaltender Rasmus Tirronen saved 40 shots and survived a scramble in front of the net during the final seconds as the Gophers desperately fought to avoid another Mariucci Classic letdown. Instead, the No. 8 Gophers start the new year on a losing note and have lost five of their past eight games.
“Since I’ve been here, I don’t think we’ve played in the championship game in our own tournament, so, yeah, it’s frustrating, But we put a pretty good effort out there tonight,” senior Seth Ambroz said after assisting on one of the Gophers’ two goals. “You just gotta tip the cap to them. They played a good defensive game, and the goalie stood on his head.
“It’s a frustrating game for us, and it’s frustrating the way we’re going right now, but we just gotta take a step forward here and find a way and figure it out.”
Ambroz and the Gophers last won the tournament in December 2012.
Michael Brodzinski and Connor Reilly scored goals for the Gophers (9-5-1). A.J. Michaelson scored his first point of the season, assisting on Brodzinski’s early first-period goal. Adam Wilcox finished with 14 saves.
Hampus Gustafsson, Jace Hennig and Brett Seney scored three consecutive goals for No. 18 Merrimack’s (11-5-2) after the Warriors fell behind 1-0.
“We did a lot of good things,” Gophers coach Don Lucia said. “When you outshoot someone 40 to 17, most nights you’re going to win. … I thought the guys had good energy, I thought their effort was good and we made a lot of good plays right to the very end, but we just couldn’t get another one by [Tirronen].”
The country’s best power play couldn’t get anything going against college hockey’s third-best penalty killing team.
Merrimack shut down all four of the Gophers’ power-play chances, three of which were back-to-back-to-back midway through the second period.
With forwards Hudson Fasching and Leon Bristedt competing at the World Junior Championship, Lucia had to adjust power-play units and the combinations struggled to get into a rhythm. During the stretch of consecutive failed power plays fans grew weary and started yelling “shoot.”
The Warriors scored all three of their goals on just 12 shots through two periods. They finished with only 17 shots on goal.
“Give credit to their PK, but it comes down to us guys on the power play to make things happen,” Reilly said. “Obviously, you can hear the fans, and it makes sense. But when we’re not executing on the PP we’re frustrated and we get upset because special teams are so crucial, especially by the end of the year.
“Overall we can’t be too upset with our game because I felt we controlled the play a lot.”
Tirronen won the showdown of two the nation’s top goaltenders. He stole a goal from Justin Kloos in the first period by diving across the crease to his glove side to snatch a rebound attempt. Fans were sure the puck had crossed the goal line and roared until the replay showed Tirronen tossing the puck to the ice.
Kloos had another chance to beat Tirronen on a breakaway in the second period but was stuffed and penalized for roughing the goalie, and later had a last-second shot in the third period deflected over the goal by Tirronen.
UMass-Lowell 7, RIT 3: Seven different players scored goals for Massachusetts-Lowell in the blowout of the Rochester Institute of Technology in the Mariucci Classic opener.
Forward Evan Campbell had a goal and two assists to propel the River Hawks into their second holiday tournament title game in consecutive weekends.