Merrimack edges Dover in boys hockey quarters
MANCHESTER – After a wild first period and a lackluster second, the Merrimack High first line simply chose to take Saturday afternoon’s Division II boys hockey quarterfinal into its own capable hands.
“Our coach was harping on us to take control and be leaders on this team,” said Tomahawks senior captain Zach Stimeling.
“I just said this isn’t going to be the last game I play of high school hockey.
“It’s not just for me. I want the team to experience a championship. We have a really good shot this year and we’ll do anything to make it happen.”
Knotted at 3-3 entering the third against the seventh-seeded Green Wave of Dover, Stimeling stood tall, assisting on Evan Roy’s game-winner and then applying the kill shot with a short-handed ripped from the slot as No. 2 Merrimack advanced with the 5-3 quarterfinal victory.
Wednesday night at 7:30, the Tomahawks will travel to Everett Arena in Concord to battle Saint Thomas in the state semifinals. It will be Merrimack’s second straight trip to the final four.
“We wanted revenge from last year when (Dover) knocked us out of the semifinals,” admitted Stimeling. “We had to just play smart.”
Roy’s goal with just over eight minutes was all about persistence.
He and Stimeling had been heaping pressure for most of the third, only to see Dover’s Austin Gildon (28 saves) deny them repeatedly.
But this time Stimeling made a great move down the middle, drawing all kinds of attention and then firing the puck toward the net.
Roy made sure, firing up the packed West Side Arena house, as Merrimack took its first lead since late in the first.
A couple minutes later, down a man, Stimeling committed center-ice larceny, lifting the puck from a Dover defenseman at center-ice and streaking in alone. His rocket clanged off the cross bar, down on the goal line and in for the insurmountable two-goal cushion.
“He was tough. He’s got a real quick glove,” said Stimeling. “(To that point), we were definitely frustrated.”
The game opened as if it was going to be a real shootout.
Roy got things going, from Stimeling, just over five minutes in and Owen Miner made it 2-0.
But Dover’s Ollie Stevens had other plans.
He scored to sliced the lead to 2-1 and then, after Dylan Sadowski, made it 3-1 Tomahawks, he beat Merrimack’s Ben Hardy, not once but twice more, evening things at 3-3 after one.
That’s when Hardy simply said, “no mas.”
While his team searched for offense, Hardy denied every Dover try.
“Ben Hardy’s been a lifesaver for us. He gives us energy. He came up with big saves (with the game tied),” said Stimeling. “All we want to do is help him out. He’s playing his butt off.”
Hardy finished with 24 saves in the win.
“We had a really bad first period, I knew in my heart that if we played our game we could outwork them for the win,” said Stimeling.
“We may have been a little nervous, first playoff game with the big crowd.”
That can’t happen in the semis if Merrimack is to avoid a similar fate to last March.