Giant ice surface takes toll on Tomahawks in playoff defeat

DURHAM – The tank was on ‘E’.

It wasn’t the 10 a.m.start that did the Merrimack High School boys hockey team in on Wednesday in its 5-2 Division II prelim loss to Oyster River.

No, it was the Whittemore Center’s Olympic sheet of ice. Its length has claimed many a visiting high school victim over the years for the Bobcats.

“At the end of the second period, we were looking like we would be gassed,” Merrimack coach Dan Belliveau said. “And in the third period we were gassed.”

That’s when the No. 8, 11-8 Bobcats snapped a two-period 2-2 deadlock with three unanswered goals in that third period. Tomahawks goalie Greg Amato (29 saves) was under siege and he held the fort as best he could, but Merrimack’s season is over at 7-12-1.

“At the beginning of the year we said we were hoping to make this sheet of ice an advantage by the end of the year,” Bobcats coach Peter Harwood said. “And I think it showed today.”

But not right away. The Tomahawks actually did what they set out to do, which was start fast with a 2-0 lead. Zach Stimeling’s soft chip shot beat OR goalie Nick Milano (14 stops) just 30 seconds in, and Isaiah Kipnes got a tip goal at 7:11 and the ‘Hawks were in business. Assists all went to Matt Warrington, Dom Carozza, Jason De Beaucourt and Greg Bourque.

The ‘Hawks later had a power play, but a penalty negated it and Oyster River got on the boaard with a Liam Spurling goal at 4:06 of the first. In the second, Ben Caron’s blue line blast beat a screened Amato at 11:46 to tie the game.

Belliveau was shorthanded; remember, there was no Stephen Licata due to his game misconduct in the regular season finale. The ‘Hawks were down to two lines and even though Belliveau tried a defensive trap approach in the second period to conserve energy for the third, the ‘Hawks couldn’t match up. This was much different than their 4-3 regular season win over the ‘Cats at the smaller West Side Arena last week.

“We knew what we had going into this,” Belliveau said. “Our goal was to get out there, and get ahead. … I’m proud of the kids. They left it all out there. It’s a big ice surface and it worked against us.”

eclan Daubney’s change-of-pace shot beat Amato at 4:55 of the third for the game-winner. Will Cilia converted Ethan Keslar’s (two assists) centering pass for a 4-2 lead at 10:14. Max Carpenter’s unassisted scoring at 12:49 finished the scoring.

Now the Tomahawks look ahead. They had no juniors, so their youth will carry them next season. Assistant Gary Moore in the locker room noted the work of the six seniors that set the stage.

“He said it well,” Belliveau said. “Because of the seniors, and the way they performed, executed all season long and had their heart in it. …They wanted to set some goals and go for it.

“These young kids have really fed off of that, and learned so much. We’ve never coached a team in high school that had that many young kids stepping up and taking roles for that hole that we have. Six seniors, six sophomores and six freshmen is how we started the year, and we had freshmen and sophomores taking huge roles and regular shifts and responsibility. I think we’ll be a much better team for that next year.”