Nellis penalty shot helps Lakers win wild season opener over Merrimack

Anthony Nellis (seen here against Bemidji State last season) picked up the game winner on a penalty shot in the season opener (Mike Barrett/LHB)

NORTH ANDOVER, Mass. — An early season shootout between Lake Superior State and the Merrimack Warriors was decided on a late penalty shot by Anthony Nellis, as the Lakers earned a hard-fought 5-4 win to open the 2018-19 season.

Merrimack (0-1-0, 0-0-0 Hockey East) opened the scoring on a goal from Jackson Bales.  Recovering, the Lakers (1-0-0, 0-0-0 Western Collegiate Hockey Association) began peppering Warriors goaltender Drew Volger with shots, eventually accumulating a 9-4 advantage when Brayden Gelsinger scored the first Laker goal of the season.  Gelsinger got the puck in alone on a shorthanded breakaway and put the puck past Volger.

A recurring issue facing the Lakers last season — late period goals — reared its ugly head when Merrimack’s Laine McKay potted a power play goal with under a minute to play in the opening period, restoring the Warriors’ lead.  Undeterred, Lake Superior managed to tie things back up before the end of the period, as Diego Cuglietta scored with just 5 seconds remaining in the period.

Early in the second, Merrimack came out firing away at Lakers goaltender Nick Kossoff.  The native of West Des Moines, Iowa, kept the Warriors off the board early.  Another power play opportunity for Lake Superior arose when Simon Loof went off for slashing.  A long shot from Jacob Nordqvist was redirected by Cuglietta, giving the Lakers the lead.

Another power play goal, this time from Max Humitz, gave the Lakers a two goal lead with just over 6 minutes in the period.  The bad habit struck again, however, as two late goals (both with under 3 minutes in the period) tied the game back up, making the score 4-4 after 40.

Much like they did in the second period, Merrimack came out and put pressure on Kossoff again early.  As he did earlier, the senior netminder didn’t allow the puck past him.  Even as the Warriors retook the advantage in shots, Kossoff held firm.

With 4:06 left to play, Lake Superior received a golden opportunity when senior forward Anthony Nellis was taken down coming into the zone, causing him to be granted a penalty shot.  The Breakyville, Quebec native, who has been one of the Lakers most consistent scorers in his career, beat Volger, making the score 5-4 Lake Superior.

In a strange twist, the Merrimack defenseman who hooked Nellis in the first place was former Laker defenseman Matt McArdle, who joined the Warriors as a graduate transfer in the off season.

Despite a furious rally by the Warriors, Lake Superior held on for the 5-4 win.  A scrum broke out as time expired.  It awaits to be seen if there will be any extra disciplinary measures exacted.

In net, Kossoff picked up the win by making 28 saves on 32 shots.  Volger, in taking the loss, had 14 saves on 19 shots.

For the Lakers, all five goals came on special teams: 3 on the power play, 1 shorthanded and 1 on a penalty shot.

The Lakers and Merrimack had not played since March 26, 1988 in the NCAA Tournament.  The Lakers prevailed 5-1 to claim victory in a two game, total goals series on their way to their first national title.

The two teams will conclude their series tomorrow.  The opening faceoff is set for 4 p.m.