190204-spt-unh mainefolo3 hockey_UL13465

Charlie Kelleher, shown in action last season, scored the winner in overtime on Friday night in UNH's 3-2 win at Merrimack.

NORTH ANDOVER, MASS. — The University of New Hampshire men’s hockey team emphasized the importance of winning overtime games entering this season after playing in a program-record 14 of them and posting a 12-15-9 overall record last year.

The Wildcats won their first overtime game in their third try this season on Friday night, when they defeated Merrimack College, 3-2, at Lawler Rink in the Hockey East opener for both teams.

“You almost feel like you’re predestined to play the fourth period,” UNH coach Mike Souza joked. “All kidding aside, it’s college hockey. There’s the old joke it’s the race to three (goals) and it rang true (Friday).”

Junior assistant captain Charlie Kelleher secured the victory for the Wildcats (2-1-1, 1-0 Hockey East) 27 seconds into overtime with his rebound goal from the crease following a Jackson Pierson shot in front.

“It’s overtime and obviously we’re trying to get as many pucks on net as we can,” Kelleher said. “Jackson shoveled it on net. Luckily it popped in and I was able to get a nice shovel in.”

Merrimack (1-5, 0-1) erased a one-goal Wildcats lead for the second time and tied the game at 2-2 with 4:08 remaining in regulation with freshman Zach Uens’ power-play tally from the left circle.

UNH defenseman Max Gildon’s power-play goal 5:09 into the third period broke a 1-1 tie. The junior floated into the slot from the left circle before putting home a back-handed shot.

The Wildcats, who entered the game with the best power-play percentage in the nation, went 1-for-6 on the power play and 4-for-5 on the penalty kill.

Merrimack freshman Joey Cassetti redirected a Declan Carlile shot from the left point by UNH sophomore goaltender Ty Taylor five minutes into the second period to record his first career goal and knot the score at 1-1.

Cassetti’s tally came after a first period in which Merrimack struggled to generate offense and mustered three shots on goal.

Warriors freshman goaltender Jere Huhtamaa preserved the 1-1 tie by denying UNH junior Kohei Sato’s breakaway shot with 3:16 remaining in the second period.

Huhtamaa turned away 20 shots in his third career start.

“That second save he made on the breakaway was huge for him,” Merrimack coach Scott Borek said of Huhtamaa. “I thought we saw a different game from him right after that. He looked much more confident.”

Sato opened the game’s scoring with 7:09 left in the first period, when he netted his fourth goal of the season.

The forward received a pass from linemate Eric MacAdams in the neutral zone, skated up the right boards toward goal and beat Huhtamaa stick side.

Sato’s goal gave him four points on the season, which is as many as he recorded over his first two campaigns.

Taylor made 19 saves in his first start of the season and eighth of his career.

UNH plays at another Hockey East foe, Boston University, tonight at 7.

“I really feel that’s how the game ended was (UNH) had a lot of guys who have won games in Hockey East before,” Borek said. “We don’t have anyone and that was why they got a bounce. They created their own bounce but that’s why it happened.”