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Clarkson men look to end winless skid at home against Merrimack

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POTSDAM - Returning to Cheel Arena for its first games in Potsdam since early December, the Clarkson University men’s hockey team will look to make the most of the upcoming four-game home stand to break out of its longest winless skid of the season.

The Golden Knights, guided by third-year head coach Casey Jones and assistants Phil Roy ‘00 and Andy Jones, close out a six-game stretch against Hockey East competition when they host Merrimack College in a two-game series this weekend. Both Friday and Saturday games are 7:00 p.m. starts.

Clarkson, led by senior captain Ben Sexton (Kanata, ONT), stands at 12-6-2 overall and is ranked 11th in the latest national polls. After this weekend series against Merrimack, which closes out the non-league portion of the schedule, the Green and Gold resume ECAC Hockey play hosting defending national champion Yale and Brown on January 17-18. The Knights entered 2014 with a third-place, 6-2 league mark.

Clarkson’s current winless skid reached four games (0-3-1) when the Knights opened the New Year with a tie and loss against Top-10 ranked UMass-Lowell at Tsongas Arena. This past Friday, Clarkson battled back to earn a 1-1 tie against the River Hawks as freshman goaltender Steve Perry (Ligonier, PA) posted a career-high 38 saves. On Saturday, playing in the third consecutive game against UMass-Lowell, the Green and Gold, despite an overwhelming 32-14 shot advantage and a quick two-goal lead, fell 4-3.

After a 20-day layoff for the exams and the holidays, Clarkson returned to play at the Catamount Cup in Burlington, VT in late December, losing to Vermont 3-2 and UMass-Lowell 3-1.

Sexton paces a balanced offensive effort for the Green and Gold with 17 points, including a team-high 12 assists. The Knights’ captain is one of the nation’s best centers on faceoffs, winning .580% of his draws (249-180). Senior Allan McPherson (Kinburn, ONT) leads the team in goals with seven, and adds eight assists for 15 points. McPherson and junior Joe Zarbo (Grand Island, NY) are tied for sixth in the country in game-winning goals (3).

Sophomore Greg Lewis (Mars, PA) and Perry rank among the Top 20 goaltenders in Division I in several categories. Lewis, who has made 12 starts, owns the seventh-best winning percentage in the nation (.727%) with an 8-3 record. Perry, who is tied for eighth in the nation in shutouts (2), holds the 13th-best goals against average in the country (2.03).

In the midst of a five-game road trip, Merrimack comes into the North Country on a three-game unbeaten streak (1-0-2). Guided by 10th-year head coach Mark Dennehy, the Warriors stand at 4-9-3 overall. Merrimack posts an 11th-place 1-5-2 Hockey East mark. In its first game of the New Year, Merrimack skated to a 1-1 draw with fourth-ranked Providence on Saturday at a Frozen Fenway outdoor game. The Warriors closed out the 2013 portion of the schedule by taking three of four points from Hockey East rival Boston University on December 6-7. Merrimack won the first game against the Terriers 3-2 at Lawler Arena and then tied BU 1-1 on the Terriers’ home ice at Agganis Arena. In their only other game against ECAC Hockey competiton so far this season, the Warriors lost 3-2 in overtime at Yale on November 30. Merrimack is 0-6-3 away from Lawler Arena this season.

Clarkson and Merrimack will face off against each other for the first time in almost 25 years. The Knights, who won the first game between the schools, 12-3 on February 25, 1967 in Potsdam, lead the series 4-2. The Warriors, however, have won the last two encounters. In their last meeting, in the only game played between the two teams on Merrimack’s home ice, Lawler Arena, the Warriors edged the Green and Gold 1-0 on January 20, 1989. Merrimack also defeated Clarkson in the last game played in Potsdam, 1-0 at Walker Arena on January 22, 1988. The Knights won the first four games in the series, all played at Walker. The Knights’ last victory over Merrimack was an 8-2 triumph on November 20, 1970.

KNIGHT KNOTES: After going 9-1-1 in one-goal games through the first 16 contests, the Knights’ fortunes turned over the break leading to a four-game winless skid. Clarkson was in every game, losing a pair of one-goal affairs, tying another and falling by two goals (with the last goal coming as the goaltender was attempting to leave the ice for an extra attacker) … Clarkson has gone its last 10 games against Hockey East opponents without recording a win (0-9-1). The Knights’ last victory over a HEA foe was a 4-2 triumph vs Boston College at Cheel Arena on January 5, 2008 … In Saturday’s game at Lowell, Clarkson scored the opening goal in a game for the first time since November 15 in the 3-2 win over Cornell. The Knights suffered just their second loss of the season after scoring the game’s opening goal (8-2-1) ... Junior defenseman Sam Labrecque (Granby, QUE) was a force from the blueline in the weekend series at Lowell, scoring a goal in each game. He has five goals on the season and is tied with sophomore Paul Geiger (Stouffville, ONT) for the Knights’ scoring lead among defensemen with 10 points … After sitting the previous two-games as a healthy scratch, freshman A.J. Fossen (Maple Grove, MN) played a strong game on Saturday against UMass-Lowell, scoring the opening goal just 3:11 in and recording an assist for his first career multiple-point game … Freshman defenseman Bryan Sinz (Anchorage, AK) picked up an assist on the Knights’ opening goal on Saturday for his first career point in his second NCAA game … Playing in his first game since November 1, freshman Jordan Boucher (St. Therese, QUE) recorded an assist on Saturday … Steve Perry made his first back-to-back starts in the Clarkson crease in the series against the River Hawks. He made a career-high 38 saves in Friday’s 1-1 tie, but turned aside just 10 of 14 shots in the Saturday afternoon game … After this weekend’s non-league series against Merrimack, Clarkson will play the remaining 14 games against ECAC Hockey competition with eight of those games at Cheel Arena … Clarkson Hockey alumnus and current General Manager for the Columbus Blue Jackets, Jarmo Kekalainen ‘89 was named a People of Power & Influence (70th) in hockey by The Hockey News.

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