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Merkley shines as Roadrunners fall short to Colorado in a shootout

By: Alexander Kinkopf
Photo: Chris Hook
The Roadrunners clawed back to earn a point with a ferocious third period comeback Friday night, but fell after regulation, losing to the Colorado Eagles in a shootout by a 4-3 final at Tucson Arena.
Nick Merkley scored all three of Tucson’s goals, netting the sixth hat trick in club history and the first of his pro career.
“We needed [two points] tonight, so it’s tough to be happy with it,” he said. “I had a chance in OT, gotta bury that. It was nice to get those three goals, but obviously you want to get the win. We’re going to have to bring more tomorrow.”
With the shootout loss, the Roadrunners now sit five points out of the Pacific Division’s playoff picture, but have two games in hand on the fourth-place Eagles and one game in hand on the third-place San Diego Gulls.
The Roadrunners will get another shot at the Eagles Saturday night.
“I think the one point’s important, every point is critical mass at this time of year, and I thought it was a great pushback by our guys,” said head coach Jay Varady. “It’s back to work tomorrow. One point’s netter than none; we’d like two but we didn’t get it. I thought we battled back for that point.”
Merkley gave the Roadrunners a 1-0 lead just over a minute into the game when he capitalized on a Colorado turnover and jammed home from atop the goal line, scoring his fifth goal of the campaign.
The Eagles would respond with three straight goals of their own; two in the second period, and a third just under five minutes into the third period, taking a 3-1 lead with 15:27 remaining in regulation.
While operating on a power play with under seven minutes on the clock, Merkley wired a wrist shot through traffic, cashing in on a Hudson Fasching screen to deposit to the top left corner, cutting the Roadrunners’ deficit to one with 6:38 left to play.
With just over three minutes left, Merkley receive a pass from Brayden Burke while positioned at the high slot and buried a low wrist shot to tie the game 3-3.
“I think that’s one of his attributes, is his ability to shoot,” Varady said of Merkley. “I thought he was hot tonight, he started to get that feeling – that feeling when pucks hit your stick they may go in, and I think he had that feeling tonight.”
The teams extended to overtime, but with no game-deciding goal scored; the Roadrunners outshot the Eagles by a 5-3 count during the extra frame.
Merkley, Jordan Gross, and Lane Pederson were all denied by Colorado’s Pavel Francouz in the shootout. Scott Kosmachuk scored in the third round to secure a 4-3 win for the Eagles.
Adin Hill stopped 30 of the 33 shots he faced and registered the secondary assists on both of Merkley’s third period goals, the first-ever multi-point performance by a Roadrunners goaltender.
The teams will meet for the 12th and final time this regular season on Saturday night at Tucson Arena, where the puck is scheduled to drop just after 7:05 PM.
Photo: Kate Dibildox