Game Blog: BC downs Merrimack in OT

 

Final: BC 2, Merrimack 1

After Quinn Gould raced down the ice with a breakaway following the opening faceoff, it was all BC. The Eagles kept possession and attacked Marotta with the puck. Junior center Rhett Bly was injured following a BC offensive set and skated off under his power without his stick in the middle of a play. He must be really hurt if he just left the play, but understood they needed a fifth able-bodied player.

After Marotta appeared to make another tremendous save, BC sophomore Quinn Smith found a rebound and put it in for BC for the win.

With the loss, Merrimack drops to 24th in the PWR with 5 games to play in the regular season. Next game is Tuesday at BU.

End of Regulation: Merrimack 1, Boston College 1

A crazy back and forth third period led to several close chances for both teams. Sam Marotta has played mind-blowingly well. Milner has matched with some great saves of his own and 41 saves. Lawler chanting “Sam Marotta” as I type this.

Bigos got hurt and skated to the locker room holding his left shoulder area, but came out quickly after. Dennehy has changed lines late in the third. Off to OT.

End of 2nd: Merrimack 1, Boston College 1

Overall a pretty boring period. Both teams looked fairly even, and after a 20-7 Merrimack SOG advantage in the first things evened up in the second with Merrimack holding a much closer 11-9 SOG advantage. Both teams had a few breakaway chances followed by great stick checks from the respective defensemen to break up the play. Although the game has gotten chippy in the latter half of the period, there were no penalties called the entire 20 minutes.

Jerry York called his timeout with 1:02 to play in the period and, frankly, the Merrimack fan in me panicked. However, a nice defensive stand from the Warriors in the final minute left the Eagles empty handed and both teams headed to the locker rooms with the score still tied at 1. Merrimack has certainly looked like the better team for most of this game, but with the score tied BC can easily take over. Merrimack has to start capitalizing like they did towards the end of the first.

Remember, as College Hockey News’ Mike McMahon pointed out earlier, a win brings Merrimack to 13th in the PWR, a loss drops them to 24th, and a tie keeps them at 19th. Puck drops for the third in under 10 minutes, so follow me on Twitter for live updates.

End of 1st

With the game being televised nationally on CBS Sports Network, the fans at Lawler came out ready to rock. From puck drop this place has been relatively loud. As small as it is, Lawler has to be one of the most difficult, intimidating places to play. Imagine a small high school gym for basketball game when fans are on top of you and making ridiculous amounts of noise. It’s a fairly similar atmosphere here.

BC came out strong, drawing a penalty from Merrimack Captain Jordan Heywood in the first minute. It seemed they had taken command of this game early, even though Merrimack was able to kill the penalty. Fortunately, the Warriors came out gunning afterwards. The second line of Gustafsson-Bates-Myers played very well, throwing shots on net, posting up in front of Milner, and providing an excellent forecheck on turnovers.

BC caught Merrimack in the midst of a change a few minutes later, and Bill Arnold made a great play using his body to fend off the Merrimack d-men and make a nice pass to Steve Whitney on the left wing who fired a beautiful shot past Marotta on the breakaway.

Oddly enough, following every TV timeout BC was starting a Power Play. On the second of these, Shawn Bates finally found the back of the net at 12:43 after a gritty sequence for the Warriors. Vinny Scotti originally put a shot on net that produced a juicy rebound, and Ben Bahe and Bates chipped away with about 5 shots until Bates’ finally crossed the goal line.

Follow live updates on Twitter at @PatBradleyUSCHO

Advertisements

Gustafsson Moves to 2nd Line

John Gustafsson celebrates his first career goal at Boston College on November 16th

John Gustafsson celebrates his first career goal at Boston College on November 16th

 

In light of Clayton Jardine’s fractured tibula plateau last Sunday at Providence, Freshman John Gustafsson is active and playing in Jardine’s left wing spot today for Merrimack.

Gustafsson is a nice option on a line that was finally starting to click together. With experienced junior Shawn Bates centering sophomore wing Josh Myers as well, Gustafsson adds speed to an already speedy lineup. He also has a strong shot and great finishing ability, so look for that second line to really press BC with their speed today, creating mismatches, rebounds and easy chip ins on open nets.

Gustafsson has 5 points (1-4-5) in 23 games played this season. His only previous goal came against Boston College in November 16th this season. Gustafsson also scored in an exhibition against the US Under 18 Team in December.

The Jardine-Bates-Myers line had seemingly just found their groove, highlighted by 2 huge goals in the January 26th game at UNH, a 4-1 Merrimack victory.

If Merrimack wins today, they move up to 13th in the Pairwise Rankings, meaning if the playoffs started tomorrow, which they don’t, Merrimack would be one of 16 teams to advance to the NCAA Tournament.

Merrimack/BC Preview: 1-on-1 with Jordan Heywood

Battle For First

 

Tonight at J. Thom Lawler Arena, the no. 19 Merrimack Warriors take on the no. 4 Boston College Eagles in a battle for sole possession of first place in the Hockey East standings. After a lackluster 6-7-3 first half, including a 4-4-3 record in Hockey East, Merrimack sat in just 6th place heading into the Christmas break. The first half let down could be summed up in one game – a 4-3 loss at Boston College on November 16th.

That Friday night, the Warriors jumped out to a quick 3-0 lead in the second period on the then no.1 ranked Eagles after a scoreless first. All three Warrior goals came in a 4:36 span. Understandably excited, the young Merrimack squad seemingly lost focus following those dominant four and a half minutes.

“It was like the first two rows at a Justin Bieber concert,” said Merrimack coach Mark Dennehy.

“The giddiness of our team being up three-nothing on the number one team in the country was palpable. You’ve got to be laser focused at the point, and I knew there was a lot of hockey left to be played.”

Merrimack would end up giving up that lead just as quickly as they had earned, as the Eagles scored 3 goals of their own in a five minute stretch that followed, capped off by an early 3rd period goal that would put the Eagles ahead for good.

”It was a learning experience,” explains Dennehy. “We can’t take much from it now, but it was a precursor to where we are today and showed that we can play with the best teams in the country.”

Since the beginning of their second half campaign on December 29th, the Warriors have seemingly turned the tables around. Fresh off defeats of Hockey East foes UNH and UMass Lowell, both ranked nationally, the Warriors find themselves in the midst of a 7-2-1 stretch that has them back in the national conversation, in 2nd place in their conference, and 20th in the Pairwise Rankings that are taken under heavy consideration when determining the 16 teams that will make the NCAA tournament.

I saw down with Merrimack captain and blue-liner Jordan Heywood to talk about tonight’s battle for first place.

PB: Was your preparation any different this week heading into such a huge match-up?

JH: We’re not really focused on who we’re playing, although it obviously adds to the excitement of the game. There’s big implications, but we try to stay focused on us. We feel that if we prepare properly, we work hard, and do the little things right, that’ll give us the best chance to win and we have the ability to beat every team in the country.

What do you take from the 4-3 loss to this team back in November?

You just can’t get too high with the highs and low with the lows. I think we obviously got too high on the bench, we were pretty excited. But they’re a team who has the ability to score in large volumes pretty quickly. I don’t expect there to be that drastic shift of momentum this time. But, you never know. If it happens you just have to be prepared to go out there the next shift and work even harder.

How do you contain “Johnny Hockey” – BC’s star sophomore and Team USA hero Johnny Gaudreau?

Obviously you have a little more focus at times when he’s on the ice because he’s a tremendous player, but, again, we’re not focusing on what they’re doing or what their players are doing. We just feel that if we stick to our focus and stick to our game plan those little things will take care of themselves.

Is it intimidating squaring up with BC, or is it an exciting challenge?

Yeah, I don’t feel intimidated playing them. It’s pretty easy for teams to be intimidated, though. I remember freshman year, the first game [against BC], feeling kind of intimidated, but you realize pretty quickly that they sweat and they bleed just like you do.

If I had told you 6 weeks ago you’d be playing BC at home for first place on February 15th, would you have believed me?

I think so, yeah.  Earlier in the year we saw flashes of how good our team can be, but we also saw flashes of how bad we can be. We were pretty inconsistent at times. But just seeing how young our team was and how well we’ve grown…you don’t want to be overconfident in yourself, but from pretty early in the year I believed we had a pretty good team. We have a lot of good players. It was just kind of part of the process to wait that out and just make sure we’re doing the little things right, so that when it comes to games like tonight, we’re ready.

Was there ever a point where you thought ‘okay, maybe this is a lost season’? Did anyone ever give up?

No, if anyone had given up we wouldn’t be at the point we’re at now. It doesn’t mean there wasn’t frustration. It’s really frustrating, a lot of times, because it’s just saying the same things over and over, but a lot of it is just a process. It takes time for players to mature and develop into the player that the team needs them to be. It’s just coming to the rink every day with the idea that you have to work hard. The teams who really do that over the course of the season are the ones who will be there at the end.

93% of voters in my recent poll say this team can get out of the first round of the Hockey East tournament, while 50% believe you can make the Hockey East Finals and the NCAA Tournament. How far can this team go?

The way that college hockey works is that the team who is playing the best at the right time can go the whole way. You don’t have that 7 game series format. Once you get past the first round it’s just one game, and if you can put together one game then you can beat anyone. You start to build some confidence and anything can happen. You look at BC last year, and they won 19 in a row to end the season when no one, at the beginning, really thought they were going to be that good. I think this team could do that too, I definitely believe that. It’s all about having your players play well at the right time.

Do you feel like you’ve hit that stride the last few games?

I think so. I think it’s just guarding the team against feeling like we’ve arrived at anything, because we haven’t. Sure we’re playing for 1st place, but Providence is a point behind us, UNH is a point behind us. BU is 3 points behind us. You drop two games and suddenly you’re down in fourth or fifth place. No one’s running away with it and I don’t think anyone is going to run away with it. For us every game is against a top 6 or 7 team. Every game is big.

How big are the fans, who still believe in you even after a rocky first half? How big of a boost is it when they’re packed in Lawler?

It’s a huge boost. The first thing every player does when they skate out onto the ice is look down to the fan section to see what the turnout is. When you see that fan section full it definitely gives you a jump in your step. Hearing them chanting, cheering and having fun…it’s a small rink and gets pretty loud in there quickly. It makes a huge difference. We really appreciate it when you guys come out.

 

 

So now it’s your turn: who wins tonight’s Battle for First, Merrimack or BC? Vote below!