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

Merrimack Hockey Update

A screenshot of hockeyeastonline.com's homepage following Merrimack's 2-1 overtime victory over BC last Friday

A screenshot of hockeyeastonline.com’s homepage following Merrimack’s 2-1 overtime victory over Boston College last Friday night at Lawler Arena

 

Back in the National Conversation

When the team left for the Christmas hiatus, they were sporting a disappointing 6-8-4 record. For a team who had achieved unparalleled success for the program the previous two seasons, this came as a surprise. Their dismal record included an ugly 4-4-1 Hockey East conference record, and a 3-3-3 record at home in Lawler Arena where these Warriors had typically thrived.

Since the break, Merrimack has gone 8-3-3, including a 5-1-0 record at home and an 8-2-2 mark in Hockey East play. These totals have pushed Merrimack up to 17th place in the USCHO.com National Rankings, as well as first place in the Hockey East Standings.

Where the rankings really matter, though, are in the Pairwise Rankings (PWR), which help the NCAA selection committee determine which teams qualify for the chance to play for the National Championship. The top 16 teams make the NCAA Tournament, and Merrimack is currently tied for 17th with Rensselaer Polytech. With 6 games left on their schedule, all of which are against Hockey East teams and 4 of which are against nationally ranked competition (no. 4 BC, no. 15 BU, no. 12 ULowell twice), the Warriors hold their destiny in their hands.

With that in mind, how far can this Merrimack team go? Merrimack coach Mark Dennehy has high hopes.

“I believe our best hockey is ahead of it,” he said. “We’re back in the conversation, which means we’ve done some good things. But if you want to dream it, you have to believe it. I’ll be damned if I go on the bench with a team who doesn’t believe they can win that night.”

 

Bigos Improving Play

Senior defenseman Kyle Bigos broke the Hockey East and Merrimack College penalty minute (PIM) records in the same game on January 11th against Boston University, a game in which he amassed 16 PIM individually. In 10 games since then, he has received only 13 PIM, 5 of which came on from one major Sunday that was retaliation to a penalty that seriously injured sophomore wing Clayton Jardine.

Bigos, who was criticized early in the season for sloppy play and lack of leadership, was stripped of his assistant captain title just before Merrimack’s weekend series with Providence in early December per a “team decision.” Coach Dennehy weighed in on Bigos’ play of late:

“Kyle has played with a lot of discipline lately. He has played like the type of leader that we thought he could be, that his teammates thought he could be. But we’re only as good as our next decision in life. He just needs to keep playing the way he’s playing. I think he’s playing some of the best hockey of his career, and I’m happy that it’s in his senior year. This team needs him to continue that type of play.”

Goaltending Depth Key To Success

No Merrimack goalie had started two consecutive games this season until January 18th, when junior Sam Marotta played in his second consecutive game at Maine, a 1-1 tie. Previously, Dennehy had played the goalies in a platoon, although he always denied this, explaining he was simply “going with the matchups.”

However, after Tirronen struggled in his first two starts of the second half, losses to Union College and Boston University in which he surrendered 3 and 4 goals, respectively, it appears Dennehy has made a switch. Since January 18th, Marotta has started 10 straight games and earned a 7-1-2 record. In the 12 games he’s started during the second half, Marotta has allowed more than 2 goals only once (6 at UNH January 26th), posted 2 shutouts (30 saves vs Maine 1/12, 25 saves vs UMass Lowell 2/1), and played his way to a 1.66 goals against average (GAA). Take out that UNH game, that number drops to 1.27.

Dennehy knows this depth is one of his team’s biggest strengths, and the key to their success.

“Our guys believe in our goaltending in general. It’s an area of strength for us. The guy who is the number one guy is the guy who is in net that night. Part of his [Tirronen’s] problem is that there aren’t two nets. But it will give him a chance to really ramp his game up, because we haven’t seen the best of him yet. It’s incumbent upon both goaltenders to really focus on the task at hand, which is simply: stop the puck. But that is very difficult to do. Sam’s been playing great, and he’s been the beneficiary because of his play.”

Now Refreshed, Bates Heating Up

Junior Shawn Bates had a difficult first half, struggling to consistently produce as he struggled to find consistent ice time. It was a vicious circle he seemingly couldn’t get out of, at least not before Christmas.

“After the break – it was just refreshing to go home, get away from it, see family – things have just been going well not just for me but for my entire line. We seem to be clicking and finding each other. It’s made it a lot easier coming to the rink and work with those guys. They’re [Jardine and Myers] so fun to work with. Hopefully we can keep it up.”

Since the team returned, Bates has played in all 14 games and been the third leading scorer with 8 points on 3 goals, highlighted by a 2 goal performance at UNH on February 2nd.

Second Half Totals (for games played since December 29th, 2012 to present)

Goals: Collins (6), Christie (3), Bates (3)

Team Goals: 34 – 11 scored by first line (32%) of Collins, Christie, Gould.

Assists: Collins (10), Christie (7), Bates/Bly (5)

Points: Collins (16), Christie (10), Bates (8), Bly/Ellis/Bigos (6)

PIM: Bigos (37), McCarthy (18), Myers/Kolomatis (14)

Poll: Who do you LOVE to Hate?

BC, BU, UNH, and ULowell. 4 of Merrimack's fiercest Hockey East rivals

BC, BU, UNH, and ULowell. 4 of Merrimack’s fiercest Hockey East rivals

This Friday Merrimack takes on #4 Boston College in a battle for 1st place in Hockey East in what is sure to be a hard fought, well played battle. The last time these teams met in November, Merrimack jumped to a 3-0 lead in the second period before seeing it vanish before the end of the period, ultimately losing by a 4-3 margin to the then #1 team in the country. Losses like these surely stew in the minds of Merrimack diehards, so we want to know: which Hockey East team do you LOVE to HATE? Cast your vote in the poll below, and don’t forget to to check out yesterday’s poll “How far can the Merrimack Hockey team go?” Right now, 92% of voters think the Warriors will make it out of the first round of the Hockey East Tournament!