There’s a blizzard outside for the third weekend in a row. The weathermen originally predicted another monstrous storm to hit us, but in the wake of those comments the predictions were scaled back and it’s been a relatively quiet weekend as far as snow goes. About an hour ago, no one expected anything significant to happen. Now, just 2 hours before puck drop, it’s snowing so hard it may never snow again. How appropriate.
After Merrimack stormed back into the National Conversation in the past few weeks, capped by a 2-1 overtime victory against Boston College last weekend, things have seemingly calmed a bit. Last week, the anticipation before the game was practically palpable as you walked through campus; every one was buzzing about the Battle for First. The last few days, however, things have cooled unseasonably, but today’s matchup remains crucial to both Merrimack’s playoff dreams and BC’s playoff seeding. With a Merrimack victory, they jump to 13th place in the Pairwise Ranking, good for a spot in the NCAA Tournament should the season end tomorrow.
Maybe it’s a a trap to lure in the unsuspecting Eagles, although after last week’s gritty win from the Warriors, unsuspecting isn’t quite the word I’d expect to us to describe BC. This blizzard could be a sign of things to come this afternoon. It’s about time someone else claimed the Hockey East throne, and while Merrimack stands atop the perch, it’s a damn good time to make one final statement to the perennial champions. There’s a storm coming, Boston College. Look out.
Keys to the Game:
Stay on the Ice!
Merrimack did a really good job of playing intelligent hockey last week to stay out of the penalty box. In total, Merrimack only committed 5 penalties, while BC committed 10, including four in the third period and overtime. The OT Power Play would ultimately give Merrimack the victory as Connor Toomey scored the advantage goal while Pat Mullane was in the box for interference. BC has killed right around 86% of it’s penalties and scored on about 22% of opponents’. If you translate those numbers to the NHL, BC would be ranked 6th and 9th, respectively. Merrimack does not want to get into a special teams battle.
Part of playing smart means smart hitting, which Merrimack in the past has struggled with. They need to get out and make some big hits early, simply sending a message that says “Hey, we’re here. This is our house. We’re not backing down.” If BC comes out and runs the table, sending Merrimack bodies flying in the first, it’ll be a long afternoon. Clip those wings and hurt their confidence early and it’ll go a long way.
Defense, Defense, Defense!
Merrimack defenders love to dive on the ice and block pucks and did so again last week, blocking 17 shots taken by BC shooters. Diving for pucks and saving the goalie is a staple of Merrimack hockey, and they need to keep it up if they want to win again today. While Sam Marotta is playing tremendously in net, BC has 5 players with 20 or more points, and 3 above 30. This team is tremendously skilled and will pepper Marotta with shots every chance they get, especially if they get rolling on the Power Play. Marotta may be playing like a superstar right now, but he can’t do it alone.
Capitalize on Offensive Chances
You’re not going to score a lot of pretty goals on these BC defensemen. Period. Parker Milner is playing some of the best hockey of his career in net as a senior as well, and while he’s never really played well at Merrimack, he’s still very good. Merrimack needs to get into their offensive rhythm early on and consistently keep it at their pace throughout the game, period-to-period. They can very easily score goals in bunches, but BC may be the biggest threat to match this feat in the league, as evidenced by the teams’ first meeting where Merrimack scored 3 goals in 5 minutes to take a commanding 3-0 lead, only to watch it disappear 7 minutes later. They need to get the puck on net, get a defender in front of Milner to block his view, and just keep chipping away until an ugly goal or 3 find the back of the net.
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Your Turn : Who wins today?