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

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.

There’s A Storm Coming, Boston College

Connor Toomey scores the game-winner in OT last week against BC

Connor Toomey scores the game-winner in OT last week against BC

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.

Follow live updates on Twitter at @PatBradleyUSCHO

Your Turn : Who wins today?

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)