CHESTNUT HILL, Mass. -- This time, No. 3 Boston College wasn't going to relinquish a lead at home to the Warriors. Not with coach Jerry York's 900th career win on the line.
On Jan. 8, these two top-ranked squads battled to a 2-2 stalemate, with Merrimack's Connor Toomey ringing up two come-from-behind goals. On Friday night, Toomey, and his heroics, weren't on the ice. And before 7,390 at the Conte Forum, the Eagles (20-10-1; 14-7-1 Hockey East) got out to a 2-0 first-period lead, and then went for the jugular, tagging Merrimack (15-8-6; 11-7-4 HE) with a 4-2 loss, and getting York his milestone triumph.
With the victory, York becomes only the second college hockey coach -- after Ron Mason (924 wins at Lake Superior State, Bowling Green and Michigan State) -- to break the 900-win plateau. York also collected his bounty at three schools -- Clarkson, Bowling Green (where he won a national championship in 1984) and BC (where he has won three NCAA titles), almost 40 years after his first win at Clarkson on Nov. 10, 1972.
"First of all, I'd like to congratulate Coach York," said Merrimack coach Mark Dennehy, a former BC player. "Holy smokes, 900 wins. At the rate I'm going, I'll be 275 years old by the time I get 900 wins."
York, meanwhile, downplayed the milestone, saying: "When you sign up for a team sport, whether you're coaching or a player, it's never about individual awards and accomplishments."
"It's not something that motivates me, the number of games," he said. "We try to win trophies. When you're in a team sport, that's got to be your goal. And Boston College has provided all of us here with the opportunity to really chase some trophies."
The win Friday puts the Eagles in the driver's seat for the Hockey East regular season title, and they're tied with archrival Boston University atop the league. The defeat also extended a longstanding rough patch at Conte for the Warriors, who have failed to get a win on BC's home ice since Halloween 1997 (going 0-23-2).
"The team that was ready to play from the get-go won the game," said Dennehy. "We kind of eased our way in, and you can't do that here. I thought we continued to battle, and got better and better as the game went on -- all positives. But no moral victories."
The Eagles jumped ahead at 10:53 on a goal eerily similar to the game-winner in Monday's Beanpot championship game. Junior Steve Whitney, again coasting down the left boards, let two Eagles drive the net before finding the trailer in the high slot. This time the man in the slot was junior Patrick Wey, who settled the puck and then flicked a wrister over Merrimack goalie Joe Cannata's blocker for his first goal of the year and a 1-0 BC lead.
At 13:53, the Eagles doubled up. BC's Destry Straight sent a beautiful cross-crease pass to linemate Danny Linell, but the freshman's one-timer was stuffed by a spectacular post-to-post split save by Cannata. However, the puck came off the senior's leg pads, and BC's Johnny Gaudreau was at the doorstep to tap it home past the fallen Merrimack netminder.
So overpowering were the Eagles that they outshot their visitors, 11-1, in the opening 20 minutes.
"They dominated the period," said Dennehy. "We've got to a better job of being ready to play against a team of that caliber."
BC goaltender Parker Milner (17 saves) was busier in the second period, but the Eagles continued to carry the play.
After killing off a Merrimack power play to start the middle stanza, BC's Barry Almeida put the Eagles up 3-0 at 6:46 with a man-advantage tally. Whitney, again setting up in his office on the left boards, feathered a pass to captain Tommy Cross at the point. Cross patiently waited for Almeida to slide in front of Cannata, and then snapped a shot that the senior from Springfield, Mass., tipped into the Merrimack net for his 40th career goal.
BC put the game out of reach at 16:23, when Paul Carey, cruising across the high slot, fired a low shot that skipped past teammate Pat Mullane and Cannata for a 4-0 Eagles bulge.
"We got off to a great start early," said York. "We knew Merrimack wasn't going to just sit back at 4-0 and go home. They put up a strong effort, from that point."
The Warriors finally showed some life at 17:53, when Shawn Bates sent a low-high pass to Karl Stollery, and the Merrimack captain roofed it past Milner to cut the Eagles lead to 4-1. MC's Jordan Heywood make things interesting only 31 seconds into the third, unloading a slap shot just inside the blue line that eluded Milner, halving BC's lead to 4-2.
But the Warriors wouldn't get another goal, and when the final buzzer rang, the chants of "Jerry! Jerry!" cascaded down from the Conte Forum faithful.
"I am exceptionally proud of the fact that I've lasted this long in this profession," said York afterward with a smile, "because it's hard to do."
Cross, York's senior captain and a Bruins' draft choice, was more direct.
"It's an incredible milestone," Cross said. "The two points in the standings are very important, but also getting coach's 900th, at Kelly Rink, at an important time of the season, was very important. It was special for us, but even more special for him."
However, York and his Eagles won't have much time to celebrate, as the two teams face off again on Saturday at Merrimack's Lawler Arena.
"It'll be a different game tomorrow," said Dennehy. "We've always played this team well at home. They're going to bring everything they've got. They're firing on all pistons right now. We need to make sure that we play better."
In other local college hockey action:
No. 2 Boston University 7, No. 6 UMass-Lowell 4
The BU Terriers (18-10-1; 14-7-1 HE), perhaps smarting from their overtime loss in the Beanpot final on Monday, took it out on top-seeded Lowell (19-9-0; 14-8-0 HE), getting goals from seven players and pinning a 7-4 loss on the River Hawks. The win was sweet revenge for the Terriers, who got spanked by the River Hawks, 7-1, on Nov. 5, also at the Tsongas Center. BC's Alex Chiasson registered a four-point night (goal, 3 assists), while captain Chris Connelley (goal, 2 assists) and Matt Nieto (goal, 2 assists) both got three points. The victory also allowed BU to leapfrog Lowell into a two-way tie for first place in Hockey East with Boston College. The two teams renew acquaintances on Saturday at BU's Agganis Arena.
Northeastern 1, Providence 1 OT
At Northeastern's Matthews Arena, the host Huskies (11-14-4; 7-12-3 HE), in a dogfight for their playoff life, could only garner a single point as they deadlocked with the Friars (12-14-3; 10-10-2 HE). PC captain Tim Schaller put the Friars up just 29 seconds in, but Husky Garrett Vermeersch answered six minutes later. From that point, it was a goaltending duel, as NU's Chris Rawlings (22 saves) and PC's Alex Beaudry (20 saves) wouldn't let another puck past.
Maine 7, Massachusetts 3
In Orono, the Black Bears (18-9-3; 13-8-2 HE) held served against the Minutemen (10-14-5; 6-12-4) with a 7-3 win. Joey Diamond led the Maine charge with three points (goal, 2 assists), while Brian Flynn, Spencer Abbott and Kyle Beattie chipped in with two points apiece. The two teams meet again Saturday, also in Orono.
Harvard 3, Brown 3
In Rhode Island, the Crimson (8-7-11; 6-4-9 ECAC) set an NCAA record for ties in a season with their 11th stalemate as they knotted last-placed Brown (8-14-4; 5-11-3 ECAC), 3-3. Harvard had a lead of 2-0 after the first, and 3-2 going into the final period, but Brown's Massimo Lamacchia scored at the 18:14 mark to salvage the single point and send the Crimson into the record books.