BOSTON -- The Boston College Eagles celebrated early and late Friday night. The nation’s No. 2 ranked team got the evening under way by raising its fourth national championship banner to the rafters of Conte Forum, and then got down to business, rallying against a determined Merrimack College squad for a come-from-behind 3-2 win.
“Welcome to Hockey East,” said BC coach Jerry York afterward. “It seems like every year, there’s an awful lot of close games that can go either way.”
The BC win not only overshadowed a gutsy effort by Merrimack (1-1-2) and the Warriors' junior goaltender Joe Cannata (39 saves), but it ruined the homecoming of Merrimack coach Mark Dennehy. A Boston College grad ('91), Dennehy has never beaten his alma mater at Conte Forum in his six years at the helm of the Warrior program. Merrimack rang up 13 penalties on the night and it eventually proved to be their undoing, with Boston College (4-1-0) getting two power-play tallies, including the game-winner.
The two squads started tentative, like two prizefighters measuring each other during early rounds. The tempo picked up with when the parade to the penalty box got under way. Merrimack’s Cannata had to be sharp, stopping a Cam Atkinson one-timer from the low slot. Merrimack’s Adam Ross rang a shot from the point off the crossbar behind BC goalie John Muse, and then Cannata turned aside consecutive in-tight bids from BC captains Joe Whitney and Brian Gibbons.
“I thought we did a great job on the penalty kill,” said Dennehy. “It starts and ends with the guy in the net, and he was stupendous.”
Merrimack drew first blood at the 8:27 mark, with BC’s Paul Carey serving two minutes for hooking. Warrior defenseman Karl Stollery took a feed from Joe Cucci at the left point and snapped a shot through a screen that beat Muse low stick-side for his first goal of the season, and a 1-0 Merrimack lead. Carey nearly made amends 3½ minutes later, when he apparently redirected a quick pass from Gibbons at the top of the crease past Cannata for a power-play equalizer. However, the goal was disallowed after video review, which showed that Carey had kicked the puck in the net.
Over the next five minutes, the two clubs traded near misses, with BC’s Bill Arnold tipping a redirect just wide, and Merrimack’s Shawn Bates opting to shoot on a 2-on-1 and sending the puck over Muse’s glove and over the net. Muse then flashed the glove to rob Merrimack’s Kyle Bigos on a one-timer from the right off dot.
The game turned feisty in the second period, with several big hits energizing the crowd of 6,715. BC’s superb defenseman, Tommy Cross, absorbed a crunching body blow that had him hobbling to the bench, and BC’s York seeing red. The junior returned to the game the same period but was later diagnosed with a sprained knee and is expected to miss three to six weeks.
Cannata continued his stellar play, repeatedly stonewalling the Eagles during several power plays, including an extended 5-on-3 advantage midway through the period. The junior from Wakefield, Mass., finished with 22 saves in the period.
“I though Merrimack battled, and Joe Cannata played extremely well,” said York.
Boston College again appeared to tie the game at the 13:58 mark, when Whitney, a senior from Reading, Mass., fired a wrist shot over Cannata’s shoulder. However, BC was again denied when referee Tim Benedetto blew the play dead during a scramble at the top of the crease.
Eventually, the Warriors penchant for penalties (seven in the second period alone) caught up with them. Back-to-back penalties gave the Eagles an extended 5-on-3 power play with less than two minutes to go in the period, and BC took full advantage. At 19:29, BC’s junior sniper Atkinson collected a rebound by the left post and roofed a backhander past a prone Cannata for his third goal of the season, knotting the score at 1-1.
“That late power-play goal was really good for our psyche,” said York.
Opening the third period on the power play, the Eagles continued to blister shots at Cannata. However, at the 58-second mark, Merrimack’s sublime sophomore Stephane Da Costa found Ryan Flanigan fresh out of the penalty box, and hit him with a perfect pass. Flanigan knifed down the left side before slipping a quick shot underneath Muse’s blocker to put Merrimack up 2-1. The lead, though, was short lived.
At 3:33, BC’s Carey tied the game with a bullet from the left faceoff dot off a feed from Atkinson. The Eagles then took their first lead of the night 90 seconds later. With Merrimack’s Ross in the box for slashing, and the Warriors again playing shorthanded, Cannata misplayed a dump-in behind the goal line. The puck caromed directly into the low slot, where BC’s Pat Mullane tapped it into the vacated net.
“Merry Christmas, Pat,” quipped York.
Da Costa narrowly missed a chance to tie the game during a Merrimack power play when he clanked his point shot off the post. BC’s Muse, who finished with 30 saves, blocked a last-second bid by Stollery with his right pad to seal the win.
“Johnny Muse came up with some key saves,” said York. “He was really sharp tonight.”
Neither squad will have time to dwell on Friday’s game, though, as the two teams meet again Saturday night at Merrimack’s Lawler Arena. Asked if he planned to make any adjustments, Dennehy was blunt: “Take fewer penalties.”