CHESTNUT HILL, Mass. — There’s not a struggling hockey team in the country that won’t take an ugly win — even if you’re defending national champion Boston College.
Thanks to a three-goal effort by sophomore Tony Voce, including two of the shorthanded variety, BC survived against a pesky but sloppy Merrimack team, 6-4 Thursday night in front of a thin weekday crowd at the Conte Forum.
Neither team would impress any hockey pundits. Merrimack mustered only 16 shots on the night, but still got four past Boston College goaltender Tim Kelleher (12 saves). And the Warrior defense allowed Boston College to skate around it like a revolving door, leaving goaltender Joe Exter (35 saves) to face grade-A chance after chance.
Asked for his thoughts, Merrimack associate head coach Mike Doneghey, standing in for head coach Chris Serino — who is battling throat cancer — said simply that he had “nothing you can write.”
Continued Doneghey, “It was a lack of paying attention. A lack of detail.”
Detail certainly lacked on special teams. Though special-teams numbers haven’t impressed this year for the Warriors, on Thursday night, they hit rock bottom. Boston College scored its last four goals on special teams: two on the power play, two shorthanded.
The Eagles were happy to take advantage of the Merrimack inept special teams. But Boston College itself was susceptible to penalty-kill difficulties. The Eagles allowed two power-play goals to Merrimack, and one that came just three seconds after an Eagle penalty expired.
More important, the Eagles had difficulty putting Merrimack away. Despite leads of 2-0, 3-1, and 6-2, Merrimack still found itself in the game in the late going, trailing only 6-4.
Unfortunately for Boston College, it’s a familiar feeling.
“That’s how most games have been, we’re either been up or down by a goal,” said Eagles captain Jeff Giuliano. “We’ve been outshooting most of our opponents. But we get confused between giving a good effort and getting the ‘W.’”
The win was the first of the league season for the Eagles, who dropped their first two league games to UMass-Lowell and Northeastern. Something everyone in the BC dressing room is glad to get off their backs.
“Especially with a young team, we needed to get the first win,” said Voce, who finished the night with four points.
“We’re 1-2 in the league and going 0-3 would’ve been tough,” said Giuliano. “We definitely need this one.”
Boston College opened the game controlling the pace of play. The first period saw BC outshoot Merrimack, 14-4, and take a 2-0 lead into the intermission.
Ned Havern scored his first collegiate goal finishing off a pass from fellow rookie Ryan Murphy at 8:50.
Less than three minutes later, defenseman J.D. Forrest, who finished with a goal and two assists, scored on a similar play, set up by Ben Eaves in the high slot.
Merrimack responded early in the second. Anthony Aquino, with six of his points on the year coming in the form of goals, continued his scoring pace. He finished off a two-on-one with linemate and fellow paisan Nick Parillo at 3:47 to pull the Warriors within a goal.
A penalty to BC’s Joe Schuman at 5:19 put Merrimack on the power play with a chance to even the game, but Voce had other thoughts. After stealing the puck along the half boards, Voce walked in on Exter and fired a high shot that deflected off the netminder’s shoulder, off the post and into the net.
Merrimack, though, did answer on the power play late in the second. Aquino notched his second at 18:38 to send the Warriors to the locker room trailing by only a goal, despite being outshot 27-12 through 40 minutes.
“We had no reason to be in the game after two periods,” said Doneghey. “I told the guys that for some reason we’re still in this game and that we’d have to work hard but we could win.
“Instead, we come out, a couple of guys fall down [on the penalty kill] and the puck is in the net.”
That’s exactly what happened as A.J. Walker scored his second of the season finishing off a virtual two-on-none after the Warrior defense collapsed.
BC extended that lead to 6-2 as Voce added two more — a deflection on the power play at 8:06 and a shorthanded rush at 12:21.
Merrimack’s Ryan Cordeiro, who leads the team in scoring, scored twice on the breakaway later in the period to make the game interesting, but that’s as close as the Warriors would get.
The loss drops Merrimack to 0-5-0 in Hockey East, their worst start since the 1992-93 season. They finished that season 8-16-0, in sixth place. BC improves to 1-2-0 in Hockey East and return to .500 (4-4-1) overall.
Both teams are finished for the weekend. Boston College returns to the ice next Wednesday night for a game against Providence, while Merrimack will travel to Niagara on November 16-17 for a two-game series against the Purple Eagles.