CHESTNUT HILL, Mass. — Boston College goaltender Tim Kelleher made the saves when they counted most while Merrimack College netminder Joe Exter wishes he could have one back.
The surging Eagles escaped Conte Forum Friday with a typical, tight late-season 2-1 Hockey East victory over an improving Warriors club. The Eagles earned their third straight win, thanks mainly to Kelleher’s stellar 28-save performance.
The two clubs will complete the weekend’s home-and-home series Saturday night at the Volpe Center at 7 p.m.
The difference on the scoreboard may have been BC freshman Dave Spina’s power-play goal with 15:35 to play that gave the defending national champs their only lead, but there was no question who the game’s No. 1 star was.
“Kelleher played unbelievably,” said Merrimack associate head coach Mike Doneghey, whose club remains two points ahead of idle UMass-Amherst for the eighth and final playoff spot. “He made five or six incredible saves, though I don’t know if he knew he made them. That one on (Marco) Rosa with a few minutes left was just unbelievable.”
Doneghey was referring to Kelleher’s highlight-reel, diving glove save on the uncovered Merrimack center, who appeared to have the BC junior dead to rights on the power play with 3:58 to play.
With Eagles freshman Ryan Murphy off for tripping, Rosa stood wide open at the left post, took a perfect feed through traffic along the right boards from linemate Anthony Aquino and moved across the crease to force the goalie down. It looked as if the Warriors sophomore had the entire net to flip his backhander into, but somehow Kelleher got enough of it with his glove to deflect it off the right post.
“I kind of left my arm out there and tried to roll over a little bit and throw my other arm out,” recalled Kelleher, who is unbeaten in his four career starts against Merrimack. “It just hit my arm, hit the post and my defense, like they were all night, were right there for me.”
Kelleher came up big twice more over the final seconds with Exter off for an extra Merrimack attacker, but it was his improbable stop on Rosa that preserved the Eagles’ 16th win, moving them within a point of sixth-place Providence.
“I don’t know how it stayed out,” BC coach Jerry York said. “All our shoulders just went down because it looked like it was red-light time. But goalies can change the momentum of games like that, and Timmy’s playing really well right now.”
Exter was just as impressive at times, including making an incredible leaping save on BC forward Tony Voce late in the second period to keep the game tied at 1-1. But it’s that first Eagles goal the junior would like to have another crack at.
With just 1:18 gone in the second period and Warriors defenseman Nick Cammarata harassing him, BC forward Anthony D’Arpino threw a seemingly harmless shot from along the left boards on the Merrimack net that found its way between Exter’s pads for the freshman’s second career goal and second in as many games.
“Sometimes in hockey guys are going to blow it by you,” said Exter, last week’s Hockey East Defensive Player of the Week. “I didn’t play it wrong. Should I have had it, yeah. Did I want to have it, yeah. But that’s part of the position.”
Aquino gave the visitors their first lead against BC in four meetings with his team-leading 23rd goal of the season on the power play 16:54 into the first period.
Aquino, who extended his goal streak to five games, again relied on his exceptional speed to bust through the Eagles defense, splitting Brett Peterson and Bill Cass in the slot and snapping off a wrist shot that Kelleher had to turn aside with his shoulder. The puck rolled into the right corner where Warriors senior Nick Parillo pushed it towards the back of the net to teammate Ryan Cordeiro.
Cordeiro, last week’s USCHO Offensive Player of the Week for his five-point night against in a rare win over Maine, backhanded a blind pass along the back boards to an uncovered Aquino on the opposite side of the net. The Warriors captain then stepped out front and rifled a shot through Kelleher’s pads for his sixth goal this season with the man advantage.
“I told the guys in there they played hard but ran out of time,” said an upbeat Doneghey. “I told them to keep their heads up and walk out of here feeling good about themselves. We’ve got another one with them (Saturday).”