BOSTON — Going into Saturday, Steve Greeley had only played in two of Boston University’s seven games.
Now it might be a little while before he’s wearing street clothes at game time again.
Greeley’s first goal of the season — just his fourth in 52 collegiate games and the first he has scored against a team other than Providence — broke a 1-1 tie at 5:33 of the third period, as BU beat Merrimack despite a 30-save performance by Warrior goalie Joe Exter in front of a sellout crowd of 3,806 at Walter Brown Arena.
Sean Fields stopped 20 of 21 Merrimack shots, and John Sabo scored the other goal for the Terriers (5-1-2, 3-1-0 Hockey East). In addition to Exter’s heroics, Tim Reidy scored for the Warriors (2-5-1, 1-3-0 Hockey East).
Both coaches agreed that the one-goal difference between the teams was misleading, as the Terriers dominated play Saturday after a decidedly uninspired showing by the Scarlet and White when Merrimack beat BU 5-3 back on October 22.
“That was a lot better effort than the last time we played them,” Terrier coach Jack Parker said. “I was real pleased with how we played technically-we were pretty good in all three zones, pretty good on the power play, pretty good killing penalties. We just couldn’t put the puck by them.”
“I don’t think tonight was such a close game,” said Warrior coach Chris Serino. “It was close in score. The second period shots were 11 to 7, and we didn’t have a shot in a grade-A area.
“I thought BU played really well,” Serino added. “Beat us to a lot of loose pucks, really controlled the play.. I thought Joe Exter played great tonight. If we played well with a goaltending performance like that, we would have won, but we didn’t play well. They played great — played hard, muscled us off the puck.”
The opening minutes were all BU, but to no avail on the scoreboard. With a five-on-three advantage, Merrimack took the lead at 6:03. Tim Reidy started and finished the scoring play. Following some nice passes from Rob LaLonde and Tony Johnson, Reidy beat Fields with a wrister from the left-wing faceoff circle.
The Terriers spent most of the first period killing off four penalties, while referee Conrad Hache didn’t call any against the Warriors. Thus, BU didn’t threaten much until even strength prevailed over the last four minutes. They had numerous chances at that point, but Exter — who came into the game with a .912 save percentage in previous action against BU — kept up his good play against the Terriers.
BU finally had some power plays in the second period, and John Sabo and Brian McConnell capitalized. The pair exchanged passes before McConnell slid one across the slot to Sabo at the far post. The winger slam-dunked it home at 5:59 for his fifth goal of the season, tying Justin Maiser for the team lead.
It wasn’t the first time that McConnell has threaded a pass to the far post this season.
“He’s got the ability to turn quickly on a guy and get his head looking to the net,” Parker said of the sophomore centerman. “He’s got great hands. He knows how to fire a puck, how to feather a puck, and he’s got good peripheral vision where he can see people and know where they are. He’s made a few other passes that people haven’t deposited, too.”
Merrimack couldn’t buy a scoring opportunity for the next 20 minutes or so, while BU continued to pepper Exter with fairly good bids.
Seconds after BU’s second line of Brad Zancanaro, Mark Mullen, and David VanderGulik almost scored — the latter clobbering Exter in the process — the Terriers took their first lead of the night at 5:33 of the final frame. Freddy Meyer made a terrific pass from the left-wing faceoff circle to Steve Greeley near the far post. The junior converted it before Exter could move across the crease.
“Johnson won the faceoff back, and I think Skladany tipped it over to Freddy, who faked a shot and made a great pass to me — just cut to the net and had to thread the needle to get it to me,” said Greeley. “I put my stick behind me — that was the only way he could have gotten it to me, and he put it right there.”
Greeley knows that the Terriers’ depth makes it difficult to get in the lineup.
“Well, we have 14 or 15 good forwards,” Greeley said. “Every day’s a fight to get playing time. I played in the exhibition and the first game and then didn’t get back in until UNH. I’m lucky enough to be paired with Johnson and Skladany, two of our better players. They’ve made the transition back pretty easy.”
“He’s on the bubble with a couple of other guys, but he played well tonight, and he’ll stay in the lineup,” Parker said of Greeley. “‘Those who play well will be rewarded with further play,’ as Coach Hutchinson from Harvard used to say.”
The Terriers seemed to gain momentum — or perhaps it was just conditioning paying off. In any case, Exter did well to keep his team in the game amidst continual pressure as the third wore on. Mark Mullen couldn’t get the handle on a good rebound chance at 11:50, and Johnson pestered the Warrior defense on several occasions.
Merrimack pressed to tie the game at the end with Exter pulled.
“We got the shots we wanted,” Serino said. “We had guys free in the slot, and we just didn’t pull the trigger.
“That’s probably the best we played the whole night, the last minute and 21 seconds,” Serino said. “We got the puck out of our end, we got it in; we forechecked. Maybe that’s the key: if we could play six, and they have five, we can do a good job against them.”
BU has a big weekend at home coming up, hosting Boston College on Friday and Maine on Saturday. Merrimack is off until November 22 and 23 for a home-and-home against Providence.