CHESTNUT HILL, Mass. — Boston College head coach Jerry York proved Tuesday night that he’s a gambling man. Merrimack almost made York pay for his gamble.
With a lineup depleted by injuries, the No. 2-ranked Eagles took to the ice against Merrimack with rookie goaltender Joe Pearce making his first collegiate start, one that he’d likely wish he had back. Pearce surrendered three goals on eight shots, was pulled early in the second period trailing, 3-2, only to watch the Eagles battle back with a third-period goal to salvage a 3-3 tie.
“We thought this was a good chance to get Joe in the lineup,” said York, facing a Merrimack team that hasn’t won at Conte Forum since Oct. 31, 1998, a span which now stands at 13 games (0-12-1). “Even with the injuries, we still decided to stay with him.
“He’ll learn from this start, I’m sure.”
Boston College played the game without the services of Patrick Eaves (knee, out three weeks), Dave Spina (ankle, day-to-day), Ty Hennes (lacerated ankle, day-to-day) and Peter Harrold (flu, day-to-day). That added a bit of unwanted stress to the BC lineup.
All of the stress, along with the stress of trailing Merrimack, was softened when junior defenseman Andrew Alberts tied the game with 11:55 remaining in regulation. It was the blueliner’s second goal of the game and brought the midweek crowd of 5,489 to its feet.
“The rebound popped out [to me] in a scramble and I was just able to get the puck on my back hand and threw it at the net,” said Alberts, describing the tying tally. “I’ll definitely take it.”
The goal spoiled what could have been grand theft larceny for Merrimack goaltender Casey Guenther (37 saves), who tried to steal a game in which his club was outshot, 40-14.
Still, even earning a tie didn’t keep Guenther and head coach Chris Serino from feeling a bit upset after the game.
“It’s always good to get a point,” said Guenther, “but it’s always frustrating when you know [the team] could’ve played better.”
Said Serino, “I’m happy that we came out with a tie here, but I’m not happy that we didn’t play that well. Tonight was a night that if we played well we had a chance to win a game.
“We don’t get many points over here, so to get a point and get out of here is good for our team. But we had a chance to get two and you don’t get that too often [at BC].”
What frustrated Serino the most was the inability to handle Boston College in the defensive zone. Far too frequently, Eagles players were left open to attack the Merrimack net and force Guenther to make save after save.
The fact that Guenther was able to perform as well as he did might have been the only positive in Serino’s mind. It was especially good news considering the performance came on the heels of surrendering four goals on 11 shots on Saturday against BU, a performance that resulted in Guenther being pulled for the first time this season.
“[Guenther] has had a game here or there when he hasn’t played well,” said Serino, “but for the most part he’s played well all season long and he did a great job tonight.”
The first period alone featured a major accomplishment for the Warriors, as they struck twice against the Eagles. Entering the game, Boston College (6-2-3, 3-0-2 Hockey East) had been scored upon only once all season in the first period.
Still, despite the feat, at the end of the opening 20 minutes, the best Merrimack could muster was a 2-2 deadlock.
BC opened the scoring when Alberts scored his first of the night and of the season. Coming down on a 3-on-1, Alberts blasted a shot over the glove of Guenther into the top corner at 4:21 for the 1-0 lead.
“[I] thought shot all the way,” Alberts said.
Exactly two minutes later, the Warriors evened the score. Defenseman Tony Johnson simply fired a low wrist shot at the BC net that Pearce appeared to never see, allowing it far side inside the left post.
Merrimack (2-7-3, 1-5-3) took its first lead at 14:30. This time rookie Mike Alexiou scored his first career goal, taking a breakaway pass from Tim Reidy and making a nifty move for the 2-1 lead.
Forty-seven seconds later, though, BC drew even when Chris Collins deflected John Adams’ shot from the left point, leaving Guenther with no chance to make the save.
In the second period, Merrimack regained the lead on the power play. Bryan Schmidt’s slapper got through a screen at 4:35, signaling the end of the night for Pearce. Matti Kaltiainen entered two minutes later and earned the tie in relief, making six saves.
The tie between the two clubs was the first ever in 56 meetings. Coming into the game, the two teams were the only ones left in Hockey East without a tie. BC now leads the all-time series 38-17-1.
The tie extends Boston College’s unbeaten streak to five (3-0-2) and pushes Merrimack’s winless streak to eight (0-5-3). Seven of those eight have been games against Top 15 clubs.
BC plays a single game this weekend hosting Providence on Friday, while Merrimack begins a four-game non-conference stretch with two games at home against Bemidji State.