BOSTON — If an art history professor were to evaluate tonight’s game between Boston University or Merrimack, the analysis likely would be that this one was more of a Jackson Pollack than a Rembrandt.
Between a few splashes of soft goals and a few poor strokes with the puck, this Terrier victory wasn’t exactly a masterpiece, but it certainly proved to be an entertaining exhibition. Defensive partners Kevin Schaeffer and Dan Spang were on the ice for all four Terrier goals, while John Laliberte potted a goal and an assist each for the victors, as BU beat Merrimack 6-4 in front of 3,799 at Walter Brown Arena. Terrier forwards Ryan Monaghan and Ryan Weston scored their first collegiate goals as well.
Steve Crusco notched a pair of assists in a losing effort for the Warriors.
“Playing with Spang is always great for me,” Schaeffer said of his defensive partner after each of them ended up at +3 for the game. “We read off each other really well; he always backs me up. Forwards played great too — we move the puck up to them; they work it down low and get something going down there.”
Terrier Coach Jack Parker saw more plusses than minuses as well.
“I thought we played pretty well,” Parker said. “We looked pretty quick; we played with some intensity. It was a pretty physical game, and we had a lot of good hits. That’s a good skating team and a real physical team, so we had to make sure that we stood up to that. I was real happy with how we played there.
“I wasn’t pleased at all with how we killed penalties. I thought we did an awful job on our forecheck. It wasn’t because of lack of effort; I think we were just confused in what we were trying to do. That really hurt us. Faceoffs continued to hurt us. Other than those two things, I was real pleased with how we played.”
Merrimack Coach Chris Serino was understandably dismayed by his team’s defensive showing.
“First I give BU credit; I thought they played very well, won a lot of battles,” Serino said. “But I wasn’t real happy: We ran around a lot in our own defensive end. Crazy. Because of that, we let up some shots we shouldn’t have let up, and we also let up three or four soft goals in there. There’s nothing more I can say about that. Three of the goals we had people where they were supposed to be, and we didn’t win the battle, and there was another three that weren’t very good goals, so…”
The Terriers got off to an extremely shaky start. On a power play after a Merrimack penalty just 17 seconds into the game, BU looked extremely ragged. Players skated into each other, and several passes missed connections. When Jordan Black intercepted a careless pass in the Terrier zone, the subsequent shorthanded goal felt almost inevitable. Black made Terrier goalie John Curry commit before beating him at 1:42.
Gradually, the Terriers found their way back into a competitive game, not long after Curry bailed them out by thwarting Nick Pomponio on a breakaway as well as stopping a subsequent Warrior flurry.
The Terriers tied it on a power play at 11:32, when Spang’s left-point slapshot was redirected in by Laliberte. The man-advantage goal broke a string of 37 consecutive penalties killed by the Warriors.
“We’re usually pretty good shorthanded: We keep the shots on the outside and clear inside,” Serino said. “[Tonight] we had a couple of mental breakdowns.”
BU took its first lead at 17:01 when Schaeffer threaded a nice pass to Chris Bourque bursting across the blue line, followed by the left winger deftly flipping a cross to Bryan Miller crashing the net. Miller — moved up from defense for this game at least to play with Bourque and Peter MacArthur — tipped it home past goalie Jim Healey.
After the first intermission, though Merrimack scored once again at exactly 1:42. Crusco won the faceoff back to Ryan Sullivan, whose slapshot slipped through a traffic to beat the screened goalie.
The Terriers regained the lead just over four minutes later on the power play. From the right-wing faceoff circle, MacArthur found Kenny Roche near the net. Roche made a little move and then slipped a backhander past Healey.
Just 78 seconds later, BU made it 4-2 when Pat Percella flipped a pass to Ryan Monaghan in the slot. Monaghan, playing in his first collegiate game, knocked in his first goal.
Later in the period, Laliberte’s turnover in his own end set up Merrimack’s Justin Mills shot and goal — one that Curry got a piece of before it trickled through.
Just when it looked like BU would end the period nursing the same one-goal lead, Weston scored a fluky one with 43.7 seconds left in the period.
“What are you going to do?” Serino said. “It came from the back of the net, rolled up the goalie’s arm, hit him in the back of the head, and went in.”
That proved to be the proverbial backbreaker. The teams traded goals in the third period, starting with David Van der Gulik’s wraparound backhander for BU and ending with Mike Alexiou’s power-play tally for Merrimack.
The teams conclude this home-and-home matchup tomorrow at Merrimack. Parker anticipates a much tougher battle.
“Forgetting the fact that we haven’t won a game on the road yet and all that stuff, tomorrow’s game is a big game in the league just because if we get it we’re 4-1, and that puts us in pretty good shape,” Parker said. “If we don’t, we’re close to .500 again, so it’s a huge game that way. It’s important for us to establish that we can win on the road, and I just saw Merrimack lose to UMass 8-2 on the road and then come back and hammer them 5-2. So tomorrow night’s game is going to be a lot tougher.”