CHESTNUT HILL, Mass. — In the words of Boston College head coach Jerry York, Friday night’s 8-3 victory over Merrimack was “just what the doctor ordered.”
BC, which entered the week No. 1 in the USCHO.com/CSTV poll, was upset by Boston University, 2-1, in the first round of the Beanpot on Monday night. That game featured a struggling BC offense limited to just one goal while going 0-for-4 on the power play.
So Friday night, it was no surprise that the Eagles were licking their chops with the chance to face Merrimack, Hockey East’s last-place team which has but one win in the league this season.
“Coming off a real difficult loss on Monday, having to come back and play very well was a good tonic for our club,” said York, whose Eagles scored a season-high eight goals and scored on their first three power plays, finishing the night 3-for-6 with the man advantage.
As much as the win was a positive for the Eagles, York was somber after the game as he lost top defenseman Andrew Alberts to injury early in the second period. Merrimack’s Jordan Fox gave Alberts a hip-to-knee check at the defensive blue line, sending the 6-foot-4 defenseman down in a heap.
York said after the game that Alberts suffered a sprained left knee, the opposite one from the knee that he injured in this season’s opening game which forced him to miss five games.
The dreaded prognosis, according to York, is that Alberts will be out four to six weeks, meaning the earliest he would return would be for the Hockey East quarterfinals, beginning March 10.
Both teams entered the games with unexpected netminders. For Boston College, Cory Schneider was scheduled to appear but was pulled due to reported flu-like symptoms. Instead, Matti Kaltiainen (13 saves), who took the loss in Monday night’s Beanpot semifinal against Boston University, started a second straight game.
According to York, should Schneider be healthy on Monday, he’ll face Harvard in the Beanpot consolation game.
On the Merrimack side, having lost eight straight entering Friday, head coach Chris Serino decided to, in his words, “gamble” and start Casey Guenther (17 saves). It was Guenther’s first start of the season and only his third appearance, and he entered the game with a ballooned 7.30 goals against average.
“Nobody has really stepped up for us and played well all year,” said Serino of his goaltending. “Jimmy [Healey] hasn’t won in his last seven or eight games, and Frank [McLaughlin] struggled last time, so it’s just a process of elimination.
“But you don’t want me in Las Vegas right now, I’ll tell you that.”
The Eagles controlled the game right from the opening faceoff, outshooting Merrimack, 16-8, in the opening period, and taking an early 3-1 lead through one.
Patrick Eaves got things going when he rushed down the left wing and floated a shot that eluded Guenther inside the near post at 7:08 of the early 1-0 lead.
Less than five minutes later the Eagles struck again, this time on the power play. Ned Havern plucked a bouncing puck out of mid air at the right post and batted it into the empty net to extend the BC lead to two.
Ryan Shannon extended the lead further a minute and a half later. Six second after Eaves hit the post looking for his second of the night, Shannon’s slap shot from the left point deflected off a Merrimack defender and over Guether for the 3-0 BC lead.
In the closing seconds of the first, Merrimack showed its only sign of life. On the power play, Brian Schmidt one-timed a shot from the left point that beat Kaltiainen cleanly to pull the Warriors within two through one.
But if Merrimack had any hopes of a comeback, BC thwarted that early, scoring shorthanded just 76 seconds into the second. Chris Collins got his own rebound at the right post and lifted the puck past Guenther the Eagles a 4-1 lead.
“[Merrimack] got one late in the first and it was important for us to come out in the second and make a run for it to try to put it away,” said Havern, who finished the game with a career-high four points. “They’re a good team and they never give up so it was good to see our team bounce right back.”
Midway through the second, the Eagles made things worse for the Warriors. Eaves scored his second of the game with a one-timer from the left faceoff dot at 10:18 for a 5-1 advantage. It gave Eaves his fourth multi-goal game of the season and 10th of his career.
That spelled the end of the night for Guenther, who was replaced by McLaughlin (nine saves).
His welcome was unkind as Brian O’Hanley, who also had a career-high for points with three, lifted a rebound goal over McLaughlin at 12:29 to give BC a 6-1 advantage.
In the third, the Eagles further padded the lead. And end-to-end rush by Peter Harrold finished in a shot inside the right post for a 7-1 lead at 0:31, and less than two minutes later Havern scored his second of the night firing a shot from the left wing boards to make the score 8-1.
The large lead gave York a chance to give seldom-used goaltender Robbie Miller some ice time. Miller was making his fourth appearance for BC and entered the game having never given up a goal.
That ended quickly, though, as Brent Gough scored his fifth goal of the season at 13:04 and Ryan Sullivan added another at 18:56 to account for the 8-3 final.
The loss for Merrimack inched it closer to missing the playoffs, still five points behind Providence for the eighth and final playoff spot.
The win improved BC to 12-1-5 in Hockey East play and allowed it to maintain a three-point lead over New Hampshire and BU, each of which broke out of a three-way tie for second with victories Friday. It also gives BC momentum heading into one of the most highly-anticipated Beanpot consolation games in history, with BC meeting No. 10 Harvard, which was upset on Monday by Northeastern.
“That game for us is one of the biggest games of the year,” said BC’s O’Hanley of the consolation. “In the PairWise Rankings Harvard is a team under consideration, so we really have to show Harvard that we can come back.”