CHESTNUT HILL, Mass. — To be a top-ranked team nationally, once or twice over the course of the season you need to get a little bit lucky.
Friday night, Boston College used up one of those rabbit’s feet.
Despite being outplayed for much of the night, in particular the game’s final period, the Eagles caught a late break when a shot off of Benn Ferriero’s shin was allowed to stand as a goal. The tally broke a 1-1 tie, and the Eagles skated to a 2-1 victory over last-place Merrimack.
The play, along with problems on the faceoff before the play, caused a major stir on the Merrimack bench.
After the preceding whistle, Merrimack was slow in making its line change. Referee Joe Andrews didn’t allow a second Merrimack defender to come onto the ice, forcing Merrimack to align with four forwards and only one defenseman.
Once the draw was won to Joe Rooney at the point, he fired a pass over the Mike Brennan at the right point. Ferriero charged towards the left post where Brennan found him with a shot-pass that the rookie was able to redirect with his shin into the net.
Ferriero admitted to redirecting the pass, but felt everything he did was within the confines of the rules.
“I tried to angle [the puck] in a little bit, but with the new rules that’s fine,” said Ferriero referring to a new rule this season that allows players to redirect pucks with the legs and skate provided that there is no kicking motion associated. “I don’t think there was a kicking motion.”
“They’ve changed the rules now so that you can direct it in like soccer,” said BC head coach Jerry York. “It’s a skill now so that you can turn your skate.”
Merrimack head coach Mark Dennehy wasn’t quick to comment on whether or not the puck was kicked in, but did admit he was faced with a difficult decision on whether or not to call a timeout to get the proper personnel on the ice.
“One of our defensemen came off and our forward didn’t come off fast enough,” said Dennehy, explaining the personnel mix-up. “[Referee] Joe [Andrews] made the right call.
“As a coach, you beat yourself up because there’s six minutes left in the game and you can call your timeout to align yourself right.”
As much as Dennehy might question his decision to call the timeout, it was hardly the difference in the game. Merrimack’s inability to capitalize on an extended 5-on-3 man advantage early in the third period when the game was tied at one was truly what cost the Warriors a victory. Neither team scored on the power play Friday, with BC scoreless in seven chances, and Merrimack held off the board in four.
A chippy affair, the game featured 58 minutes in total penalties, most of which came in a fight in front of the Merrimack bench with 23 seconds remaining. BC’s Nathan Gerbe and Merrimack’s Jordan Hart were each assessed five-minute majors for fights and game disqualifications. Each will miss Saturday’s rematch at Merrimack.
“We lost out composure at the end of the game and let it be about a personal level, not a team level,” said York. “We talked about it in the locker room afterwards because out goal is the win the game. That put us in jeopardy.”
A sluggish first period saw few scoring chances, but it was Merrimack that had the best one. Mike Alexiou took a shot on a 2-on-1 that BC goaltender Cory Schneider (17 saves) was able to save. The rebound, though, bounced right back to Alexiou and his shot appeared destined for the empty net. That is until BC’s Anthony Aiello dove across the crease to stop the puck and
bury it under Schneider.
It looked like it would head to the locker rooms even until BC capitalized on a Merrimack turnover late to take a 1-0 lead. Brock Bradford picked off a clearing pass at the blueline and fed Dan Bertram on the right side. Pulling the defense, he fed a wide open Gerbe, who buried his eighth goal of the season past Merrimack netminder Jim Healey (17 saves) for a one-goal lead through the first 20 minutes.
BC gave that goal right back, literally. While on the power play, Schneider attempted to fire a long pass up ice. Brian Schmidt, though, stood just outside his offensive blueline and intercepted the pass, firing it right back into the empty net at 2:11 of the second to even the game at 1-1.
The goal was the 32nd of Schmidt’s career, tying him with Mike Boyce for the all-time mark for goals by a Merrimack defenseman.
Another Schneider error nearly resulted in a second Merrimack score, but the sophomore netminder this time scrambled back to make the stop. Attempting to stop a hard rim pass behind the net, the puck banked off Scheinder and right in front of the empty net. Matt Johnson was able to dive at the loose puck attempting to push it home, but Schneider was able to get his right pad on the shot to keep the game even through two.
In the third, the tide swung in favor of Merrimack. The Warriors posted the first seven shots of the period and didn’t allow a BC bid until the 12:08 mark. That effort, though, went for naught as the Warriors couldn’t solve Schneider and the Eagles capitalized on one of its few chances.
“Don’t forget you have a first round draft pick in [Cory Schneider] in net,” said Dennehy. “You’re going to have to do something pretty special to beat him.”
After BC grabbed the lead, any hope of a Merrimack comeback was erased when the Warriors took two ill-advised penalties, one by Brian Boulay for hooking at 18:00, and a second by Brock Wilson for hitting from behind at 18:15. Down two men, the Warriors were unable to even sniff at the BC cage, sealing the win for Boston College.
BC extended its unbeaten streak to seven games (6-0-1) and moved four points ahead of Providence and New Hampshire, both of whom were idle, for first place in Hockey East.
Merrimack has now lost seven straight and is winless in its last nine (0-7-2).
The two teams will face each other once again tomorrow night at Merrimack. The game time for Saturday’s contest has been changed to 5:00 p.m. so as not to conflict with the New England Patriots playoff game against the Denver Broncos at 8:00 p.m.