BOSTON — Boston University goalie John Curry may be the MVP of Hockey East date, but he now has just the third-best save percentage on his own team.
Freshman Brett Bennett, a highly touted recruit from the US Under-18 Team, made the long wait for his first collegiate game worthwhile, stopping 17 of 18 shots to lead the No. 8 Terriers to a 2-1 victory over Merrimack in front of 5,888 at Agganis Arena.
Fellow frosh Eric Gryba got the game-winner at 5:34 of the third period on his first collegiate goal, while Kevin Schaeffer gave the BU defensive corps another goal as well. Merrimack netminder Jim Healey stopped 21 of 23 shots and John Goebel was credited with the lone goal for a tenacious Warrior team.
“I thought it was a much different game than last night obviously,” BU coach Jack Parker said of the weekend sweep. “I thought we dominated the first half of the game last night, got up two-nothing and sat on that. Tonight we struggled a bit making plays, and they played much harder. They were in our face all night long. I was pretty pleased at how hard we were playing, but I think you’ve got to give Merrimack a lot of credit too.”
Merrimack coach Mark Dennehy was indeed pleased with his team’s effort if not the outcome. “For a young team relying on young players, to play that well and not come up with a point-and for our older players as well-can be frustrating,” Dennehy said. “But it’s real simple: You’ve got to play that way every night. And over the last couple of games we haven’t.
“If you do it-if you string a couple of those efforts together enough times-then positive things are going to happen. They’re not going to turn around just because you played hard one night, but we’ve got some guys in there who believe we could’ve won that game tonight. And that’s a step in the right direction.”
The first period was uneventful, save for the fluky Merrimack goal with two seconds left on the first power play at 9:02 of the first period. John Goebel had the puck behind the Terrier goal line and passed into the slot, where BU captain Sean Sullivan managed to knock into his own net. “It happens; it was a lucky bounce,” Bennett said. “It felt good to get out there, felt a little sluggish in the first. As the game went on, I got a lot more confident and felt a lot better about myself.”
It was the first time BU had trailed at any intermission since the 1-0 home loss against Boston College on December 2.
The action picked up considerably in the second period, though whether it was in spite of or because of a spate of power plays is hard to say. BU did score a power-play goal at 4:53 when Kenny Roche’s left-wing pass teed up the puck for Schaeffer cruising in from the point to bury a 20-foot wrister.
At 7:50, Bennett stopped a good bid by J.C. Robitaille and stayed composed during a few whacks at the rebound immediately thereafter. Less than two minutes, Bryan Ewing received a five-minute major and game misconduct (no additional game disqualification) for hitting from behind. Merrimack mustered one golden opportunity when a Matt Jones shot caromed off the back boards and went right on the stick of Pat Kimball with half the net open, only to have the left winger shoot it high.
Bennett had another good save at 16:50 when Jones made a nifty redirect of a Brock Wilson shot with his back to the net. Less than a minute later, Terrier wing Ryan Weston countered by hitting the stick-side post next to Healey.
Jones had another great chance less than a minute into the third period, patiently holding the puck and pulling it back before firing a backhander that required Bennett’s best save of the night. He got it by extending his right leg for the pad save.
Healey returned the favor at 5:30 when Yip crashed the net and the goalie as well, attempting to convert a Peter MacArthur pass. “I thought Jimmy was outstanding,” Dennehy said. “That save on Brandon Yip in the third period where he had to reach back-that’s not reflexes, that’s mechanics. And Jimmy’s as good a mechanical goaltender as there is in our league. When Jimmy’s playing well, he stops pucks he doesn’t see. And I thought he did that a lot tonight.”
On the ensuing faceoff, it appeared that the Merrimack centerman won it, but the puck ended up going back to Gryba at the right point for the slapshot. “I don’t know how it was won back to me,” Gryba said. “It was a pretty clean draw for the most part. I think our centerman tapped it back and I just took a shot on net. I’m still not sure if it got misdirected or went off someone and in, but it went in and that’s all I care about.”
That was all she wrote on the score sheet for both teams. BU now has three strong goalies, with Curry at .932, Gillespie at .978 with two shutouts, and Bennett adding his .944 to the mix. All three deserve to play, but no one is about to supplant Curry any time soon. “I just work hard in practice,” Bennett said. “Me and Karson help John out, and he helps us out. We’re real supportive of him. He’s playing pretty good this year, so we’ll keep on him.”
Merrimack (3-18-2, 3-13-0) will try to snap their five-game losing streak when hosting Vermont for a pair next weekend. BU (12-4-6, 9-3-5) has a busy week, visiting BC on Wednesday to make up for the “fogged out” game on an unseasonably warm night last month. Fortunately for BU, the game will be restarted, not resumed. Gryba had received a five-minute major and a game misconduct in the first ten minutes of that game, but that is moot now.
BU follows that by hosting BC for another big game Friday before traveling to Amherst to play UMass on Saturday.