BOSTON, Mass. — Two days before the New Year, it was still a case of many happy returns for Boston University.
The four players suspended for violating a team rule, Bryan Ewing, Brian McGuirk, Dan McGoff, and Brandon Yip, all returned to the lineup tonight when BU hosted Merrimack. Ewing in particular made the most of it, notching two goals and an assist to lead the Terriers to a 5-2 victory over the Warriors in front of 4,812 at Agganis Arena.
Karson Gillespie stopped 17 of 19 shots to record his long awaited first win of the season, while Ewing’s linemates Chris Higgins and Pete MacArthur added a pair of points each. Merrimack defenseman Grant Foster contributed a goal and an assist in a losing effort.
“I thought it was a well-played game,” Terriers’ coach Jack Parker said. “I was happy with our effort, happy with our offense again. I thought Karson gave us some great moments. In fact, he played very well in the first period when they outshot us, couple of plays right off the bat he had to make some great saves that could’ve changed the whole complexion of the game if they scored.\”
Merrimack coach Mark Denney felt that his young team was cowed by playing at BU’s rink. “You can talk to teams as much as you want about what it’s like to play Boston University in their home rink, especially when they get it going, but until they experience it, it’s just talk. So, I thought that the game was over in the first in the sense that we didn’t do things that we’re capable of doing.
We’d have possession of the puck, and we couldn’t execute plays that we’ve been doing all year, whether it’s nerves, whether it’s the pressure that BU puts on you, either way we need to be able to make those plays. For most of the night it was men against boys.”
It didn’t look that way in the opening five minutes. Merrimack had the first several shots. At 4:45, Rob Ricci, the Warriors’ leading scorer, had plenty of net open on a redirect, only to hit the glove-side post.
Less than a minute later, BU scored on their first shot of the game. Zach Cohen carried it on the left wing but was tripped, though referee Joe Andrews didn’t seem inclined to make a call. The puck pinballed through the slot before ending up on the stick of Matt Gilroy on the far post. Gilroy flipped the puck in high on the glove side at 5:41.
Just under two minutes later, BU got their second goal on their second shot of the game, a highlight-reel goal by Higgins. Ewing threw a hard pass to him from the right-wing corner, and Higgins had to block it with his left skate before shifting the puck from his forehand to his backhand for a nifty goal.
Merrimack goalie Patrick Watson made his first save at 9:02, only to give up his third goal on four shots at 10:03. On a Terriers’ power play, Colby Cohen teed up a Kevin Shattenkirk shot from the point, and Ewing tipped it in.
Nine seconds into a power play of their own, Merrimack got one back at 18:19. Farrell set up Matt Jones for a slapper at the right point, and the puck appeared to go off a BU player before getting by Gillespie. It was Jones’s tenth goal of the season, twice as many as any Merrimack scored in all of the 2006-07 season.
From that point on, BU generally dominated, outshooting Merrimack by a 24-10 total over the last two periods. At 4:43 of the second period, Ewing got his second goal, tapping in a MacArthur pass from across the crease, then Nick Bonino made a wraparound look easy at 10:21, as Watson was slow to cover the corner of the net.
“I’m glad to be back, all of us are, we all put in a lot of hard work tonight,” Ewing said.
Dennehy finally pulled Watson at that point. “I don’t blame Patrick Watson for those goals, but I think he’s got to be more aggressive as well,” Dennehy said. “On those goals, he was pretty deep in his crease.”
Andrew Brathwaite replaced Watson and stopped all 14 shots he faced over the rest of the game.
Parker was livid at 17:36 when Ryan Weston was called for a five-minute major for hitting from behind. It was not clear if Parker was angry because the call should’ve been on Brian McGuirk, the call initially included a game disqualification, which later was changed to a game misconduct, or the assistant referee made the call after the ref let it go. Perhaps it was all of the above. In any event, Merrimack got their second goal during the lengthy power play, when Fraser Allen set up Farrell for a slap shot.
The third period was uneventful, and BU (5-10-2; 4-6-1) was happy to get a much needed win.
“It’s nothing big and glaring,” said MacArthur, the recently appointed captain in the wake of the McGuirk suspension, of the tea’s tribulations this year. “It’s the little things: focus, passion, intensity, excitement. If you add those things to our game, we have more than enough talent to play with anyone in the league. This is our first game of the new season, and we’re undefeated.”
On top of getting the four suspended players back, as well as Jason Lawrence and Colby Cohen playing tonight after suffering injuries weeks ago, BU can look forward to getting defenseman Brian Strait and forward Colin Wilson back after their tour of duty for the US team at the World Junior Championships. Strait and Wilson will miss next weekend’s game at home against Vermont, but will return in time for the Maine game the following weekend.
“That team has five NHL defensemen,” Dennehy said. “One of them’s in Europe right now. That’s five guys that we’re going to be paying to watch. That’s a good team, so you can throw the record out.”
“This is the first segment of the second season,” Parker said, echoing MacArthur’s comment. “The idea is that everybody is so close that you can win a couple of games in a row and be right back in the fight for home ice and for respectability anyways.”