CHESTNUT HILL, Mass. — Any fans who arrived late to Boston College’s Kelley Rink on Friday night might be asking for a refund.
After a first period that featured six goals, three by each team, only the hosts could muster any more offense, a Ben Smith goal at 9:18 of the second period that held up as the game-winner for the Eagles as they fought off a pesky Merrimack squad, 4-3, in front of 3,842 on Friday night.
After an opening 20 minutes that featured little defense, it was as if both teams decided to clamp down. While Merrimack head coach Mark Dennehy said the fast style would have favored Boston College if played for the entire game, the Eagles, themselves, weren’t ready for a night of run-and gun.
“Obviously, you want to play up-tempo,” said BC senior captain Matt Price. “There wasn’t much system. It was kind of run-and-gun hockey and we want to control the play, not just trade chances back and forth.”
From the beginning of the second, that’s exactly what BC did, outshooting Merrimack 20-12 over the final two frames and 36-18 on the game.
For the Eagles, Friday’s game marked the debut of freshman goaltender Parker Milner (15 saves). Head coach Jerry York is hoping to use Milner sporadically throughout the season while top netminder John Muse continues to come back from hip surgery. For his debut, York admitted he thought Milner was nervous, but also was content to stick by his rookie despite a difficult opening twenty minutes.
“We’ve watched [Milner] in practice and he’s just a good athlete and a good goaltender,” said York. “There’s an adjustment period when you step in, so we were never thinking about going to the bullpen.”
BC’s fourth line potted the game’s first two goals early in the opening period, just 39 seconds apart. Jimmy Hayes opened the scoring with a wrist shot inside the right post on Merrimack goaltender Joe Cannata (32 saves) at 2:57. Before the crowd could stop cheering, linemate Paul Carey picked up a rebound of a shot off the post and tapped it into a wide open net at 3:36 for a 2-0 lead.
As quickly as BC exploded, Merrimack responded. At 3:58, Stephane Da Costa made a nice, no-look pass to Jeff Velleca for an easy goal at the right post to pull the Warriors to 2-1.
After play settled for much of the remainder of the period, a Brian Gibbons penalty at 16:24 put Merrimack on a power play. With the man advantage, rookie Kyle Bigos slid a shot through traffic that Milner never saw, beating him between the legs at 17:08.
Just 58 seconds later, Brandon Brodhag slipped behind the BC defense and scored on a breakaway to give the Warriors their first lead at 3-2.
However, BC’s senior defenseman Carl Sneep scored his first goal of the season and seventh of his career, pinching from the point and roofing a shot on the backhand over a fallen Cannata with 53.5 seconds remaining to send the teams to the locker room deadlocked at three.
“I thought we were resilient when we were down 2-0 to come back and make it a little bit of a game,” said Dennehy. “With that said, when you’re up 3-2, the last thing you want to do is give up a goal in the last minute of the period.”
As wide open as the first period was, the second period was the opposite. While both team had their fair share of chances, only BC’s Ben Smith found the back of the net. Off a faceoff play, Brian Gibbons fed a goalmouth pass to Smith, who buried his second score of the season at 9:18.
In the third, the Eagles were content to play tight defensive hockey, which worked to a tee until the final four minutes of the game when Merrimack began pressing. The Warriors had their chances to knot the game, most notably a Jesse Todd stop on the doorstep with 22 seconds remaining that forced Milner to flash his left pad, easily his best save of the night. However, that was all the Warriors could muster and the Eagles escaped with the victory.
The loss snaps a four-game winning streak for the Warriors, their longest since the 2002-03 season. The victory for the Eagles is their first in Hockey East this season and pulls them above .500 overall at 2-1-0.
The two clubs will rematch on Sunday at Merrimacks Lawler Rink at 4:00 p.m.