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College Hockey:
Connolly’s Two Goals, Assist, Lead BU Past Merrimack

Terriers End Even-Strength Drought with Vengeance

— After suffering a 6-3 loss up at Merrimack on Friday night, No. 17 Boston University got even in two senses of the word in the second game of the home-and-home series.

After failing to score an even-strength goal over a span of 215:31, dating back to the October 31 game versus Lowell, the Terriers raced out of the gate with four five-on-five goals in the first period alone.

After building that 4-0 lead, BU imploded to some degree, but ultimately avenged the previous night’s loss, emerging with a 6-4 win in front of 5,382 at Agganis Arena.

Terriers’ left wing Chris Connolly led the way with two goals and an assist, while Kevin Shattenkirk and Nick Bonino each notched two-point nights. It was Bonino’s first game back since suffering a dislocated shoulder in the first period of the team’s 3-2 win over Michigan on October 24.

Sophomore Grant Rollheiser earned the win in goal for BU, and the game also marked his return from injury. Out with a high ankle sprain, Rollheiser had not played since the last game of the regular season last year.

Freshman phenom Stephane Da Costa was the standout in a losing effort for the Warriors with a power-play goal and two assists. Joe Cannata was the hard-luck loser in the Merrimack net, despite stopping 15-of-16 BU shots after Andrew Brathwaite was pulled between the first and second period.

“Let’s pick out all of the positive things; there were a lot of them,” Terriers’ coach Jack Parker said. “I thought my goaltender played well tonight in his first game since shutting out Providence in this building last year. Despite the fact that we gave up three power-play goals, we did a pretty good job of killing penalties. We had gone quite a long time without getting a five-on-five goal, and we got a few tonight. In general, it was a much needed win.”

According to Terriers’ captain Kevin Shattenkirk, the resurgence in even-strength scoring reflected both a change in approach and some overdue good luck.

“We’ve had plenty of shots, but there was not a lot of traffic and surprises in our shots,” Shattenkirk said. “We were making it pretty easy for the goalie. Tonight, we created more traffic, and it was just a matter of time before they started to fall.”

Merrimack coach Mark Dennehy lamented his team’s early showing, but found some consolation in his team’s resiliency subsequently.

“This is a good league, probably the best in the country,” Dennehy said. “You can’t spot any team four goals. I didn’t think we were ready to play, but you don’t know that until the puck drops.”

BU scored just 44 seconds after the opening faceoff. Connolly got the puck on the right-wing boards and slipped it to Shattenkirk, who used Warriors’ defenseman Pat Bowen as a screen for his shot.

Just over two minutes later, Ross Gaudet scored his first collegiate goal. Brathwaite made a nice save on his initial shot, but then Eric Gryba kept the puck in the zone seconds later before finding Gaudet again. This time, the shot slipped through a Luke Popko screen for the goal.

At 14:48, Merrimack’s Simon Demers had a bad turnover in his own end, resulting in a two-on-one for Bonino and Connolly, who scored on a nice one-timer.

“I knew the pass was coming from Nick; he just had to wait the defenseman off,” said Connolly. “I had a wide open net. I told myself that if I missed that, I might as well just get off the ice and get undressed.”

BU’s fourth line of Popko, Gaudet, and Victor Saponari keyed the fourth goal, battling for the puck along the right-wing boards before the pass went over to Max Nicastro for a shot and goal at 17:51.

After that dazzling period, it was quite a different story for both teams the rest of the way.

“We self-destructed two ways tonight,” Parker said. “We took a lot of stupid penalties. And it was disheartening: We’re up 4-0, and we start making foolish, foolish decisions with the puck.”

First Brandon Brodhag tipped in a power-play shot through a screen to beat Rollheiser at 7:53, then Da Costa had ample time to tee up a slap shot from the left-wing circle at 14:13.

“I saw that Jesse Todd was in front of the net screening the goalie, so I just shot it,” Da Costa said.

BU stopped the bleeding at 17:52 when Colby Cohen blasted a one-time slap shot into the net with the Terriers on a two-man advantage.

“It was a bomb.” Parker said. “It’s what he can do.”

Merrimack made it a nailbiter in the third. After Zach Cohen clanked a shot off a pipe at 4:25, the Warriors immediately countered and scored on the next rush. Elliot Sheen fooled a pinching defenseman by passing it to himself off the boards in his own end before racing in and scoring from the left wing.

At 8:20, Merrimack made it a one-goal game on a five-on-three of their own, as a nice pass from Da Costa left Cucci with the whole net to shoot at from point-blank range.

It was in doubt until Connolly’s empty-net goal iced it with just 7.1 seconds left.

“It felt great to get back in the lineup and get a win,” Bonino said. “It’s tough to get the timing back, but hopefully that will be back by next weekend.”

BU (3-6-0, 2-5-0) hopes to be at full strength for the first time all season next weekend, as David Warsofsky and Alex Chiasson are considered probable to play in the home-and-home series against New Hampshire. Merrimack (6-4-0, 3-2-0) plays against Mass.-Lowell on Saturday night.

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