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College Hockey:
Atkinson Scores Hat Trick as BC Crushes Merrimack

Whitney notches three assists

— Seven is becoming a magic number for Boston College.

The seventh-ranked Eagles scored seven goals for the second straight game on Tuesday, dismantling a red-hot Merrimack team, 7-0, in front of a sparse midweek crowd of 2,816 at Kelley Rink.

After blasting Northeastern, 7-1, on Sunday behind a Brian Gibbons’ hat trick, the first of the season for any BC player, BC’s Cam Atkinson kept the good times rolling, burying three goals of his own while Joe Whitney added three assists.

BC’s netminders Parker Milner (17 saves) in 55:12 and Chris Venti (three saves in the final 4:48) combined for the second shared shutout of the season for the Eagles.

To say that the Eagles’ offense is potent of late is probably an understatement. Tuesday was the fourth time this year that BC has scored seven goals. It’s also the seventh time they have scored five or more goals, including five times in the last nine games.

Tuesday, BC exploded for four goals right out of the chute and simply never looked back.

“We’re on a pretty good run here and the first period is indicative of the way we’ve practiced of late and played,” said BC coach Jerry York.

BC’s onslaught comes at the right time, as the Eagles have made a run for the regular-season title in Hockey East. BC now trails first-place New Hampshire by two points in the standings with the two clubs finishing the season with a home-and-home series.

“Right now, we’re trying to win a pennant,” said York. “Using a basketball term, we’re trying to keep this a two-possession game. We want to keep within reach of New Hampshire entering the final weekend.”

Given how potent BC’s offense has been lately, no one would be surprised if the Eagles kept their winning ways going. Tuesday’s first period was simply a cavalcade of goals for the Eagles.

BC got on the board with a three-goal outburst in a span of 2 minutes, 55 seconds midway through the first.

Atkinson scored his eighth of the season at 8:24, firing a high shot short side on Merrimack goaltender Joe Cannata (12 saves).

At 9:33, Pat Mullane and Steven Whitney turned a two-on-three rush into a two-on-one using nothing but speed. Whitney finally finished off Mullane’s pass for his sixth goal of the year.

Gibbons, who scored his first career hat trick on Sunday, potted his 15th of the season at 11:19. Moving behind the net, he noticed Cannata falling away from the right post and banked the shot off the goalie’s skate for the 3-0 Eagles’ lead.

At 18:31, the onslaught continued, this time short-handed. Matt Lombardi sent a nice lead pass to a streaking Matt Price, who made a nifty move to slide the puck five-hole on Cannata.

Dennehy left Cannata in the game for the final 1:29 of the first, but put Andrew Braithwaite in net to start the second.

Braithwaite (23 saves) certainly settled things down for Merrimack, stopping 16 shots in the middle frame. Still, BC scored the second period’s only goal to expand the lead.

Atkinson scored his second goal of the game on a power play at 16:57, burying a rebound between Braithwaite’s legs for a 5-0 lead through two.

Atkinson completed his first career hat trick at 3:04 of the third. After picking up a pass in the neutral zone, the sophomore winger sped past the defense and walked in alone, sliding the puck between Braithwaite’s legs for his 10th goal of the season.

Jimmy Hayes finished the scoring, deflecting home a Philip Samuelsson shot at 10:57.

The loss ends a five-game unbeaten streak for Merrimack and keeps the team in danger of missing the playoffs. Merrimack leads Vermont by one point in the standings, and each team has four games remaining.

“I didn’t think we were particularly ready to play,” said Merrimack coach Mark Dennehy, who was without the services of leading scorer Stephane Da Costa, who was sick for Tuesday’s game. “Tomorrow’s a new day. We’re guaranteed to have four games left in the season and what we do with them will determine whether we get to play longer.”

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