BOSTON — Score one for the little guy.
Sixth-seeded Merrimack College tallied its first-ever win at Boston University’s Agganis Arena, and it couldn’t have come at a better time: the 3-2 overtime victory forced a deciding third game in the Hockey East quarterfinal.
Freshmen Stephane Da Costa and Brandon Brodhag scored for the Warriors (16-18-2), but it was junior Joe Cucci’s extra-time twine-tickler that sent the Navy & Gold into a frenzy. Sophomore Joe Cannata made 24 saves in the game, precisely half of which came while killing penalties.
Obviously I’m very proud of our players, to be able to rebound from a tough loss last night – especially as hard-fought a game as that was, said Merrimack head coach Mark Dennehy. Our penalty killing was very good, and kudos to [assistant coach] Glenn Stewart, who works with those guys. He sets a pretty high bar. We made nice adjustments on our power play. These guys are pretty resilient, and we’ll have to be if we’re going to take another one here tomorrow night.
The Terriers (17-16-3) came back from 1-0 and 2-1 deficits, but couldn’t muscle the lead from their guests. Freshman Wade Megan and senior Eric Gryba scored for the league’s third-place team, while second-year goalie Kieran Millan stopped 32 in defeat.
What happened to my team from last night? asked BU head coach Jack Parker. That’s all I can think about. We played hard, we played smart, we played with a lot of zip, we moved the puck. We didn’t do any of those things tonight.
Senior Zach Cohen was instrumental in two Grade-A scoring chances early in the period, but missed connections foiled the winger’s plans. Colby Cohen dinged Cannata’s right post with a deflected shot halfway through a four-on-four, and David Warsofsky followed that up a moment later with a rising wrister that caught the Bay State backstop in the mask.
The Warriors transitioned beautifully following the BU barrage though, as captain Chris Barton found French phenom Da Costa on the far post for an easy tap-in. The goal was Da Costa’s 16th of the season, and extended his lead on the rest of the nation’s freshman with his 45th point.
Zach Cohen missed a head-scratcher with under five minutes to play in the first, somehow popping a rebound shot wide of the goal-mouth despite having both skates – and the puck – in the crease at the time.
Terriers rookie Alex Chiasson nearly found himself in alone on Cannata with two minutes on the board, but he lost an edge and the netminder cleared the puck from the zone. BU engineered yet another golden gander a minute later, but blueliner Allan went prone in the passing lane to break up a Nick Bonino-to-Zach Cohen two-on-one try.
Each team wired eight shots on net in the opening 20 minutes, and the officials were kept busy as well with five Merrimack minors and three whistled on the Terriers.
Heavy-handed but light-scoring Gryba drew the Terriers even two and a half minutes into the second stanza, ripping a one-timer by a screened Cannata for his fourth goal of the year, and sixth of his four-year career. The white-clad hosts kept the heat on their foes, nearly burying a quick go-ahead goal during a scrum atop Cannata’s crease.
Merrimack kept the Dogs honest a moment later however, as Millan was forced to come up with an acrobatic kick-save on a Cucci-to-Brodhag tip drill. Barton gave the crowd another scare in the following minute, busting unencumbered and unmarked through the Terriers’ zone. The junior tried stuffing the puck between Millan’s pads, but the second-year ‘keeper stoned him to maintain the draw.
The pendulum swung back BU’s way with a 59-second five-on-three. Parker told USCHO two months ago that he has considered pulling his goalie in such situations to create a suffocating six-on-three advantage, but Millan stayed put this time.
The legendary coach may have second-guessed himself later on, as the extra attacker may have put the Terriers over the top this time. Instead, Cannata made consecutive brilliant stops on frosh Max Nicastro and Warsofsky, and Zach Cohen put another loose rebound wide of the goal as the first penalty expired. Sixty-one seconds later, the score was still 1-1 and the Warriors were back on the throttle.
Warsofsky made a terrible read at the right-wing point in the game’s 28th minute, attempting a lateral feed to Gryba on the other wing. Sophomore Elliott Sheen dropped his blade into the passing lane and turned on the jets, an easy 20 feet ahead of the nearest Terrier. Skates ablaze, the Albertan winger skipped the puck to his backhand, but put way too much mustard on the shot and lifted the puck a yard over Millan’s crossbar.
The arena went into a horrified silence with 5:14 to play, as BU’s Nicastro collapsed in front of the endboards behind Cannata’s left post. Play was whistled dead as it became immediately apparent that Nicastro had cut his forearm and was bleeding profusely onto the ice. The Boston University medical staff bolted to his aid, and the defenseman was on his feet as he was helped off the ice. According to Parker, Nicastro received 26 stitches on the spot, and didn’t appear to suffer any muscle or nerve damage. Stunningly, the coach said that he could well be fit to play again by next weekend.
In this turbo-charged, back-and-forth contest, Warriors sophomore Carter Madsen sprung from the box at the end of a minor penalty to swipe the puck from Warsofsky just inside the Merrimack blue line. The turnover led to an immediate three-on-one with Da Costa leading the charge. The superstar