BOSTON — Merrimack College stunned Boston University with a late third-period, six-on-four goal to tie the game and then the game-winner 22 seconds into overtime.
Freshman Connor Toomey deflected Karl Stollery’s shot from the point for the 3-2 win. With it, the sixth-ranked Warriors remain in the ranks of the undefeated (8-0-1).
After being on the short end of the penalty stick for most of the game, Merrimack made the most of a late power play that began with 2:24 remaining in regulation.
Coach Mark Dennehy pulled goaltender Joe Cannata and on the resulting six-on-four, the Warriors moved the puck to Jordan Heywood at the top of the left faceoff circle. He fired a slapshot that Brandon Brodhag deflected past Kieran Millan, sending the game into overtime.
The power-play goal came as an ironic twist given that Merrimack had to kill 8-of-9 penalties to stay within striking distance. Those penalties included an extended five-on-three that could have lasted for 2:21, as well as a five-minute major.
“I’m really proud of my team,” Dennehy said. “All game long we handled a lot of adversity, something we pride ourselves on. I really tip my hat to my team because they didn’t allow themselves to get as frustrated as their coach was.”
Cannata stopped 36 shots.
All three of Merrimack’s goals came from players recording their first of the year. (As a further coincidence, one of BU’s goals also was a year’s first.)
Until the penalty call that set up the fateful power play, it looked as though the Warriors would be saddled with their first loss while BU would recover from their worst loss of the season, a 7-1 thumping by Massachusetts-Lowell last Saturday.
But in a sport often decided by inches and small edges, this contest turned quickly and in Merrimack’s favor and surprisingly out of BU’s.
“Today I was thinking that 7-0-1 sounds really good,” Dennehy said. “But I can think of a time in each game when we could have lost [but] we decided we were going to work hard enough for the outcome to go in our favor. Tonight was no different.
“It goes down as a win, but it very easily could have been a tie or a loss. That’s how a lot of our games have gone. Those are the type of games we like to be in.”
The loss drops BU to a game under .500 and sixth in the standings despite strong play throughout.
“I thought it was a heckuva college hockey game and I was very pleased with how my team played all night long from the start to the finish,” BU coach Jack Parker said. “Both goaltenders played extremely well. We had more than enough opportunities to make it 3-1 and we couldn’t do it.
“Give [Merrimack] credit. They’re in the midst of a great season and they came out and got the late one and won it in overtime. It was a heck of an effort by Merrimack and a heck of an effort by BU, too.”
Until the late six-on-four goal to tie it, Merrimack had gone on the power play only four times, but had killed all but one of BU’s nine opportunities. The one exception had come on the extended five-on-three.
“That was the difference in the game,” Parker said. “They’re one of the best in the nation on the PK. I credit it more to their goaltender. One of the reasons they’ve got a great PK is the same reason most teams do well on the PK and that’s because their goaltender is playing really well.”
Merrimack started the first-period scoring at 6:22. Heywood shot from the point and with the rebound sitting on the doorstep, freshman Justin Mansfield popped up from his knees and backhanded the puck in.
The lead lasted little more than five minutes. A sequence of three Merrimack penalties resulted in a BU power-play goal. The first was a highly dubious interference call on Stollery, followed a little more than a minute later by an interference call on Heywood. Just 14 seconds later, Bigos was whistled for a cross-check.
The hat trick of penalties left Merrimack potentially killing a five-on three for 2:21. About halfway through that, Garrett Noonan got the equalizer. Matt Nieto fed Alex Chiasson from the goal line and Chiasson forced Cannata to make two stops before the puck rebounded to Noonan, who had a wide-open net.
Merrimack killed the rest of the resulting five-on-four, but gave up the lead at 17:13. From the point, freshman Cason Hohmann put it on net cleverly where Justin Courtnall was screening in front. Courtnall was able to spin and backhand the rebound in for the 2-1 lead.
The second period ended scoreless, but surprisingly so given the five-minute major and game misconduct assessed to Bigos at 13:17 for a hit from behind. BU frittered away two minutes of that golden opportunity when Nieto committed a foolish penalty 1:19 in. Given that partial reprieve, the Warriors killed off the rest of the major to remain in striking distance.
Merrimack handed that reprieve back almost immediately after completing the kill. Brodhag delivered a foolish hit from behind (of the minor penalty variety) to send BU back on the power play.
The Terriers, however, were unable to capitalize.
BU’s best third-period opportunity to widen the margin came on a Ross Gaudet breakaway and resulting penalty. Cannata made the save, however, and the penalty-killers took care of the two-minute penalty for slashing.
Minutes later, Ben Rosen hit the post, giving the Terriers another what-if to agonize over after the game.
Merrimack is now off until Wednesday, Nov. 23, when it hosts Alabama-Huntsville. BU faces archrival and second-ranked Boston College on Sunday.