BOSTON — Classes aren’t in session right now, but the Boston University players certainly came up with plenty of great answers for some tough questions tonight.
How would the Terriers bounce back after a terribly flat performance against Notre Dame on New Year’s Eve? Could they beat a top opponent after losing their top two centers a few weeks ago, as Corey Trivino was dismissed from the team and Charlie Coyle jumped ship to play in Canada?
No. 10 BU aced this test, scoring three goals in the first period on the way to beating No. 7 Merrimack in front of 5,381 at Agganis Arena. Sahir Gill — now the No. 1 center on the team — scored a goal and an assist, and netminder Kieran Millan made 42 saves for the victors. Merrimack defenseman Brendan Ellis stood out for the Warriors with two assists.
“In general, I thought it was a very thorough game by us,” Terriers coach Jack Parker said. “I was really pleased that we had a really solid effort. We really needed a ‘W’ to make us feel alright after losing a couple of guys. When you beat Merrimack and get four goals with three in the first period, you’re telling yourself that you can be a pretty good hockey club.”
Merrimack played better as the game wore on and received good goaltending from Joe Cannata, but it paid a price for some breakdowns.
“Didn’t play well enough to win,” Merrimack coach Mark Dennehy said. “Thought we made some glaring mistakes, especially early on, that ended up costing us.
“Hockey East is about as tight as it’s ever been — I know we say that every year — and you need attention to detail. If you don’t dot an ‘i’ or cross a ‘t,’ it ends up in the back of the net. Those are tough to give away. I thought that three goals that Joey didn’t have a chance on, those were three glaring mistakes on our part. You can’t do that in a Hockey East game and expect to get points.”
BU looked sharp out of the gate, but Merrimack scored first at 4:31. Mike Collins took a shot from the right-wing circle, and Millan was screened by his defenseman. He still made the save, but the rebound kicked out to Josh Myers, who knocked it in.
Incredibly, it was the 15th time this season that BU allowed a Hockey East opponent to score his first collegiate goal against them this season, out of just 38 total goals against in Hockey East.
Justin Courtnall got that goal back just 14 seconds later for the Terriers. Freshman Cason Hohman slipped the puck to Courtnall in the slot. Cannata made the initial save, but Courtnall poked the rebound in for a gritty goal.
All of 45 seconds after that, BU snatched the lead. On a power play, Chris Connolly fired a hard pass high in the slot to Alex Chiasson, who made a beautiful redirect that found the net from a good 20 feet out.
“We’ve been working on this for about a year, so thank God we got it tonight,” Chiasson said, explaining that there has been a conscious effort to make such plays due to how tightly he’s covered in the slot.
Late in the period, BU made it 3-1 on a great pass from Matt Nieto. From behind the goal line, he threaded a long pass to freshman defenseman Alexx Privatera crashing the far post for the tap-in.
Merrimack picked up its play in the second period and was rewarded with a Kyle Bigos power-play goal on a long wrist shot from the point that went through traffic and found the net.
The Terriers regained the two-goal lead late in the period when Max Nicastro got the puck along the left-wing boards and teed it up beautifully for Gill. From about 20 feet out, Gill wound up and blasted a slap shot that blew by Cannata on the stick side.
Merrimack outshot BU 20-14 in the final period, and Millan had to make some good saves, but neither team scored, making for a 4-2 final.
“We had to find a new identity, and I hope we found it tonight,” Parker said.
BU (11-6-1, 9-4-1 Hockey East) hosts the U.S. Under-18 Team in an exhibition game Sunday night, while Merrimack (11-4-3, 7-3-1) travels to Chestnut Hill on Sunday afternoon for a matinee game against Boston College.