BOSTON — On Monday, legendary Boston University coach Jack Parker announced that he would be retiring after this season.
In light of that and this week’s conclave in Vatican City, a fan held up a sign tonight reading “Pope Parker XL.”
So did Parker step down with a potential career move in mind?
“I’m not a good enough Catholic,” he said.
Perhaps not, but he was a good enough coach tonight to lead his team to a 3-0 win over Merrimack in the first game of their best-of-three Hockey East quarterfinal series.
Red-hot left wing Matt Nieto notched a goal and an assist and freshman goaltender Sean Maguire posted back-to-back shutouts for the second time this season to key BU’s win in front of a Spring Break-depleted crowd of 2,788 at Agganis Arena.
“I thought we really played well in the second and third period tonight,” Parker said. “I thought we played okay in the first – they were taking it to us in the second half of the first. We came out and really upped the ante in the second period – looked pretty sharp with the puck, played hard without it. I liked our grit and our poise with the puck.”
If Parker was dismissing the idea of becoming the Pope, Merrimack coach Mark Dennehy was keen on emphasizing that he was not going to be the next Nostradamus either. Asked if he could have predicted tonight’s result – in light of BU’s season sweep and 16-1-2 record against Merrimack in Agganis Arena, Dennehy demurred.
“If I could see the future, I wouldn’t be sitting right here coaching hockey, I can tell you that much right now,” Dennehy said. “I’d have a MegaMillions ticket and I’d probably be somewhere in Key West.”
Instead, Dennehy was in Boston on a chilly night, watching BU minimize his team’s scoring opportunities.
“They defended incredibly well,” said Dennehy. “When their defensemen go to neutralize you, it’s over.”
It wasn’t over for quite a while.
Neither team scored in the first period, though freshman John Gustafson hit a post in the first two minutes for the Warriors.
Kyle Bigos also had a great chance in the last minute. Asked if it was a glove save, Maguire indicated that the shot hit a more sensitive part of his anatomy. When a male reporter asked if he felt it, Maguire replied, “Wouldn’t you?”
BU took a 1-0 lead at 6:10 of the second period. Freshman Ahti Oksanen took a shot from the left point and senior captain Wade Megan redirected it past goalie Sam Marotta.
The Terriers made it 2-0 at 16:48 when sophomore Evan Rodrigues stickhandled through the offensive zone before dishing to Nieto in the slot for the shot and score. Parker said that the line of Nieto, Rodrigues and freshman Danny O’Regan is probably the hottest in college hockey over the last two months.
“It’s great,” Nieto said. “We’re at the peak of our chemistry right now. We’re making plays, but we’re also playing hard. When you have that combination, you’re going to be successful.”
On a power play early in the third period, senior Ryan Santana scored his second goal of the season, knocking in the rebound of an O’Regan shot.
“Nobody deserves it more than [Santana] does because he works so hard,” Parker said.
BU dominated the rest of the way and Maguire became the first goalie since John Curry to notch back-to-back shutouts for the Terriers. With fellow freshman goaltender Matt O’Connor sidelined for the rest of the year due to a collapsed lung, it’s been a good time for Maguire to amass a shutout streak of 132:32 and counting. \
“The guys are playing outstanding in front of me,” Maguire said. “They’re making it easy for me. We’re really on top of things right now.”
BU (19-15-2) plays Merrimack (15-16-6) again tomorrow, hoping to punch their ticket for a berth in the Hockey East semifinals next Friday.
“I think everyone’s trying to postpone the guillotine,” Parker said. “I know I am.”