College Hockey:
O’Connor’s 38 Saves Help BU Battle to 1-1 Tie with Merrimack

BOSTON – When Boston University scored on its first shot just 1:47 into tonight’s game against Merrimack, you had to think it could be a big offensive night for the Terriers.

Think again.

The Terriers proceeded to get outshot by a whopping 27-4 margin through the first 35 minutes or so of the game, and they didn’t score again in the remaining 63 minutes play of regulation and overtime play.

Fortunately for the home team, sophomore goaltender Matt O’Connor had yet another terrific night, stopping 38 of 39 shots in a 1-1 tie  in front of 3,565 at Agganis Arena. Junior Evan Rodrigues scored the early goal for BU, while freshman Chris LeBlanc notched the lone goal for the visitors.

“I like the way we rebounded and found our way after the first two periods,” BU coach David Quinn said. “For us, I think we got some life after we killed the penalty [late in the second period]. I don’t know if I’ve seen us that flat and that emotionless as we were in the first 35 or 36 minutes of the game.”

BU perked up at that point and played significantly better in the third period, and played its best in overtime.

“In the third period, we started skating and playing with a little passion and enthusiasm,” Quinn said. “It’s hard in the middle of a hockey game to all of a sudden become enthusiastic and play with passion, and I thought we did that.”

Meanwhile, Merrimack coach Mark Dennehy was pleased to come away with a win and a tie against the Terriers this weekend, especially given that the Warriors had an 0-6-1 record in their last seven games before Friday’s win.

“I thought it was a good weekend for us,” Dennehy said. “You get three points off a league opponent, and it’s a positive. I thought both teams played pretty hard defensively tonight, and both goalies played pretty well.”

It didn’t look to be a defensive battle in the first two minutes. Robbie Baillargeon dished the puck to Rodrigues at the left point, and the defense mysteriously backed off as the junior skated in before shooting a 25-foot shot that clanged off a pipe and went in.

Late in the period, BU freshman Nick Roberto teed up Danny O’Regan for a shot on the glove side of netminder Rasmus Tirronen.  O’Regan started to lift his stick to celebrate a goal, but the puck clanged off the inside of the post.

Merrimack’s goal came almost six minutes into period two. LeBlanc did a nice job of screening O’Connor before redirecting Craig Wyszomirski’s left-point shot into the net.

Merrimack continued to dominate with the shot totals, to the point where Quinn felt he needed to lighten the mood in the BU locker room between the second and third periods.

“Well, we really poured it on that period,” he told his team. “We got five [shots, after managing just three in the first period].”

BU has been outshot in all but three games thus far this season. Given the lopsided shot total tonight, particularly through the better part of the first two periods, Quinn was asked how he planned to address the ongoing problem with shot production.

“Steroids,” he quipped. “We’re a young, small team right now, and we have to find a way to win battles. It’s not as if we’re not trying. We’re playing nine freshmen; half of our lineup is freshmen.

“Look at the birthdates. We’ve got guys who are seven years younger than some of the guys out there … that’s just the reality of it. It’s not an excuse, it’s just cold hard facts.”

BU did pour it on later in the game. Matt Grzelcyk had eight shots on goal, including a great chance in overtime. In the end though, BU (7-7-2, 2-4-1 Hockey East) had to settle for the tie. The Terriers host Bentley on Saturday to close out the semester.

Merrimack (4-9-2, 1-5-2) hopes that the weekend is a harbinger of better things to come when they next play, but that’s a ways off right now.

“I think this weekend might be something to build on, but we’re not playing again for 25 days; if we can maintain any sort of momentum between now and then, holy smokes,” Dennehy said, laughing. “I hope we remember some of today’s game between now and then. I think it’s more an identity of how we’re going to have to play if we’re going to have success.

“I think we took a step toward being the type of team we need to be.”

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