The No. 4 Boston College Eagles, fresh off their win in the 60th Beanpot Championship, showed no signs of letting up on Friday night, jumping out to a 4-0 lead on No. 9 Merrimack en route to a 4-2 victory.
The win, combined with Boston University’s victory over first-place Massachusetts-Lowell, places the Eagles and Terriers into a tie for the top spot in Hockey East, a point ahead of the River Hawks with just five regular-season games remaining for each.
While the race for first was a major focus for both BC (20-10-1, 14-7-1 Hockey East) and Merrimack (15-8-6, 11-7-4 Hockey East), which with the loss falls to fifth place and three points out of first place, a quietly whispered storyline of the night was BC coach Jerry York (see article), who became just the second NCAA coach to win 900 games, joining Ron Mason, with Friday’s victory. Mason holds the all-time wins mark with 924.
“It’s an incredible milestone, it’s a lot of wins,” said BC captain Tommy Cross of his coach’s accomplishment. “The two points in the standings were very important, but also getting coach’s 900th at Kelley Rink at an important time of the season was special for us, but even more special for him.”
While York’s 900th dominated the conversation after the game, it was BC’s start that was the most important element of the game on the ice. The Eagles grabbed a 2-0 lead through one — a period in which they limited Merrimack to just a single shot — then doubled that in the second before Merrimack drew closer with the game’s final two goals.
“I thought that the team that was ready to play from the get-go won the game,” said Merrimack coach Mark Dennehy. “I thought we kind of eased our way into the game, and you can’t do that here.”
Boston College held a lopsided 11-1 advantage in shots on goal in the opening frame and, not surprisingly, opened a 2-0 advantage.
Patrick Wey got the Eagles on the board at 10:53, scoring off a drop pass from Steven Whitney on a four-on-two BC rush, eerily similar to BC’s game-winning goal in Monday’s Beanpot tournament.
“That was almost a replica of [the Beanpot, an odd-man rush, hitting a late trailer,” said York. “It was a right shot with [Monday’s hero Bill] Arnold and Pat Wey, so it was very similar.”
Exactly three minutes later, Johnny Gaudreau continued his hot streak, scoring his fifth goal and eighth point in the last four games. Destry Straight fed Danny Linell with a nice pass at the left post that Merrimack netminder Joe Cannata (25 saves) stopped. Gaudreau was camped out in the crease though, and easily pushed the rebound inside the right post for the 2-0 BC lead.
BC doubled its lead in the second, continuing to outwork and out-attempt the Warriors. On a power play, Barry Almeida redirected a Tommy Cross shot at 6:46. Then Paul Carey wristed a shot from the high slot that banked off a Merrimack defender and past Cannata.
It wasn’t until the 17:53 mark of the second that Merrimack got on the board, as Karl Stollery scored his seventh of the season, one-timing a Shawn Bates pass from the left faceoff dot past BC goaltender Parker Milner (17 saves).
Despite the late goal, BC still held a major advantage in shots through two, 26-10.
Merrimack climbed within two early in the third when Jordan Heywood scored his fourth goal of the season 31 seconds in.
From there, the Warriors had their best chance late when given a power play opportunity in the final seven minutes. That was when the Eagles defense clamped down to seal the victory.
“The late penalty kill was one of the key factors in the outcome of the game,” said York. “We really played well. It keeps us in the race for the pennant.”
The Eagles now have an identical record as rivals BU, and the 29 points in the standings leads both Mass.-Lowell and Maine by a single point. Merrimack, in fifth, is still only three points out of first with 26 points.
“I’ve got to be careful talking about [the standings], because it trickles into the [players’] ears,” said Dennehy. “This thing is going to be decided in the first week of March like it is every year. You’ve got to try to get points every weekend and just play.”