By Jake Seiner/DFP Staff
No. 2 Boston College coach Jerry York made no secret about it after his squad topped No. 7 Merrimack College, 5-3, in the Hockey East title game Saturday.
The final spread might’ve been two goals, but up until the final minutes, the difference between York’s Eagles (30-7-1) and coach Mark Dennehy’s Warriors (25-9-4) was miniscule.
Really, York said, the difference came down to one oft-overused word:
“We’ve been here before and handled just the noise,” York said. “There’s a lot of noise when you come to these type of environments. From the newspapers, from the alumni, from the roommates, from just the student body, it’s just a big trophy for us to get. I think when you have past success, it really helps.”
Past success is something BC has in excess. The win gives the Eagles a conference-best 10 Hockey East tournament titles, including two in a row and three of the last four.
Both previous conference crowns have come en route to national titles.
BC will head into the national tournament as a likely No. 1 seed, and the expectation, to be sure, is for the Eagles to compete for a third NCAA championship in the last four years.
But none of that was a revelation heading into Saturday. What might surprise people was just how well the Warriors –– still looking for their first Hockey East tournament crown –– played against the Eagles.
“I would not be surprised to see Merrimack at St. Paul, [Minnesota, the site of the Frozen Four],” York said, literally turning a few heads in the postgame press conference. “I think they’re that strong a club.”
Much like Merrimack’s Friday evening win over the No. 10 University of New Hampshire, Warrior goaltender Joe Cannata’s night got off to a lackluster start Saturday.
In the first, the junior was left to defend BC’s Pat Mullane alone after Jordan Heywood turned the puck over to Mullane and fell down near his own hashmarks. Mullane threw together a series of dekes as he slowly approached the cage, managing to even shimmy himself off the puck. With Mullane’s stick still moving right-to-left-to-right overtop the puck, the disc slid directly through the center of the crease, and right under the space left beneath Cannata as the goalie went into the splits.
However, for the second straight night, the Warriors managed to bail out their goaltender. Ryan Flanigan did the honors Saturday, popping BC goaltender John Muse’s water bottle with a rocket on a 2-on-1 rush.
BC regained the lead about a minute and a half later. Cam Atkinson shot from the high slot, and though Cannata made the initial save, the rebound kicked out to the slot, where Brian Gibbons was waiting to toss in the go-ahead tally.
Merrimack struggled to establish in-zone pressure early in the first, but as the period wore on, the Warriors forecheck became more effective and its passes crisper.
The result was an 8-1 shot run to close out the frame, including a power-play tally with 25 seconds to play.
Merrimack winger and Hockey East Second-Team All Star Stephane Da Costa began the play with a traffic-cutting pass from the right halfwall to Joe Cucci at the left hashes. Cucci, seeing freshman Mike Collins charging the right post from the right corner, slid a pinpoint pass through a pair of BC defenders. Collins turned his stick as the puck approached and redirected the pass right by Muse to knot the score at 2-2.
That deadlock carried through the second and into the third period. Merrimack dominated the third’s first minutes, but despite an 8-2 Warrior shot advantage to start the stanza, BC struck the go-ahead tally first.
Atkinson earned the goal, but Joe Whitney deserves the credit. Whitney cut through a pair of Merrimack defenders and forced Cannata to make a sprawling save. In the effort, Cannata left a big rebound for Atkinson to poke in from the top of the crease.
Flanigan tied the game with his second score of the night minutes later, but Atkinson rebounded with his second goal of the period just more than a minute after that.
Atkinson scored on a screened shot from the left point. After the goal, Merrimack goalie Joe Cannata could be seen moaning at Warrior defender Kyle Bigos, who screened the netminder from the shot and accidentally deflected the puck from right in front.
Then, with 1:36 to play, BC struck again on the power play when Brian Dumoulin threw in a slapper from center point over Cannata’s stickside shoulder.
Kreider to return next week
Boston College sophomore Chris Kreider, out since early March with a broken jaw, will practice with the Eagles on Monday and is expected to return to action in time for the NCAA regionals next weekend, according to York.
Playing primarily on the second line, the New York Rangers draft pick turned in 11 goals and 12 assists in 31 games prior to the injury.