A stark contrast: Garrett Noonan out hurt while Merrimack’s Mike Collins nets game-winner

By Tim Healey/DFP Staff 

NORTH ANDOVER — Moments before its matchup with Merrimack College on Friday, the Boston University men’s hockey team faced an unfamiliar scenario, an ever-so-slight deviation from the standard operating procedure.

Senior captain Patrick MacGregor huddled the team around the net and did all of the talking in the pregame chat — just as he usually does. But this time, he did it as the lone dressed captain.

Defenseman Garrett Noonan was out of the lineup with what the team called a “minor upper-body injury,” which when coupled with the return of Merrimack star forward Mike Collins after a four-game reprieve helped lead to the Warriors’ 3-2 win at Lawler Arena.

“In college hockey, you’re going to have injuries,” said Merrimack coach Mark Dennehy. “We just came off not having Mikey and not having [senior defenseman] Brendan Ellis. You manage it. Obviously for our league you want the best players to be healthy. You want to see their best, and hopefully put forth your best against theirs.”

Noonan could return as soon as Saturday — MC will visit Agganis Arena for the 7 p.m. contest — but Friday the impact of his absence was immediate and significant.

Less than three minutes into the first period, Warrior freshman Jonathan Lashyn tossed a shot on net from the blue line. Freshman defenseman Dalton MacAfee, paired with sophomore Matt Grzelcyk with Noonan out, was all alone in the slot when the puck deflected off of his stick and through sophomore goaltender Matt O’Connor’s legs.

It was “a freak reaction,” as MacGregor put it, but it was also a Warrior lead.

The teams found themselves deadlocked at two goals apiece in the final 10 minutes when Collins, a Boston native who played with Noonan at Catholic Memorial in high school and with the Vernon Vipers in the BCHL, struck for his 10th point in as many games this season.

Collins held the puck at the point before skating into the circle, then cutting to his left into the slot. He had beaten four of the five Terriers on the ice by the time he whipped a wrister on net, a wrister that beat O’Connor stick-side to put Merrimack on top for good.

It was the most dramatic of several examples of Collins seemingly taking over at will a game in which he finished with seven shots, more than double than any of his teammates.

The tally wasn’t exactly a surprise coming from Collins, who put together a 38-point season in 2012-13, but that doesn’t make it any easier for Quinn to swallow.

“He’s a great player. He’s a great player,” Quinn reiterated. “When you stand around and let somebody skate around like that, they’re going to be an even better player than they normally are, and that’s what happened tonight. We stood around and no urgency and just got exactly what we deserved.”

Dennehy was more complimentary of his senior assistant captain.

“He has been doing that since he was a freshman,” Dennehy said. “He’s a special player. I’ve learned a lot more from him than he’s learned from me. It’s good to have him back. He’s the type of difference-maker that can change a game, and he did so tonight.

“To have a player like Mike back in the lineup, you have somebody to look to. And when things aren’t going well, you’re looking for a difference maker, and he’s ours.”