The No. 3 Boston University men’s hockey team handily advanced to the Hockey East Tournament semifinals with a 5-0 win over Merrimack College on Saturday, sealing the quarterfinal series sweep and a trip to TD Garden next weekend.
There was plenty to like from BU this weekend, but since we’re us, we found some things to complain about, too. Here are some of both:
Junior goaltender Matt O’Connor has been solid in net all season for BU, and had yet another stellar performance on Saturday. He turned away 26 Merrimack shots, including 15 saves in the second period, playing 58:58 of shutout hockey.
He even recorded an assist in the game, passing the puck up to freshman forward Jack Eichel during a penalty kill on senior assistant captain Cason Hohmann’s shorthanded goal at 4:11 in the second period.
“It’s usually off of Eichel,” O’Connor joked. “If I can just get it back the forecheckers, maybe I‘ll get lucky. … I’ve really been working on playing the puck, moving it quicker this game, because they have more of a dump style and it really helped us.”
O’Connor was pulled with 1:02 remaining in the game on the brink of the second shutout of his career, however, because there were more important matters to tend to.
When BU held a 4-0 advantage with a little more than a minute remaining, it was clear that it would be the last game of the season at Agganis Arena. A third game to determine the series winner between BU and Merrimack wouldn’t be necessary, so all games would be played at a neutral site from there on out.
For several Terriers, it would be their last time ever touching the Agganis Arena ice for a game — including graduate student goaltender Anthony Moccia. BU head coach David Quinn acknowledged that and gave Moccia some time in net for his final game at Agganis.
“At the end of the day, Moccia’s going to remember that for the rest of his life,” Quinn said. “OC I’m sure would’ve loved to have the shutout, but that moment’s going to mean a lot to Moccia than O’Connor finishing the last minute and a half of that game.
“I talked to OC about it, I’m sure initially he was a little bit frustrated, but by the end of it, by the time we were in the locker room, he was beaming and happy as heck for Moccia.”
Was O’Connor fine with the decision?
“Absolutely,” O’Connor said. “It’s not for the stats, it’s playoff hockey and it’s a full-team sport.”
Moccia entered the game when Merrimack had a 6-on-4 man advantage, but stood on his head, even recording a save — the third of his career in just more than 10 total career minutes — to hold Merrimack scoreless in the game.
Like Friday night, BU played shorthanded on defense, with just five players available due to upper-body injuries to freshman John MacLeod and sophomore T.J. Ryan. But that posed no trouble for BU’s blue liners.
Sophomore Doyle Somerby and freshman Brandon Hickey each had five blocked shots. The team had 16 total in the game.
In addition to holding Merrimack to just two shots on goal during the second period, BU got some work in on offense during the game. Junior captain Matt Grzelcyk scored an empty-netter with 4:21 remaining in the game, and freshmen Brandon Fortunato and Brien Diffley each had an assist apiece.
“I thought all of our D played all weekend,” Quinn said. “All five of them had real good weekends.”
For the second straight night, the Terriers were able to swarm the Warriors in the second period, recording three in the second frame on Saturday. Conor has more about the team’s second-period play in his sidebar.
At the end of the second period, with BU holding a 3-0 lead over Merrimack, tempers began to fly and a post-whistle scrum broke out.
For Merrimack, defenseman Jonathan Lashyn received a roughing penalty and a 10-minute misconduct, and forward Brett Seney received penalties for roughing and cross-checking in addition to a 10-minute misconduct.
Hohmann also received a cross-checking penalty and 10-minute misconduct. Sophomore forward Nick Roberto had a roughing call against him in addition to a 10-minute misconduct of his own.
In all, each team received 38 penalty minutes in the game – a season-high for BU. The Terriers played a very good game, but it’s a major concern when things start to get so chippy — a suspension or injury caused by fighting or a temper tantrum would be the last thing BU needed entering the Hockey East semifinals.