Sports, Men's Hockey

Merri-Go-Down: Hockey East Win Keeps Eagles In Tournament Chase

“We want to stay in the pennant race, and we’ve got to battle to get there.”

The Boston College Eagles took down the No. 14 Merrimack Warriors 2-1 at Kelley Rink Wednesday night in a game carrying massive implications according to the end-all-be-all of college hockey: the ever-so-powerful “pairwise rankings.”

In a matchup featuring two of Hockey East’s best goaltenders, there wasn’t expected to be much in the way of offense. Everyone on the Heights knows the credentials of sophomore goaltender Thatcher Demko, whose 2.19 goals against average and .923 save percentage have carried the Eagles through tough scoring droughts throughout this offensively inconsistent season.

On the other side of the ice, Merrimack senior Rasmus Tirronen, while lesser known to the population of Chestnut Hill, has been anything but a slouch between the pipes. Sporting a 9-3-1 record with a 1.94 GAA and .930 save percentage entering Wednesday night’s showdown, Tirronen has been the heart and soul of his team, much like Demko.

Neither goaltender disappointed. Coach Jerry York praised Demko’s 22 save performance. “I thought the key to our win was the play of our goaltender,” York said. “I thought he was outstanding. I thought he played a great sixty minutes.”

If you like offensive back-and-forth hockey and missed the first period, don’t lose any sleep over it. Expectations were largely met in this initial segment: both goaltenders kept the scoreboard at zero, although neither faced many shots in the process. By the end of the period, there were only 13 total shots recorded between the two teams: nine for BC and four for Merrimack.

In the second period, the Eagles turned up the pressure. Only 1:15 in, Adam Gilmour put the Eagles on the board, tapping in a Noah Hanifin shot from the point on what appeared to be a blown defensive coverage by Merrimack. From that point on, the Eagles spent most of the period near the Merrimack net or in the neutral zone, rarely resulting in any quality chances for the Warriors. BC’s forecheck showed up in a big way, keeping the team in position to strike throughout the majority of the forty minutes.

It was Merrimack, however, that almost converted on a quick-strike in the latter half of the period. While on the power play, BC’s Michael Matheson fumbled away the puck in the neutral zone, allowing a shorthanded breakaway for the Warriors. After a slash, the official’s hand rose to signal a penalty shot. Merrimack chose to send out senior Kyle Singleton for the shot, who was denied by Demko’s shoulder.

Only moments later, Chris Calnan made Merrimack pay for squandering its chance to tie the game, taking a beautiful pass from defenseman Scott Savage and depositing the second Eagles’ goal of the night in the back of the net. After two, the game had decidedly swung in favor of BC.

In the final period, BC seemed poised to continue its dominance of the pace of play. It failed.

At the beginning of the third period, the game took a major turn for the worse for the Eagles. Steve Santini was almost immediately booked for hooking, gifting the Warriors a power play opportunity. Merrimack capitalized as Jace Henning netted a pass across the crease to cut the lead to one less than two minutes in. Only about a minute later, it appeared as if Austin Cangelosi and the Eagles had struck back, when the sophomore chipped in an easy rebound past Tirronen.

The officiating crew, however, saw what looked to be a good goal a different way. The call on the ice was that contact had been made on the goaltender by Ryan Fitzgerald, and after a minute or so of deliberating, the officials decided to stick with the original call on the ice, sending loud boos throughout Kelley Rink.

But, as he has done so many times throughout the season, Demko shut the door for BC. Despite his team’s clear decline in play during the third period, the goaltender made save after save, highlighted by a series of gorgeous stops with about a minute and a half to go.

The Eagles needed this one, and they knew it. The execution was there for at least two periods, while they relied on their star in net to close the deal in what could truly be described as an all-around team victory. It wasn’t always pretty, but BC will take what it can get in the team’s late-season push for another NCAA Tournament berth.

After the game, York recognized the importance of the win:

We want to stay in the pennant race. We want to stay there and we’ve got to battle to get there. I think over the last stretch of games, 10, 12 games, we’re playing as good of hockey as we’ve played all year. But it’s a tough league and points are hard to earn. We want to stay in the pennant race. We want to do that.

With performances like Wednesday night from Demko, that pennant might not be as far of a pipe dream as those ominous pairwise rankings suggest.

Featured Image by Arthur Bailin / Heights Editor

January 22, 2015