Top Story, Men's Hockey

Breakdown in First 10 Minutes Dooms Men’s Hockey Against Merrimack

Some nights you just don’t have it. And on Friday night, Joseph Woll didn’t have anything.

The goaltender had given up 11 goals in his last three games for Boston College men’s hockey. Fortunately for the Eagles, their high-flying offense turned two of those games into wins.

But you can’t tempt fate like that and still expect to come away with victories. Against Merrimack, Woll’s luck finally ran out—and it only took 10 minutes.

It wasn’t just Woll’s fault. BC’s defensemen couldn’t handle Hampus Gustafsson and a suddenly swarming Warriors attack. But, after allowing three goals before the halfway mark of the first period, head coach Jerry York needed to switch up his game plan. So York pulled the freshman Woll in favor of Ryan Edquist.

“I thought the team started slow, and Joe wasn’t on top of his game,” York said. “I was looking for a real momentum change.”

But Woll dug a hole that was simply too deep. And the Eagles simply couldn’t recover in a 6-3 loss to the Warriors. It’s the first time BC (18-11-2, 13-4-1 Hockey East) has lost at Kelley Rink to Merrimack (11-13-5, 5-7-5) since Oct. 31, 1997. The defeat drops the Eagles to 13th from eighth in the all-important PairWise Rankings. Because of Boston University’s 3-2 loss to Massachusetts Lowell, however, the Eagles maintain a three-point lead in the chase for the Hockey East regular-season title with four games to play.

Gustafsson got the Warriors started four minutes into the game with a scrum in front of Woll. The goaltender tried to backhand slap the fluttering puck from a Marc Biega shot out of the way, but Gustafsson planted himself in front of the net for the tip-in. Five minutes later, Gustafsson dangled Scott Savage before making a one-two move in front of Luke McInnis. And not long after that, Michael Babcock forced a 2-on-1 breakaway with Mathieu Tibbet that Jesper Mattila had no shot to stop. And with a 3-0 deficit, York had no choice but to replace Woll with Edquist.

After the goalie switch, the Eagles’ second line came out firing. As they have all season, BC relied on seniors Ryan Fitzgerald, Austin Cangelosi, and Matthew Gaudreau to cut the team’s early deficits. Cangelosi found Gaudreau on a beautiful cross-ice pass that the Carney’s Point, N.J. native snuck past Collin Delia. And, with under two minutes in the frame, Cangelosi split Biega and Alex Carle to go bar down. Suddenly, an absolute disaster for BC turned into a salvageable game.

But, outshot 10-6 in the second, BC struggled to keep the puck in the offensive zone. Merrimack, on the other hand, kept the pressure on Edquist. After whiffing on two power plays, the Warriors finally broke through with five to go in the second. Gustafsson had his initial shot blocked by Edquist, but he recovered in time to dish it back to Sami Tavernier. The freshman from France pushed it past Edquist on the right for the 4-2 lead.

In the third period, Cangelosi cut the Eagles back to within one. Taking advantage of a hook by Babcock, Fitzgerald crossed the puck in front of the crease and Cangelosi slapped it low to convert against Delia. It was the first power-play goal in their last 24 chances—the most recent came on Jan. 13 at Agganis Arena against Boston University. Once again, momentum appeared to be within BC’s grasp. In total, the Eagles outshot the Warriors 17-3 in the frame.

Unfortunately for BC, Merrimack scored on two of those three shots.

Gustafsson pushed it through Edquist’s five-hole almost immediately after Cangelosi’s goal to restore Merrimack’s 5-3 lead. The goal capped off a hat trick for Gustafsson, the first for the Warriors since March 12, 2011 (Carter Madsen). And Babcock sealed the deal with an empty netter.

Following the game, York was pleased with the comeback attempt. But that first period was too much to overcome.

“We had some great chances in the third period,” York said. “I like that battle back, but we can’t start slow like that, it’s just too hard. … If we can make the third period like the first period, we’re talking about a different outcome.”

After the Notre Dame game, BC was sitting pretty in the minds of the computers. But now, with four games remaining in conference play, the team will have to scratch and claw—two against No. 15 Vermont, two against No. 9 Lowell—to guarantee a regular-season title. Those contests, along with Monday’s consolation game against a scrappy Northeastern squad, will all be crucial if BC plans on a 36th trip to the NCAA Tournament.

Some nights you just don’t have it. Woll and the Eagles can’t afford to not have it for the rest of the season.

Featured Image by Lizzy Barrett / Heights Editor

February 10, 2017