Top Story, Men's Hockey

Men’s Hockey Snaps Losing Streak With Win Over Merrimack

When no one else is creating offense, sometimes you have to just do it yourself. But, throughout the first seven games of the 2017-18 season, no one on Boston College men’s hockey has shown he can do it himself.

BC entered Friday’s game against Merrimack averaging just 1.71 goals per game, 57th in the nation. The Eagles’ leading scorer is Casey Fitzgerald, and he only has five points total—no one has more than two goals. Against the team that has long been in Hockey East’s second division, the Eagles’ offense looked to be on the same course. Until J.D. Dudek decided he needed to do it all in BC’s 3-1 win over the Warriors. The win snapped a four-game losing streak for the Eagles.

For much of the game’s first 50 minutes, the Eagles (2-5-1, 2-1-0 Hockey East) struggled mightily to garner any momentum from their forwards. But, with 7:45 remaining in the third period, Dudek stole the puck from Merrimack (1-5-2, 1-2-0) fourth-liner Mathieu Tibbet. Skating to his left to get some space, Dudek fired from a tough angle in the right circle with three Warriors defenders in front. The three only served to screen goaltender Craig Pantano as the puck slid low on his left. As he’s wont to do, Dudek got up on his right leg, lifting the left one to his chest, and thrust both arms down in celebration, notching the game-winning goal. With 8.2 seconds remaining in the frame, Christopher Brown put the icing on the cake with the empty netter.

For head coach Jerry York, Dudek’s goal was a sign of improvement for his team, but only somewhat.

“We still scored only one goal from our forwards, yes, it was a terrific goal to get us started,” York said, referring to BC’s first goal by defenseman Jesper Mattila. “But I thought our chances were better, we got to the blue paint more often, and we had a number of rebounding. … A lot of scoring is what JD did, but a lot of it comes two feet in front of the net.”

Neither team had much action in the first period. The Eagles squandered two early power-play chances, appearing timid in front of the net. On the latter—a charge called on Logan Coomes—freshman Aapeli Räsänen dangled a second too long in front of a wide-open net. His hesitation gave Pantano the time he needed to get back in position. But at that point, Räsänen was already too nervous, whiffing completely and causing another turnover. Coming out of that power play, Zach Walker attempted to stuff it twice on Pantano, but was blocked by his left pad.

For as much dysfunction as BC’s offense has had—the Eagles entered the day 57th in the nation, averaging 1.71 goals per game—they have one thing over the Warriors: cohesion. Merrimack employs an offensive strategy akin to LaVar Ball’s at Chino Hills High School. A Warrior skater will wait at center ice for a defenseman to flip them the puck, edging on avoiding an offsides call. It worked at getting pressure, but rarely could complete. On the ensuing possession after Walker’s miss, Jace Hennig waited beyond the blue line and streaked down the near side, left all alone by Luke McInnis. He wound up a slapper that fell right into goaltender Joseph Woll’s gut.

The Eagles came out swinging to open the second, outshooting Merrimack 16-9 in the frame. Several times early in the period, BC got scrums past Merrimack’s defense. On one particular try, Jacob Tortora dumped it off with a touch pass to David Cotton, but with two defensemen around him, he was stopped easily.

The Warriors got on the board first when Johnathan Kovacevic wristed a shot from the blue line on which Woll was screened. But, less than two minutes later, the Eagles answered. Räsänen streaked down the near side with a wide-open look at net. Pantano thought Räsänen was winding up for a shot on goal, but instead he dished it to Jesper Mattila, who slammed it home for the equalizer.

In the third, Merrimack continued to try its Ball-esque approach, but BC’s defense tossed each attempt away with ease.

“They’ve got really good stick skills, and if you try to make soft plays, they’ll bat it the other way,” said Merrimack head coach Mark Dennehy. “And we made too many soft plays.”

York dismissed the notion that BC’s nonconference schedule has affected attributed to the team’s slow start this year—the Eagles have played the nation’s toughest schedule, and it’s not even close. He emphasized that the Eagles treat each opponent regardless of whether or not they find themselves in weekly Top 20 lists.

Still, what they’re searching for is that person who can be the go-to guy. Austin Cangelosi and Ryan Fitzgerald played that role last year, the rotunda of first- and second-round picks the year before. Dudek is a candidate to be that player. But, with one of the nation’s youngest teams, one that lacks a senior, York knows effort is all he can ask for.

“There’s going to be ups and downs, it’s never going to be linear,” York said. “They want to get better and that’s half the battle.”

Featured Image by Sanket Bhagat / Heights Staff

November 3, 2017