Men's Hockey

Woll Stands Tall Against Merrimack, Lifts Eagles in Tourney Opener

This is what Boston College men’s hockey does when it faces Merrimack in the Hockey East Tournament. It finds a way.

The top-seeded Eagles were outshot, 11-2, in the first period, and the gap continued to grow—they didn’t put another shot on goal until over halfway through the next frame—but it didn’t matter. BC made the most of a power-play opportunity with three minutes left in the second period, working the puck around before Connor Moore tallied off of assists from Graham McPhee and Aapeli Räsänen.

The lone goal, thanks to goaltender Joseph Woll, was enough to hand the 10th-seeded Warriors a disappointing, 1-0, defeat in the first of a best-of-three game quarterfinal series. Despite outshooting the No. 18 Eagles (19-13-3, 18-6-0 Hockey East), 37-13, Merrimack (12-20-4, 7-5-12) suffered its 11th loss in 12 all-time meetings with BC in the Hockey East postseason.

Woll was called upon for crucial saves with great frequency, especially down the stretch. As a desperate Merrimack team amped up the pressure in the waning minutes of the game, the sophomore only seemed to elevate his play. First, he came up with a big stop with five minutes left off of a point-blank effort from Warriors forward Jace Hennig—who had found the net in each of his last two games and was oh-so-close to extending his points streak.

Two minutes later, Merrimack forward Logan Coomes located teammate Jared Kolquist, who was trailing behind him, and set up the senior defenseman for a one-timer, but, once again, Woll gloved the puck. The Warriors would pull their goalie and saw a few late chances, but the story remained the same—Woll recorded save number 37 on a last-ditch effort from Derek Petti to close out the win.

The 37-save shutout was five shy of his career-high for stops, and his second scoreless outing on the season—both coming in the span of four games. Without his herculean effort, it’d be easy to see BC returning to action tomorrow at risk of being swept out of the Hockey East Tournament and any chance at the upcoming NCAA Tournament at well.

The Eagles were outplayed on both ends of the ice for much of the night, with the exception of the game-changing power play at the end of the second. Moore’s goal came on his team’s fifth shot of the contest—with the Warriors having already accumulated 22 attempts, to no avail. The sophomore defenseman has now recorded a point in three of the Eagles’ last four games, but it was his first goal since a late-January matchup against Massachusetts-Lowell.

Merrimack couldn’t convert any of its three power-play chances and was stopped short of the net by Woll, early and often. The Warriors impressed from the beginning with their ability to create pressure around the cage, forcing the Eagles’ sophomore goaltender to navigate traffic. Jackson Bales nearly tucked away a rebound in the opening period, while Brett Seney, after beating a defender, saw his backhander knocked away. Later in the frame, a solid defensive play from BC’s Casey Fitzgerald kept the game scoreless, as Coomes was denied any space coming across the crease and couldn’t cap a goal-scoring opportunity.

It was more of the same in the second for Merrimack. The Warriors leapt out to an 8-0 advantage in shots on goal, both a product of a power play and the offensive troubles for the Eagles, but couldn’t score the games first goal. BC struggled to get anything on net, including missing a 2-on-1 chance, following a penalty kill.

Once they finally started to put some pressure on Warriors goalie Craig Pantano, the Eagles caught a break—Michael Babcock went to the box for tripping. Just a minute later, it was Moore with the finish after they worked the puck around the back of the cage. The goal, with 2:52 left on the clock, sent BC into the break with a lead—despite trailing on the shot counter by 17.

Head coach Jerry York’s team killed off a Räsänen penalty to start the third, but couldn’t capitalize on a 5-on-3 chance later in the period. After Woll came away with one last save, the Eagles were finally able to breathe after winning the final faceoff.

It sure wasn’t pretty, but BC won its first game in which it was outshot since its Dec. 1 matchup against Boston University. The Eagles will have to play much better on Saturday if they’re to sweep the Warriors, but one thing’s for certain: If Woll plays at this level throughout the postseason, one goal might just be all BC needs.

Featured Image by Sanket Bhagat / Heights Staff

March 10, 2018