Top Story, Hockey, Men's Hockey

Eagles Stumble Against Merrimack, Off to Worst Start in 80 Years

The last time Boston College men’s hockey started a season 0-5, the price of gas was 10 cents, Franklin D. Roosevelt was in office, and the Eagles were in just their fifth season of play after taking several years off due to the Great Depression. On Friday night at Lawler Rink, BC returned to those depths, opening its regular season Hockey East title defense in disappointing fashion, falling to Merrimack, 2-1.

The Eagles (0-5, 0-1 Hockey East) played even with their hosts in shots, but committed two more penalties and the penalty kill couldn’t hold up over 10 attempts, allowing the upstart Warriors (3-5, 2-2) to skate to their first win against BC in over a year. The Eagles had just one loss in the last 13 matchups between the Hockey East foes, but, like the four preceding games this season, it ended up going sideways.

BC played better for much of the early going, seeming eager to shed off the disappointment of a midweek blowout at the hands of St. Cloud State. It controlled the puck and kept it in the Warriors zone for much of the first nine minutes of the game, sending five shots toward goaltender Craig Patano. The senior had been a sieve against a surprisingly strong Massachusetts team his last time out, conceding four goals, but he was much more composed at his home rink against the Eagles.

Patano would ultimately turn away 31 of 32 shots, and it was his early denial of efforts from J.D. Dudek, Oliver Wahlstrom, and Jack McBain that kept his team in it. BC went on the power play, too, and despite winning three faceoffs and sending four shots on frame, it came up empty. Logan Hutsko was especially prevalent on the attack, but his first two shots were saved and a final effort before the penalty expired was blocked by defenseman Matt McArdle.

Some five or so minutes later, the Warriors got their own power play chance—and didn’t miss out on it. After BC’s Christopher Brown went to the box for boarding, Merrimack started to push forward and found success. Simon Loof, Johnathan Kovacevic, and Chase Gresock all had shots saved by Joe Woll, but eventually the constant pressure paid off. Kovacevic’s shot skipped wide off the end glass and came back to the waiting stick of Derek Petti, who buried the rebound for the advantage.

The Warriors added to it with the eventual game-winner midway through the second period, also coming on a power play. Hutsko went to the box for interference, undoubtedly frustrated that BC hadn’t been able to crack Patano despite decent pressure throughout. The Eagles came within three seconds of killing the sophomore forward’s penalty, but at the 1:57 mark of the two-minute penalty, Merrimack scored a backbreaking goal. Tyler Heidt took a desperation shot from near the center point and it deflected through traffic, with Woll unable to deny it on his glove side.

After going 0-for-3 on its first three power play chances, BC finally cracked the Warriors kill with a minute and a half left in the second. The teams had played four-on-four for two minutes after Jacob Tortora was whistled for roughing while his Merrimack counterpart Tyler Drevitch drew five minutes for interference. Neither team generated a shot during the shorthanded play, but when the Eagles went up a man, it didn’t take long to answer—just 32 seconds after they returned to full strength, Hutsko and Julius Mattila had a 2-on-1, with Mattila setting up his teammate for a one-timer that Patano didn’t have a chance at.

The goal in the waning minutes of the second sparked hope that BC, with momentum in hand out of the locker room, could shake off the woes of four consecutive losses and at least salvage a draw. It wasn’t able to. The Eagles had managed just four shots in the second period and upped that to 10 in the third, but Patano and the Warriors defense held strong. Woll was pulled with a minute and a half remaining, but Merrimack was able to turn away the extra attacker and hand a team that has historically dominated them a tough one-goal loss.

Many circled Friday night’s game as a chance for BC to get back on its feet. The Warriors entered just 2-5, had dropped 21 games a season ago, and had a new head coach. The Eagles, meanwhile, were the defending regular season champions and had taken all four matchups with Merrimack a season prior—and had arguably reloaded. It was a chance to forget the previous four losses, all to ranked opponents, and find solid footing for the inevitable trudge through the Hockey East regular season. Alas, the ground seems even more shaky. BC, picked to win the conference, played even with a team picked to finish last.

Featured Image by Jonathan Ye / For The Heights

November 3, 2018