Sports, Hockey, Women's Hockey

Eagles Complete Weekend Sweep Behind Strong Special Teams Play

Last season, Boston College women’s hockey finished just seventh in Hockey East on the penalty kill while racking up a conference-high 10 penalty minutes per game. Through two games this season, the Eagles have already logged 16 penalties—but they’ve killed off every one of them.

On Saturday against Merrimack, that was the difference, as BC—playing without a key piece in assistant captain Delaney Belinskas, who left Friday’s game with an injury—held the Warriors to an 0-for-8 power-play mark while making the most of its chances. The Eagles tucked away a pair of power-play goals and left North Andover, Mass., with a 3-1 win, completing a season-opening weekend sweep.

Savannah Norcross scored her second goal in as many contests for BC (2-0, 2-0 Hockey East), and it proved to be the game-winner in the second period. Freshman Hadley Hartmez erased an early one-score deficit with her first career goal, and teammate Olivia Finocchiaro capped the scoring in the third period, as the Eagles took their 15th win in 16 all-time meetings with Merrimack (0-2, 0-2).

It was a disjointed game—the result of a combined 16 penalties—but BC managed to largely stay within its system and keep the Warriors in check. Goaltender Maddy McArthur, fresh off a Friday night shutout, came away with 23 saves, including 11 in the final period. Merrimack only broke through once against the sophomore, and it came with five minutes to go in the first.

Warriors winger Sam Lessick launched a shot on net from near the blue line and McArthur poked it away, but two Merrimack players—Megan Fergusson and Gabby Jones—were right on top of it. Without any BC defenseman in the slot, Jones got her stick on it and backhanded it in for the Warriors’ first goal of the year.

BC picked up its defensive intensity, though, and soon found itself on the two-man advantage when Keisha Dicaire (hooking) and Chloe Cook (cross-checking) both went to the box. The Eagles settled in the Merrimack defensive zone and peppered shots on net, as Lea-Kristine Demers was called upon for three quick saves. Eventually, BC cracked Demers, with Kelly Browne winning a face off and directing it to teammate Hannah Bilka. The freshman then registered her first career assist, sending a cross-ice pass that set up Hartmetz for a one-timer that Demers had no chance on.

Momentum in hand, BC went back on the power play at the end of the period, but a trio of shots were blocked and the two teams went on to trade penalties. Near the 15-minute mark of the second period, the Eagles were killing off an Alexie Guay penalty when Merrimack’s Mack Emery went to the box for interference. Twenty-two seconds later, Guay returned, and BC made the most of the 5-on-4. 

The Eagles cycled the puck and eventually it was Cayla Barnes—who finished with a pair of assists for her seventh multi-point game in just 38 career appearances—who found teammate Caroline DiFiore in the right circle. DiFiore, from the face off dot, threaded a pass under a defenders stick to Norcross, who one-timed it past Demers to put BC ahead for good.

Just 21 seconds had elapsed by the time the Eagles found themselves on the power play again, but Merrimack beared down defensively. Jones had three blocks during the two minutes alone, and the ability to frustrate BC’s efforts was a common trend. The Warriors finished with 26 blocked shots, more than double the Eagles’ 11, and helped Demers—who already needed to make 27 saves in the loss.

The killed penalty at the end of the period didn’t shift the momentum out of the break, however. It took just 39 seconds for Finocchiaro to find the back of the net, thanks to an impressive sequence where Bilka handled the puck into the middle of Merrimack’s defense before finding Barnes along the boards. The sophomore defenseman alertly saw Finocchiaro with space in front of Demers, played it to her, and the Warriors’ goaltender had no chance on the ensuing redirect.

McArthur was busy down the stretch, but the outcome was never in doubt. The Eagles held Merrimack without a shot when Browne was serving a penalty for cross-checking, then McArthur had seven saves in the final seven minutes to put away the comfortable two-goal win.

It was a strong defensive effort, even if the penalties were frequent. BC’s penalty kill is a perfect 14-for-14 to start the year, and McArthur has impressed with 48 saves and just one goal allowed. Coming into the weekend, the Eagles were tasked with showing they could still find the back of the net without Daryl Watts, Caitrin Lonergan, Makenna Newkirk, and Megan Keller. They responded by having four different goal scorers and piling up 64 shots on net. While BC’s not a finished product, it managed to go on the road and take two games from a Warriors team that finished fifth in the conference last season.

Featured Image Courtesy of BC Athletics

September 29, 2019