Sports, Hockey, Men's Hockey

Notebook: Eagles Struggle with Consistency in Loss to Merrimack

After a dominant performance in its Friday night win over Merrimack (4–6–0, 2–5–0 Hockey East), Boston College men’s hockey (5–4–1, 3–2–0 Hockey East) had a chance at its first weekend sweep of the year. The Warriors, however, were aggressive out of the gate, jumping on the Eagles early and riding that momentum to a 4–3 win. 

Here are five takeaways from Saturday’s loss: 

Dragging Their Feet

One of BC’s main issues this season has been slow starts. This was no different on Saturday, as Merrimack came out firing on goaltender Eric Dop and the Eagles. The Warriors drew two quick penalties, capitalizing on the second just over 11 minutes into the game. Merrimack forward Max Newton got the puck behind the net and found an open Ben Brar who ripped it past Dop’s right shoulder and into the net for a 1–0 lead. Merrimack continued to apply the pressure, consistently threatening to score. Dop, however, kept the Eagles in the game with some great saves including one deflection on a Merrimack 2-on-0 break. With less than four minutes left in the first, Hugo Esselin found the net for his first goal of the season.  

Although the Eagles were outshot 15–5, a combination of great goaltending by Dop and a goal from forward Marc McLaughlin kept the game at 2–1 through the first period. Their slow start, however, required a comeback effort for the Eagles to earn their first weekend sweep of the season.

Out of Control Offense

The Eagles came out aggressive in the second period, but they still could not put anything together. This was partially due to their sloppy puck play and positioning, which led to a lack of overall possession. Early on in the second period, the Eagles had multiple fast break opportunities but either could not connect on passes or had the puck taken away. In one instance, they had a 2-on-1 break but a long pass resulted in an icing on the Eagles. Each time they got the puck past the blue line, they quickly either turned it over or forced a weak shot from the point. The Eagles also could not manage good positioning on the Warriors’ defenders in what was a very physical game.

BC’s woes culminated four minutes into the second period when the Eagles had the puck in their own end. Merrimack poked it free off a pass and stole possession behind the net. Although BC deflected the pass, it still found forward Filip Karlsson-Tägtström in front of the net. He made a great move on Dop and backhanded it in for a 3–1 Warriors’ lead. 

Double-Edged Sword

Through the first half of the game, the Warriors had been dominating and seemed poised to add to their lead. Midway through the second period, however, the score was only 3–2 in favor of the Warriors. This was a product of lockdown goaltending by Dop and a goal by senior captain McLaughlin.  

Early in the first period, Dop kept the Eagles alive despite an aggressive Merrimack offense. He killed many scoring opportunities for the Warriors just short of the net, including a great rebound opportunity that he blocked with the right pad. Later on in the period, Merrimack had another wide open shot off a BC turnover. The Warriors fired the puck towards the corner of the goal, but Dop attacked it confidently, snagging it with his glove. Merrimack finished the first period with 15 shots on goal, but they only connected on two. 

Thirteen minutes into the first period, another Eagle stepped up to help Dop. It was none other than McLaughlin, affectionately dubbed “Captain Clutch” by BC fans. He proved his worthiness of the nickname Saturday evening, connecting on two goals. His first came in the first period, as he rebounded a shot by Mitch Andres to tie the game at 1–1. In the second period, when the Eagles were down by two, McLaughlin once again found himself with great positioning in front of the net when forward Brandon Kruse fired a shot from the left wing. McLaughlin got the rebound, working the puck to the open side of the net past Merrimack goaltender Hugo Ollas to cut BC’s deficit to 3–2. Dop continued to hold his own in the crease for the rest of the second period and into the third, keeping the Warriors’ goal tally at three.  

Persistence Pays

Led by McLaughlin and Dop, the Eagles started to clean up their play midway through the second period. They matched Merrimack’s physicality and improved possessions in their zone. 

In the middle of the second period, Kruse found himself on a fast break going one-on-one with a Merrimack defender. He tried to bully his way past the defender, sending them both tumbling down to the ice. Although he did not score, Kruse drew an interference penalty and gave the Eagles their first power play of the game. The Eagles took advantage of their man advantage, getting the puck into their zone quickly for multiple clear looks at the net. After a Kruse miss, McLaughlin collected the rebound and scored his second goal of the game. The Eagles did not stop there, however, as they continued to get good looks at the net. Toward the end of the second period, defenseman Colby Ambrosio got a fastbreak look and ripped it by Ollas, hitting the right pipe. Once again the Eagles jumped on the miss. Forward Trevor Kuntar kept the puck in the zone, ripping it in from the left wing to tie the game at three.  

Although the Eagles faced an early deficit, they kept fighting and forced their way back into the game. Because of their persistence, the Eagles tied the game and had the momentum going into the third period.

No Room for Brooms

The third period was a back-and-forth battle with neither team able to break the 3–3 tie. With all the momentum on their side, the Eagles came out firing with multiple great looks at the net. A fight during a BC power play led to multiple penalties on both sides, but the Eagles could not capitalize on their man advantage. Later on in the third, Merrimack scored the final goal of the game for a 4–3 win. 

BC’s talented team has been plagued by inconsistency through this season. This inconsistency has manifested itself in the fact that BC has not swept a weekend series all year, something that they did not have trouble with last season. The series with Merrimack was their closest chance at a sweep thus far, however, which suggests that the Eagles are gradually making progress.

Featured image by Steve Mooney / Heights Staff

November 7, 2021