Video by Tim Rosenthal
On the night Boston College paid its last tribute to the 2009-10 National Championship team, the Eagles held off a feisty Merrimack squad 3-2 Friday night in Chestnut Hill after raising their banner to its rightful place in the rafters. The Eagles overcame two one-goal deficits on the night to open up their home schedule with a victory in front of 6,751 fans at Conte Forum.
Merrimack came into the game undefeated (1-0-2) thanks in large part to junior goaltender Joe Cannata and sophomore forward Stephane Da Costa. They came up just short in a bid to end their 22 game losing streak in Chestnut Hill – a stretch that dates back to Halloween night in 1997. Cannata did all he could, making 39 saves on 42 shots on the night, but John Muse and the Eagles were able to hold off Merrimack after being held off the board for nearly two full periods.
The scrappy tone of the game was set early in the first period as both teams took penalties in the opening three minutes. Each nearly capitalized, but Cannata made a pretty save moving laterally across the crease and Merrimack watched an Adam Ross slap shot get deflected off the crossbar.
BC had a few more chances in the first, but Cannata made a terrific save on a Joe Whitney backhanded attempt as he came barreling down the slot. Soon thereafter, Merrimack got its first full power play of the night when Paul Carey got called for hooking behind the Merrimack net 7:28 into the period. After controlling the puck with crisp passing to begin the power play, Karl Stollery notched his first goal and third point of the year on a blast from the point to give the Warriors a 1-0 lead. Joe Cucci and Chris Barton picked up helpers on the play.
BC thought they tied it up when a nifty behind the back pass from Gibbons went off the skate of Paul Carey and past Cannata, but after video review the refs waved off the goal. Both Muse and Cannata made impressive saves as the period wound down to keep the game at 1-0, and the physicality only picked up heading into the second.
The Eagles opened up the second on the power play, and had several chances, but simply could not solve Cannata. Kevin Hayes made a nice move to slide past the Merrimack defense, but the Merrimack netminder was able to stop the bad angle bid with ease. He made several more saves and got a little bit of luck when BC had its second goal of the game disallowed. Merrimack took two more penalties to go down 5-on-3, and with 11 seconds left, Whitney collected a loose puck at the top of the right circle and beat Cannata. But the whistle blew immediately before the shot as the ref lost sight of the puck. Merrimack’s lack of discipline finally caught up with them late in the period.
After taking their fifth, sixth, and then seventh (a misconduct) penalties BC cracked Cannata on another 5-on-3 power play. Cam Atkinson collected an errant shot from Patrick Wey and beat a sprawling Cannata top shelf, finally giving the fans at Conte Forum something to cheer about.
After the game, Dennehy was quick to dismiss the notion that his team got an unfair shake in terms of penalties against them, as they had to kill seven in the period.
“Hey at the end of the second period it’s 1-1,” he said. “We had to kill seven and it’s 1-1, so it’s a game.”
BC opened up the third on another power play, but an errant pass with Joe Whitney on the point led to a Merrimack breakaway. Ryan Flanagan went in alone and beat Muse just 58 seconds into the period, taking the lead right back on his first of the year.
This lead was not to last long, however, as BC picked up its game after the goal and scored twice in a span of 1:36 to take the lead for the first time.
At 5:09 of the period, Carey picked up his first goal of the year by beating Cannata with a shot from the dot on a pass from Atkinson. Just 96 seconds later, Cannata misplayed the puck in the corner and watched as it rolled to the crease where Pat Mullane was able to bury it with ease.
“Merry Christmas, Pat,” Eagles coach Jerry York joked after the game.
Dennehy praised his goaltender after the game and made it quite clear he was not to blame.
“We’re supposed to have a guy in front of the net,” he said. “[We’re] certainly not going to blame anything on Joe Cannata tonight.”
Merrimack had a two-man advantage of their own for 43 seconds after back to back BC penalties, and hit the iron one more time. Muse made the saves he needed to down the stretch and BC held on for the victory.
“I thought Merrimack really battled hard, Cannata played extremely well in goal,” York said after the game. “It was a hard game to play because we thought we deserved more goals but we just couldn’t get anything by him.”
The junior goalie almost spoiled Boston College’s banner night, but BC was able to score three goals in the final twenty-one minutes in what York called a “gritty win.”
The two teams will play again tomorrow night in North Andover to wrap up the home and home series.