BOSTON — Merrimack remained unbeaten with a come-from-behind 3-2 overtime win against Boston University on Friday night. Goals from Garrett Noonan and Justin Courtnall staked the Terriers (3-4-1, 2-3-1 HE) to a 2-1 lead, but the Warriors (8-0-1, 6-0-1 HE) fought through a slew of penalties and tied the game with 1:56 remaining when Brandon Brodhag tipped home a Jordan Heywood slapper. They captured their second overtime victory in a row with another tip-in, as Billerica native Connor Toomey deflected a Karl Stollery wrister past Kieran Millan (27 saves) just 22 seconds into the extra session. Joe Cannata made 36 saves for Merrimack.
What I saw
-Merrimack’s freshmen finally found the scoresheet. Through the first eight games of the season, the Warriors had zero points from their rookie class. That changed with the first goal of the game when Arlington native Justin Mansfield chipped a rebound past Millan. Then of course there was the game-winner from Toomey, another freshman. Mansfield and Toomey, along with fellow freshmen Clayton Jardine and Dan Kolomatis, have been playing well this season; they just hadn’t scored yet. If they can build on Friday night and continue to be productive, Merrimack could make the jump from a middle-of-the-pack offense to one of the league’s best.
-The Terriers finally had a good first period. Entering Friday night, they had been outshot in the opening frame of every game this season. They had led after one just once (on Oct. 15 against Denver), and had trailed at the first intermission in each of their last four. On Friday, though, the Terriers outshot Merrimack 13-6 in the first and entered the break with a 2-1 lead. BU benefitted from four Warrior penalties and was able to cash in on an extended 5-on-3 with Noonan’s goal.
-The Warriors struggled to get much of anything going on offense through two periods. They have made a living this season by winning battles down low and cycling the puck for extended periods of time, allowing them to wear down defenses. None of that happened for much of Friday night. The Terriers won the majority of the 1-on-1 battles in their own end (something they haven’t been doing lately) and frequently forced the Warriors to circle back toward the blue line upon entering the zone instead of letting them get down low. It wasn’t until the third that Merrimack was finally able to penetrate the BU defense and get some chances from in close.
-Merrimack took way too many penalties. The Warriors gave BU four power plays in the first, two in the second (including a five-minute major when Kyle Bigos was ejected for hitting Wade Megan from behind), and four more in the third. Brandon Brodhag served Bigos’ major, then promptly took a hitting from behind penalty of his own just eight seconds after leaving the box. Going back to the last observation, it’s tough to get much going on offense when you spend so much time in the sin bin.
What I thought
– BU’s power play looked better, but it still has a lot of work to do. Last Saturday, the Terriers recorded just one shot on six power-play chances against UMass-Lowell. On Friday, guys were moving their feet and creating better shooting and passing lanes, and they were getting traffic in front of the net. On Noonan’s goal, he, Alex Chiasson and Charlie Coyle were all within 10 feet of the net looking for a rebound. There were still a lot of errant passes that need to be fixed, though. Several unforced errors resulted in easy clears for Merrimack. The Terriers wound up going 1-for-9 on the man advantage with 18 shots — 17 more than last weekend’s pitiful effort.
-The Terriers’ fourth line of Justin Courtnall, Ben Rosen and Cason Hohmann played very well. Their most obvious contribution was Courtnall’s goal, which came on a nice feed from Hohmann. But beyond that, the trio put pressure on Merrimack’s defense nearly every time they hit the ice. They did a good job on the forecheck and were able to maintain possession down low for 20 seconds at a time on several shifts.
-The Warriors deserve a lot of credit for not allowing all their penalties in the third period to derail their comeback effort. Coach Mark Dennehy noted that his players “handled a lot of adversity” and “didn’t allow themselves to get as frustrated as their coach was.” He was spot on. The Warriors survived one BU power play after another — thanks in large part to Cannata’s great goaltending — and then turned up the pressure 5-on-5 to draw some calls of their own, eventually allowing them to score 6-on-4 with Cannata pulled.
What they said
“I especially noticed today that the guys really focused and got ready for this team. I think we’re at our best when we’re playing physically. I think this team has a tendency to confuse themselves with what style they need to play. But when we’re chipping pucks in on their D and banging bodies and getting guys to the net and shooting pucks, we’re at our best. I think we took a stride in the right direction with that tonight. If guys can continue to play that way, I think we’ll be successful.” -BU captain Chris Connolly
Although BU didn’t come away with the win, Connolly is absolutely right about this being the way the Terriers need to play. When they’ve played poorly this year, it’s been because guys have gotten too cute and fallen into the habit of trying to make the pretty play instead of the gritty one. As Connolly said, this is a stride in the right direction. But BU has made strides in that direction before, only to revert to the same bad habits a game or a week later. Let’s see if this is finally the time they keep going in the right direction.
What else you should know
-Both teams were without their top-line centers. BU’s Corey Trivino missed the game with an ankle injury suffered during the week, while Merrimack’s Shawn Bates missed his second straight game after suffering an apparent arm injury last Friday.