The Takeaway: Merrimack fights back, ties BC, 2-2

Posted by: Joe Meloni

CHESTNUT HILL, Mass. — Boston College used a pair of nifty goals to build a lead on Merrimack Sunday afternoon at Conte Forum, but the Warriors fought back, receiving two goals from Connor Toomey, and tied the Eagles, 2-2. In the overtime, Kyle Singleton slid a puck past BC goaltender Brian Billet with 12.9 seconds remaining, but the goal was disallowed following a high stick from MC forward Rhett Bly. Officials reviewed the play, but the call on the ice was confirmed.

Forward Paul Carey got the Eagles after a scoreless first with a nifty and dangle through the right circle and shot over the left shoulder of MC goaltender Joe Cannata 47 seconds into the second period. Steven Whitney scored the second BC goal at 5:10 of the 2nd period, taking a pass from Barry Almedia and moving in quickly on Cannata.

The point lifted the Eagles into a first-place tie with Boston University — the Terriers have already clinched the season series over BC with two wins in three games earlier this season. For Merrimack, the point lifted them over Maine. Currently, the Warriors are alone in third place with 16 points. However, MC has played just 12 Hockey East games, compared to the 14 played by both BC and BU.

What I Saw

  • Brian Billet’s poise in goal continues for the Eagles. After a rough start to his collegiate career, Billet has become the Eagles undisputed No. 1 goaltender since defeating Yale on Nov. 26. The freshman provided BC with the steady goaltending it’s used to. With the win over Merrimack, Billet’s record improved to 3-2-1. In his six starts, his save percentage is .929 and his goals-against average of 1.99. Parker Milner entered the season as the No. 1 goaltender in Chestnut Hill, but his inconsistent play — and Billet’s emergence — led BC coach Jerry York to reassess his depth chart.
  • Merrimack’s defensive issues continued from Friday night. After the loss to BU, MC coach Mark Dennehy said three of the Terriers’ four goals were the resulted of poor defensive play. On Sunday, BC’s first goal was less the result of any MC miscue than Carey’s brilliance. However, the Eagles’ second goal was probably the worst defensive breakdown of the weekend for the Warriors. On the power play, defensemen Karl Stollery and Jordan Heywood let the Eagles clear the zone, and played a 2-on-2 about as poorly as they could have. Almeida held the puck at the circle to draw Stollery. For some reason, both Stollery and Heywood pursued Almeida and the senior calmly lifted the puck into the slot where Whitney picked up the pass and beat Cannata high. At their best, Merrimack’s defensemen set the tone for the club with their confident, physical play. This was not their best.
  • BC has a serious lack of right-shot forwards, and it causes the Eagles problems offensively. On both of its power-play units, at least four players are left shots, leading to some awkward passes and poor timing. Among their top forwards and defensemen that see time on the man advantage, only Whitney, Bill Arnold and Patch Alber are right shots. This is BC, so they’ve managed to make due with the abundance of south shots, but it’s limited them to an extent. Now, the Eagles are still averaging 3.38 goals per game and scoring on about 18 percent of their power plays — these numbers are good. But it hasn’t been as pretty as it usually is.
What I Thought
  • Barry Almeida has become one of the most important players in the lineup for the Eagles. The senior plays in all situations for the Eagles and has gradually developed a scoring touch in his four years under York. Surrounded by Chris Kreider and other highly skilled forwards makes it difficult for Almeida to standout. Now, this is hardly something he’s concerned with, but his role for BC will only continue to grow as Hockey East games become more important down the stretch. On Sunday, Almeida setup the Eagles second goal and was on the ice for critical penalty kills throughout the game. The Eagles are expected to score, and offense has been pretty easy to come by over the years. But players like Almeida have proven critical over the years.
  • Connor Toomey continued emergence as a great secondary scoring option for Merrimack. The freshman is quickly becoming one of the most complete players in uniform for the Warriors. The pair of goals he picked up on Sunday give him seven on the season. His second of the game came with 1:10 left in regulation, and the Warriors trailing the Eagles, 2-1. Toomey worked well down low, helping Jesse Todd get the puck back to the point, where Heywood fired the puck toward the BC goal. As it veered right, Toomey angled his stick perfectly and deflected the puck past Billet. The teams Merrimack will have to compete with have more talent than they do. But the effort from players like Toomey is the exact thing that has brought MC to its current heights.
  • Joe Cannata may have picked this point up for Merrimack in the second period. While Toomey’s goals are going to draw the big press Monday afternoon, the senior goaltender made 10 saves in the period, many of which came on grade-A scoring chances from the Eagles. His teammates certainly supported him by blocking shots, but Cannata prevented the Eagles from building on their 2-0 lead. Fewer than 3 minutes after Whtiney made it 2-0, Toomey’s first goal made it 2-1. The Eagles began their onslaught at that point and carried it out for the rest of the period, but Cannata’s excellence kept the lead at 201.
What They Said
“We put ourselves in a jam with three penalties in the third period. We had a 2-1 lead, and we certainly would’ve liked to get some momentum. We shut down a really proven power play, so that was a plus, but the minus is that we had to kill penalties.” — BC coach Jerry York
The Eagles entered the second period after skating all over Merrimack in the second half of the second period. If not for Cannata, they may well have held a 3-1 or even 4-1 lead when the period ended. York expected his club to build its lead in the third, but three penalties — a hooking minor called on Whitney, a too many men on the ice penalty and a trip from Pat Mullane — forced them to sit on the kill for six minutes when they were looking to build their lead. Late in the game, when Toomey tied it, the Eagles top line and two of their top four defensemen were on the ice. All of these players saw more ice time in the third due to the penalties.
What They Didn’t Say
Jerry York didn’t mention next Saturday’s game at Fenway Park against Northeastern. He mention Friday’s game in Amherst against Massachusetts, and that the Minutemen are undefeated at home this season. Just further proof that York is one of the best coaches in the country. When asked about his club moving forward, he only thought of the next game — ignoring the event they’ll take part in next Saturday.
What Else You Should Know
BC heads to UMass on Friday for its second game of the season with the Minutemen. On Nov. 5, the Eagles went to Amherst for the first time this season and lost to the Minutemen. Like York pointed out, UMass hasn’t lost at home yet this season. It’s likely they’ll see that change by the time the Eagles head back to Boston on Friday night, but York will have his players ready.
Merrimack hosts Maine for a pair of games next week. The two clubs met in both of their first game of the season in Orono — Merrimack pulled out a 2-1 win. Currently, both teams are likely contenders for home ice in the Hockey East Tournament, and the tiebreaker may very well decided the final home ice spot or another critical seeding issue. Friday’s game is critical for the Black Bears, who look to build off their win at Frozen Fenway on Saturday.

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