NORTH ANDOVER, Mass. – Connor Toomey scored a power-play goal with 34 seconds left in overtime to give Merrimack a 2-1 victory over Boston College on Friday night. With the win, the Warriors (14-10-5, 12-6-2 HE) jumped the Eagles (17-8-2, 12-7-1 HE) and moved into sole possession of first place in Hockey East. Quinn Smith opened the scoring for BC midway through the second, but John Heffernan tied it with 7:03 left in regulation when he scored right off a faceoff. Sam Marotta made 39 saves for Merrimack, while Parker Milner stopped 40 shots for BC.
What I saw
-The Eagles’ goal came on a play that was originally ruled no-goal. Smith shot from about 10 feet out and Marotta made the save, but the puck squirted out to his right and eventually rolled across the goal line. The whistle blew and it was ruled no-goal on the ice, but the refs overturned the call after a lengthy review.
-The Warriors had two near-goals that weren’t reviewed. In the first period, Heffernan cut to the net from the right side and flicked a shot on net that squeaked through Milner and rolled across the line. Referee Kevin Keenan lost sight of the puck, though, and blew the whistle before the puck crossed the line. Because the play was blown dead, it couldn’t be reviewed. Then in the second, Shawn Bates fired a shot that appeared to hit either the crossbar or the back bar. The goal light went on, but the refs ruled no-goal. Merrimack asked for a review at the next whistle, but the refs denied the request. Heffernan and Marotta admitted after the game that the review situation was frustrating, but added that they just had to keep playing their game.
What I thought
-Both goalies played very well. Milner was at his best early, as Merrimack generated a few golden chances in the first period. The most notable came on a bad turnover that gave Toomey a chance from right in front. Milner stopped both the initial shot and the rebound chance. Milner did have a couple shaky moments playing the puck and also having shots trickle behind him, but they didn’t end up as goals. Marotta was at his best in the third, while his team still trailed 1-0. Johnny Gaudreau had two breakaways in a five-minute span, but Marotta stopped both.
-It’s pretty incredible that Merrimack is now alone in first this late in the season. The Warriors were picked eighth in the preseason coaches poll, due in large part to the fact that they lost superstar goalie Joe Cannata as well as four of their top five scorers from last season. Eighth looked like a pretty good prediction through most of the first half, as the Warriors were just 4-7-2 at the end of November and 6-8-4 at the end of December. But they’ve caught fire since the turn of the calendar, posting an 8-2-1 record since Jan. 1. Marotta has been arguably the biggest part of that turnaround, as he has gone 8-1-1 with a .947 save percentage in the new year. The Warriors have also climbed to 17th in the Pairwise, putting them squarely on the bubble in the national picture.
What they said
-Merrimack coach Mark Dennehy on being in first: “It’s better than the alternatives. That’s not our goal. Our goal isn’t to be in first place on the 15th of February. It’s to be number one in the league in March. Having said that, you’re moving in the right direction if you’re up and around that number one spot in mid to late February.”
-Dennehy on when he knew this team had first-place potential: “You don’t. I still think there’s more in this team, just because I’m on the ice with them. You find out more about these young men every day you spend with them. … I think our best hockey’s ahead of us, but it takes us working to get better every day to make that happen.”
-BC coach Jerry York: “It was a playoff-type atmosphere. Both goaltenders I thought were outstanding. It wasn’t that neither team had good scoring chances. I think Marotta on one end and Milner on the other played extremely well. I liked the compete level of our team. Obviously we’d like to capitalize on some of our good scoring chances, but like I said, both goalies played well.”
What else you should know
-Kevin Hayes, BC’s fourth-leading scorer this season, was suspended indefinitely before the game for a violation of team rules. After the game, York said he would watch how Hayes responds and determine when he’ll be eligible again based on that. York didn’t elaborate on what it was Hayes did.
-The game’s start was delayed 20 minutes — 10 because BC got stuck in traffic and 10 because of a pane of glass that shattered during warmups.