Hockey games are not played on paper, but sometimes it would be more efficient if they were. Friday night, Boston College and Merrimack skated for 60 minutes at Kelley Rink to get an unsurprising result. BC won 6-1, powered by three Johnny Gaudreau assists on three Bill Arnold goals. With the win and Minnesota’s losses on Thursday and Friday, the Eagles will likely move up to the country’s top ranking, while the Warriors are headed back to North Andover further entrenched as Hockey East’s bottom feeder.
BC forward Michael Sit took a penalty 47 seconds into the game, and it provided a platform that showcased the skill discrepancy at hand and foreshadowed how the rest of the night would transpire. About half a minute into the Warrior power play, BC defenseman Mike Matheson hit Gaudreau at the BC blue line with a breakout pass that sent Gaudreau and Arnold on a rare shorthanded 2-on-1 scoring chance. Arnold didn’t have any issue potting the eventual sitter created by Gaudreau, and the senior put BC on the board 1:18 into the game. Gaudreau’s Division I-leading 54th point of the season extended his scoring streak to 23 games.
“What you can’t do against a team like that is-we had some brain farts earlier in the game,” said Merrimack head coach Mark Dennehy after his team’s loss. “We’re on the power play and we have a guy cheat down with two guys going by him, and we got a forward back there, hasn’t played there very long. You know, bad decision. We gave up a 2-on-1 to Arnold and Gaudreau. That’s not great.”
Later in the period, Arnold added his and BC’s second score of the game on another 2-on-1 off a feed from his left winger again, even if Arnold had to work a little harder this time. Merrimack was oh-so-close to breaking out of its zone against the Eagles’ top line, but the puck stayed in Warriors’ zone. Gaudreau gained possession and drew the defense by going to a bad-angle area for a shot, but hit Arnold on his tape who waited out Merrimack net-minder Rasmus Tirronen and elevated the puck over the sprawling Finn.
Arnold has been on the opposite end of this connection more than several times this season, but he was happy to be on the receiving side Friday. Heading into his final Beanpot appearance on Monday, the alternate Captain now has 11 goals and 41 points on the season while centering college hockey’s top scoring trio.
“Especially this year, they haven’t really been coming easy, but I got Kevin [Hayes] and Johnny on my line and they made it easy for me tonight, some backdoor goals, always nice,” Arnold said.
“Certainly our first line is doing a special job right now,” said BC associate head coach Greg Brown. “It was great to see Billy get the goals tonight because sometimes he does all the little work that goes unnoticed, so it was nice to see him find the back of the net.”
Merrimack’s chances in the second period were of higher quality than the first, but Dennehy’s team didn’t come close to capitalizing because its shots didn’t come close to the net. Forward Mike Collins hit a post, but aside from that, BC goalie Thatcher Demko didn’t have to react often, making 23 saves.
Demko’s frame undoubtedly makes shooters pickier, but Merrimack’s woes probably have more to do with its 6.5 shooting percentage coming into Friday night. For comparison, BC stands at 13.3.
The only suspense of the game did come in that second frame, when BC captain Patrick Brown’s goal at 6:22 was reviewed for a kicking motion. The goal stood, as did assists for freshman wingers Ryan Fitzgerald and Austin Cangelosi.
In the third, Merrimack took four penalties and BC capitalized on three, with the power plays highlighted by Arnold hammering in a loose puck after Gaudreau tried to stickhandle through the Merrimack defense but lost the puck near the edge of the crease. Arnold, trailing his linemate from the left wall, took advantage of Tirronen’s over-positioning due to the threat of Gaudreau and capped his hat trick.
Arnold’s goal was sandwiched by redirected scores off the sticks of Adam Gilmour and Brendan Silk. Merrimack’s Chris LeBlanc put in a rebound off of Demko with less than five minutes to avoid the shutout.
“It’s definitely a really hard game to play in because the Beanpot final is on Monday, so I guess you could call it your typical trap game,” Arnold said. “But I thought the guys and the coaches did a great job of staying focused, and now we can look forward to Monday night.”