Previewing BC Hockey 2016-17: What to Expect From Merrimack

Fifty-five seconds were left in the third period. Down 5-4 Jonathan Lashyn fired a wrist shot past Thatcher Demko. The lead was lost, and all that remained was a scoreless overtime period, ultimately snapping Boston College men’s hockey’s five-game winning streak. A stretch in which BC had held each of its opponents to three goals or less.

This episode depicted the Eagles’ fate the last time they ventured to Lawler Arena to take on Merrimack on Feb. 13, 2016. The then-No. 3 Eagles could not pull away from their Hockey East foe—a Warriors group that was 1-11-1 in their 13 games preceding their date with BC.

The stalemate between the two Bay State schools had relatively minor implications. BC returned to its winning ways and in due time reached the Frozen Four. And MC, while collecting a few conference victories at the tailend of the season, still ended up being paired and losing to a second-seeded Providence team in the quarterfinals of the Hockey East Tournament.

Nevertheless, now-No. 8 BC (4-2) will surely be hungry for redemption on Tuesday night, as last season’s tie marked the first time that the Eagles had not defeated MC since 2013. On the other side of the ice, the Warriors (2-3) will look to start off conference play with an upset win—something they did just last fall, defeating then-No. 8 Boston University on Halloween Weekend.

Both teams enter this week’s game riding win streaks. BC has tallied three consecutive victories, outscoring its opponents 18-7, including a dominant 4-1 and 6-1 sweep of Colorado College and Holy Cross, respectively, this past weekend. Meanwhile, MC has battled back from an 0-3 start, claiming both of the games in its two-game series with Colgate over the weekend. The Warriors first game versus Colgate was their first time netting more than one goal in a game this season.

Despite picking up those two games, MC could very well return to its losing ways if it does not continue to improve offensively. Only averaging 2.20 goals per game this year, the Warriors are ranked 46th nationally and last in the Hockey East in scoring. Contrarily, the Eagles are lighting the lamp 3.83 times per game, which is tied for 12th best in the country and tied for fifth in the conference. If MC fails to score early, it will most likely be forced to play catch-up for the final periods. Look for a striding BC fleet to jump out to a commanding lead into the second period. The Eagles have put up 12 shots per game in first period action this season, challenging goaltenders right from the drop of the puck.

The recent ascent of BC’s offense is largely due to the freshman class’s coming out party during its homecoming weekend. With 13 rookies on the roster, it was imperative for the new additions to quickly make the adjustment to the collegiate level. It appears as if the newly-feathered Eagles have done just that. At Holy Cross, both winger Graham McPhee and forward Zach Walker assisted on two goal-scoring plays. And forward Mike Booth and defenseman Luke McInnis put the puck in the back of the net for the first time in BC uniforms. Not to mention that defenseman Jesper Mattila is on a three-game point streak.

Now with the help of the newcomers, the Eagles possess a versatile roster from top-to-bottom. Chris Brown leads BC with six points, but right behind him are three other players (Casey Fitzgerald, David Cotton, and Chris Calnan) tied with five points a piece. All four of those players have recorded more points than MC’s leading point scorer—Brett Seney (four points). If you guide your eyes further down BC’s scoresheet, you’ll find Colin White, the 2015-16 Hockey East Rookie of the Year. With four points, White is the Eagles fifth leading point scorer. Nonetheless, he stands at the forefront of the shot department, taking 20 to this point.

With a talented group of scorers, the power play has the potential to be BC’s best friend this season. Since coming up empty handed on its first 22 power plays, the Eagles have converted three out of their last 11. MC, a team that has already committed 44 penalties, could serve as a means for BC to continue this performance.

The Warriors will have to rely on leading goal-scorer Hampus Gustafsson and Seney to create their offense. Gustafsson is the only MC player that has scored more than one goal this year, and Seney has been credited with four assists so far.

But, after all, the Warriors are 4-3-2 at home against BC. And with Mark Dennehy at the coaching helm, a former player for Eagles head coach Jerry York, the rivalry strikes a little closer to Chestnut Hill. Regardless, if BC wants to reach the Frozen Four again, this is where the journey begins—Hockey East conference play.

Andy Backstrom
About Andy Backstrom 300 Articles
Andy is the sports editor of The Heights. He is from the suburbs of Philly, but has been an Arizona Cardinals enthusiast since the first grade. Every so often, he'll replay Super Bowl XLIII on Madden to exact revenge on his father's beloved Steelers. You can follow him on Twitter @AndyHeights.