In a season that has been filled with disappointment for Boston College men’s hockey, David Cotton has been a rare bright spot. The junior forward has been one of the Eagles’ most consistent offensive threats and has looked lively in every game.
In a wild back-and-forth loss to Wisconsin three weeks ago, Cotton almost single-handedly dragged the Eagles to a win, scoring three goals and recording an assist in a 7-5 defeat. But until Saturday’s game against Merrimack, his best efforts had gone unrewarded. BC was 0-5, had been outscored, 20-6, to begin the season, and was looking like a team with no chemistry or cohesive plan to win hockey games.
Although the Eagles still have issues, they might have a solution to some of their offensive troubles. Prior to the game, head coach Jerry York made the decision to mix up his lines, pairing Cotton with Julius Mattila and Logan Hutsko in an effort to spark the attack. It worked like a charm. Cotton led the way with two goals and two assists, and his linemates chipped in with three assists and a goal to carry BC to a 4-1 win over the Warriors, its first victory of the season.
For much of the first period, the Eagles looked like the same team that had struggled mightily to begin the season. On the offensive end, they peppered Craig Pantano’s cage with nine shots over the course of the opening 15 minutes of regulation, but the senior netminder was up to the task, as he turned away fierce drives from Oliver Wahlstrom and J.D. Dudek.
BC likely would have been able to create more opportunities, but couldn’t seem to stay out of the penalty box. First, a needless error forced Zach Walker into the box for too many men, and then—less than two minutes later—Michael Karow was given a minor for tripping, handing Merrimack a momentary 5-on-3. Finally, with a little more than 10 minutes gone in the period, Aapeli Räsänen was also sent to the box for tripping. The Eagles’ penalty kill, however, held strong, limiting the Warriors’ chances and stopping all three opportunities. For the game, Merrimack was 0-for-7 on the power play after scoring both of its goals on Friday with a one-man advantage.
It didn’t take long for BC to make the Warriors pay for their missed opportunities on the power plays. Just three minutes after Räsänen completed his penalty, Logan Hutsko skated into the Merrimack zone toward the crease, wristing a shot that bounced off the stomach pad of Pantano. Dudek followed, crashing the net and forcing the puck through Pantano’s pads to open the scoring. With that goal, the Eagles had their first lead of the season.
BC killed off one more penalty just before the horn, as Joseph Woll made crucial saves on shots from Logan Coomes and Sami Tavernier, and headed into the locker room with momentum and confidence. Riding that momentum, it didn’t take long for the Eagles to add to their lead.
Under a minute into the second period, Hutsko broke free again on the right wing and skated into the Warriors’ zone. This time, instead of putting a shot on net, he opted instead to slide a pass back toward the crease to the stick of a waiting Cotton. The junior made no mistake, authoritatively firing a shot past Pantano to double the lead.
From there the floodgates were opened. Cotton fed Mattila, who beat a defender with some fancy stickwork to start a breakaway. Then, he switched to his backhand and lifted a shot over the glove of Pantano to extend the lead to three.
Perhaps frustrated by the mounting deficit, Ryan Cook was sent into the box for hitting from behind minutes later, giving BC a power play. When the one-man advantage started, an errant puck was pushed out to Casey Fitzgerald, who quickly cycled it out to the right circle in the direction of Mattila. After a moment of hesitation, the junior delivered a pass to Cotton, who was positioned in front of the crease. Much like his first goal, Cotton didn’t wait, one-timing a low shot into the net for his second scoring play of the game.
Merrimack got one goal back with five minutes left in the second period, when a poor giveaway by BC in its own half gifted the Warriors a breakaway. Patrick Kramer broke into the Eagles zone and shifted the puck over to Logan Drevitch low in the right circle. Drevitch placed a high shot over Woll’s blockers to give Merrimack a consolation goal.
It briefly looked like the Warriors might add a second and put some more pressure on BC to close out the game, as they fired three shots on net in the final three minutes of the period, but Woll saved each of them to ensure the Eagles kept a comfortable lead going into the locker room for the second intermission. The BC netminder, who gave up seven goals in his first three games, was much improved Saturday night.
The third period passed without much incident, as Woll made one big save on a Drevitch shot from the slot to prevent the start of a possible Merrimack comeback, and Drew Vogler, in for Pantano, made 13 saves of his own to keep the Eagles from adding a fifth goal.
BC finally has its first win of the season and looks something like the team that racked up eight goals against New Brunswick in the team’s preseason exhibition. Not only was the Cotton, Mattila, Hutsko line effective, but the Eagles were also much improved on the kill. Still, it remains to be seen whether or not BC will be able to replicate this performance against higher quality opposition.
After all, Merrimack was picked to finish last in Hockey East before the season started, and while the Eagles will have to make a habit out of logging wins against the bottom of the conference if they want to turn the season around, it’s games against Hockey East powerhouses like Providence and Boston University that will determine just how good this BC team is. And as the early part of the non-conference schedule showed, despite this performance against the Warriors, the Eagles certainly have a lot of work to do.
Featured Image by Ikram Ali / For The Heights