Know the Enemy: Merrimack Warriors
By JD Biagioni:
BC welcomes the Merrimack Warriors to Conte Forum this weekend for a best-of-3 series with a trip to the TD Garden on the line. The two teams haven’t met in the Hockey East tournament since the 2011 championship, but BC holds a 10-1-0 advantage all time over Merrimack in the postseason.
The Warriors sputtered out of the gate, winning only two of their first 14 games. They then went on a bit of a run, going 5-2-1 from December 8th to January 12th. The stretch included a 1-1 draw against Northeastern, a 4-3 victory over then #15 UNH, and a thrilling road upset of then #2 and current #4 Denver.
Once Hockey East play began in earnest, the schedule was not kind to the Warriors. They were able to pick up an OT win in Orono and a much less impressive home victory versus a free-falling UNH team. They dropped 3 games versus BU and two at home against Vermont. The final weekend they split a home-and-home against UMass Lowell, with both teams decisively picking up victories on home ice. The Warriors thumped the River Hawks 4-1 on Friday night 4-1 and then got blanked 5-0 in Lowell.
The final weekend split locked up the 7 seed for UML and the 10 seed for Merrimack, ensuring the two now-familiar teams at least two more matchups. In the only Hockey East upset of the opening weekend of postseason play, the Warriors bounced UML behind two overtime victories. Ludvig Larsson was the hero in game 1, potting the winner at 18:01 of the first extra frame. The next night, Jace Hennig sent the Warriors to the next round with the game-winner at 13:59 of OT.
This has to be a favorable result for the Eagles. They should have been favored in any of their potential second round matchups, but Merrimack’s win eliminates Lowell, a team that has given the Eagles fits over the past couple of season. BC went 2-0-0 against Merrimack this season, picking up both wins in a home-and-home in the first week of November. BC came into the matchup at 1-5-1, but the wins over Merrimack turned BC’s season around and sent them on a season-best 8-game unbeaten streak. The first matchup was a hard-fought 3-1 victory for the Eagles at Conte. BC outplayed the Warriors, but needed a late-third period goal by JD Dudek to come away victorious. The next night in North Andover, BC took a 2-1 lead into the first period intermission. A scoreless final 40 minutes gave BC the series sweep.
Thanks to BC’s position as first in the Hockey East in the regular season, they guaranteed that they could not play both Northeastern and Providence, and that when/if they face one of those teams, it’d be in the championship. While nothing comes easy in the Hockey East, this gives the Eagles a slightly easier path to the finals. On the flip side, they will forego the chance to add as many quality wins to the resume.
The likely path to the Lamoriello trophy includes beating Merrimack this weekend and facing BU and the winner of Providence/Northeastern at the Garden. Of course there are always upset possibilities, and, if BC were to advance, it could also face the lowest remaining seed of #5 UConn, #6 Maine, and #8 UMass. For a team on the bubble, a strong showing this weekend and next is a must to keep BC’s hopes of a Frozen Four berth alive. In all likelihood, despite being regular season champs, the Eagles will have to get an auto-bid by winning the Hockey East postseason tournament if they want to play more postseason hockey.
The teams are certainly constructed in different ways. BC had 0 points scored by true seniors and Logan Hutsko led the conference in freshman scoring. Merrimack’s top two scoring forwards and top scoring defenseman are all seniors.
Goaltender Craig Pantano surprisingly has the edge over Joe Woll in the main goalie categories, but Woll regains the upper-hand when stats are restricted to Hockey East games.
Joe Woll (total): 2.53 GAA, .911 Save%
Craig Pantano (total): 2.32 GAA, .918 save%
Joe Woll (Hockey East): 2.26 GAA, .922 Save%
Craig Pantano (Hockey East): 2.59 GAA, .910 save%
Brett Seney (senior): 13-19-32
Jace Hennig (senior): 11-14-25
Logan Hutsko (freshman): 12-17-29
David Cotton (sophomore): 9-18-27