No. 6 Merrimack College (15-15-6, 13-11-3 Hockey East) at No. 3 Boston University (18-15-2, 15-10-2 Hockey East)
Friday (7:30 p.m.), Saturday (7 p.m. on WBIN), Sunday (4:30 or 5 p.m., if necessary)
- at Agganis Arena, Boston, Mass. -
With head coach Mark Dennehy at the controls, the Merrimack College hockey program has been on the rise over the past several years, but the Warriors saw the end to an impressive streak in this year's season series with No. 18-ranked Boston University.
The Terriers became the first team to take all six Hockey East league points from the Warriors since both UMass Lowell and Northeastern turned the trick in 2008-09.
In fact, two of the three games were decided by three-goal margins. If there is one person that has faith in Merrimack earning a win in the series, it may just be BU coaching legend Jack Parker, who announced his retirement from his post of 40 years on Monday.
"I don’t think they’ll try much different because they’re real successful in what they do," Parker said. "I’m not sure if we saw Merrimack’s best game [this season], so I would say the advantage falls with them right now as far as that’s concerned...They’re not going to be overwhelmed with the fact that they lost to us. They know they can beat us. They know they can compete with anybody in this league."
BU enters the series off a weekend sweep of crosstown rival Northeastern, which finished deep in the cellar of the conference this season, including a 5-0 victory to close the season on Saturday.
Freshman Sean Maguire was the story of the weekend as he posted his fourth shutout of the season in the closing contest as he posted stops on all 26 Husky shots. Matt O'Connor will not return this season as he was diagnosed with a collapsed lung after leaving morning skate on March 2.
Danny O'Regan, who finished the year atop the Hockey East freshman scoring race with nine goals and 27 points in conference games, scored the game-winning goal and two assists for the offensive lead. For his efforts, he was named the league's Rookie of the Week. His goal in last Friday's 4-2 win at Matthews Arena also proved to win it.
The Terriers are in the midst of a very impressive streak entering the playoffs as Parker's team has won at least one game in the last 20 Hockey East Tournaments - the longest streak in conference history. Boston College (2003-present) and New Hampshire (1999-08) have hit streaks of ten straight years.
Despite that mark, BU has not captured the league's tournament title since 2009 as then-freshman Kieran Millan put the Terriers on his back en route to a comeback for the ages over Miami to win the national title in Washington, D.C.
The Warriors closed the season with a split weekend series against UMass that begun with a dramatic 4-3 overtime decision in the final home game at Lawler Arena on Friday.
In the contest, Merrimack led 2-0 and 3-1 in the third period, but allowed three goals to the Minutemen in a do-or-die scenario, before sophomore Connor Toomey scored his second overtime winner of the season. Despite already being eliminated from playoff contention, UMass won 3-0 on Saturday in Amherst.
With the series split, the Warriors - which finished sixth or better in the conference for the fourth year in a row - captured their fifth season series victory in 2012-13.
Junior Shawn Bates, who is third on the Merrimack team in scoring, has amassed nine points over the last ten games to anchor the second line.
Classmate and captain Jordan Heywood is tied for fourth in the conference in scoring among defenders with 19 points and became the first Warrior defenseman since Bryan Schmidt in 2004-05 to post two multi-goal games in a season.
"[He] has been our Tim Tebow because he just does a little bit of everything," head coach Mark Dennehy said of Heywood, a Regina, Saskatchewan native, who took over the captaincy from fellow blue liner Karl Stollery. "He is the leader of our team in any situation, no matter if it’s 4-on-4, the power play or penalty kill, he plays all situations... He is a very faithful young man and he is an anomaly in this day in age."
Leading the way, as he has done for Merrimack all season long, is Catholic Memorial product and junior Mike Collins, whose 32 points in the regular season were second in the Hockey East scoring race. That marked the highest finish by a Warrior in their league history and the most by any other player in a Blue and Gold sweater since 2001-02 other than Stephane Da Costa.
The senior class of Kyle Bigos, Nick Drew, Brandon Brodhag and John Heffernan is the most successful class in Merrimack’s Div. I history with 74 wins to date. In 2010, the foursome was concluding their freshman season with the Warriors when the team lost in three games to BU - the last quarterfinal meeting between the squads.
Joshua Kummins covers Hockey East for SB Nation. Follow him on Twitter @JoshuaKummins.