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Demko, Eagles grind out crucial win over Merrimack

Thanks to a pair of second-period goals and 22 saves from sophomore Thatcher Demko, Boston College earned a hard-fought 2-1 win over Merrimack in a Wednesday night Hockey East clash at Kelley Rink.

Matt Dewkett

CHESTNUT HILL, Mass. -- Merrimack and Boston College didn't play to the most aesthetically pleasing game on Wednesday night at Kelley Rink, but the Eagles certainly got the job done.

Thanks to a pair of second-period goals, the No. 19 Eagles extended their home unbeaten streak against the Warriors to 29 games (26-0-3) by scoring a 2-1 win. Merrimack's last win in Chestnut Hill was Oct. 31, 1997, one of the longest streaks in Hockey East.

Sophomore goaltender Thatcher Demko made just 22 saves, but was outstanding as the Eagles bounced back from a 4-2 loss Sunday in Maine.

Demko stopped a penalty shot with 4:17 left in the second period as Merrimack senior Kyle Singleton was hauled down by BC junior Teddy Doherty. Singleton came down the slot with speed but his high shot deflected off Demko's shoulder and high and wide of the goal.

"I thought the key to the win here was the play of our goaltender," BC head coach Jerry York said. "I thought Thatcher was outstanding. Not just the penalty shot where he made a save because that was terrific momentum for us, but I thought he just played a great 60 minutes."

The Eagles held onto a slim 11-8 shots on goal advantage in a rather sluggish first period. They took a 1-0 lead just 75 seconds into the middle frame and Demko's denying the penalty shot gave them confidence as the game begun to swing.

Freshman defenseman Noah Hanifin continued his excellent play, registering a point for a fourth straight game and for the fifth time in six games with the primary assist on BC's ice-breaking tally. He took a shot from the center point that caromed into the slot and onto the stick of sophomore Adam Gilmour for the rebound.

From there, the gates opened for the Eagles as they dominated the middle stanza territorially and on the scoreboard.

BC took a 2-0 lead at 17:20 as sophomore Chris Calnan scored his 11th goal of the season. Off a feed from defenseman Scott Savage, the Norwell, Mass. native netted from in tight on Merrimack senior Rasmus Tirronen.

"We gave ourselves a chance to win a hockey game in a tough building against a good team," Merrimack head coach Mark Dennehy said, "(but) I don't feel like we really established our play until the third period. We played pretty good defensively but I didn't think we executed well enough on our breakouts and turned too many pucks over."

Junior captain Michael Matheson turned the puck over that lead into Singleton's breakaway, while junior Teddy Doherty committed the slashing penalty. Demko made a terrific play to recover to his left and tip the shot over the net to keep the Warriors off the board.

BC held Merrimack out of the offensive zone for large stretches of the game, thanks in large part to a stifling defensive effort. Eight of Merrimack's 37 shot attempts were blocked.

"Thatcher has been unbelievable, so any time we can get in a lane and block shots and help him, we do the best we can," BC sophomore defenseman Steve Santini said.

"We don’t want to go out there and block every single shot because sometimes that can be counterproductive," he concluded. "At the same time, in 5-on-6 situations, it’s very important to pick up (the other team's) sticks and get in the lanes."

The Warriors cut their deficit in half just 2:05 into the third period, their only blemish to Demko's sheet, as sophomore Hampus Gustafsson fed freshman Jace Hennig in tight on a power play for his ninth goal of the season.

Merrimack's lone goal was the result of a nice feed from the team's leading assist getter, but it did not take away from the sophomore stopper's impressive victory. The Eagles held Northeastern to one goal in a tie on Jan. 10, so the effort marked BC's best on the back line in a victory since a 4-1 decision over Brown on Jan. 2.

Before the Eagles' loss in Maine, they held the nation's longest unbeaten streak with six wins and two ties in eight games but there were some close calls in that stretch for York's team.

"They've all been tight, close games. We probably expect more of those, so you've got to have confidence," York said. "There's not a lot of difference between the teams (in Hockey East). We're looking for what edge there is to win a game."

BC returns to action on Sunday with a home game against Connecticut, while Merrimack faces UMass in a weekend home-and-home.