CHESTNUT HILL, Mass. -- Plain and simple, Boston College teams aren’t used to bearing a 1-5-1 record, but with that said, head coach Jerry York knew that development would be the ultimate key this season – without a true senior on his roster and a gauntlet of a schedule out of the gates.
Friday night at Conte Forum, perhaps junior JD Dudek provided the spark that could turn the Eagles’ season around. The junior won a puck battle along the left wing boards and turned into open space around the circle to snap home his second goal of the season, lifting BC to an eventual 3-1 win over Merrimack.
Again, York saw improvement, although only one of his team’s even-strength goals came from a forward. He, too, saw signs that this team has potential to put its tough start behind and play better.
“We’ve talked about the early season and that our club was improving, even though the record didn’t indicate that,” York said. “I liked, again, improvements in a lot of different areas of our club tonight. We did an excellent job on the PK, our power play had good chances and good puck movement although we didn’t score, and our goaltender (sophomore Joseph Woll, who made 22 saves) had another fine effort.”
Merrimack got the scoring going just 9:58 into the game, as sophomore defenseman Johnathan Kovacevic whizzed a wrist shot through a sea of bodies after junior Michael Babcock sent the puck from low to high. Kovacevic sent his first goal – but fifth point – of the season home from low back to the high slot.
Less than three minutes later, the Eagles tied the score. Second-year defenseman Jesper Mattila jumped down the right wing and tapped home a cross-ice pass from rookie Aapeli Rasanen at the 12:41 marker.
Dudek’s winner was the second of BC’s three unanswered goals to finish the game. Captain Christopher Brown sealed the decision with an empty-net tally with 8.2 seconds to play.
BC moves to 2-5-1 on the season with its first home victory of the season, which also snapped a four-game losing streak. The Eagles are 2-1-0 in Hockey East play as they beat Providence in overtime on Oct. 15.
Big Player Played Big
Teams, especially those in BC’s position, need their big players to play big.
Dudek is one player York expected to make a jump in replacing the likes of Ryan Fitzgerald, Colin White, and Austin Cangelosi, and a season of trials and tribulations slowed his production down to just a goal and two assists through the first seven games.
But, he came up huge for the Eagles in this contest, as his second goal of the season and first in 13 days turned out to be the game-winner. Of his 16 collegiate goals, four are game-winners.
It was a play that showed his all-around tools and a responsible game.
“JD has been hurt most of the year,” York said. “He’s been banged up in a lot of different areas, but he fought through those different aches, pains, and sprains. Just about anything you can have, he has. He got a huge goal tonight, a real goal scorer’s goal.”
Dudek, who hails from Auburn, N.H., does see the effort as one that could spark the team for the coming weeks. Most importantly though, it sets BC up with confidence entering Saturday’s rematch up the road in North Andover.
“It’s exactly what we needed to start the weekend and this new chapter of our season, getting back to our winning ways again,” Dudek said. “I liked how we played a lot. We knew it was going to be a low-scoring game with the style of play that Merrimack plays, so we knew we had to capitalize on every opportunity we get because we know there’s not going to be many.”
Friday marked just the second game this season in which the Eagles eclipsed the two-goal mark. It’s clear this is not the same BC team of old in terms of offensive production, but Merrimack head coach Dennehy still saw similarities in his team’s opponent’s fast-paced game.
“If you try to make soft, cute plays by them, they bat them down and it goes the other way, and we had too many guys making soft plays,” said Dennehy, whose team snapped a 30-game winless streak in Chestnut Hill before winning last February. “They have good stick skills, they’re very good in transition. When the puck needs to go deep, it’s got to go all the way deep.”
Case in point, BC’s first goal. Freshman Christopher Grando won a puck off the boards and fed Rasanen on the left side to start a transition play. Rasanen then laid the perfect pass through the slot and right onto Mattila’s tape for the tying score.
Offense hasn’t let to goals quite yet, but the Eagles also held a 34-23 shooting advantage in the contest. The count was 16-9 in a middle period in which the score leveled.
Vogler Did His Job
Merrimack was a perfect 3-for-3 on the penalty kill in the contest, holding the hosts without a shot on goal on two of their man-up opportunities. As Dennehy often says, “penalty killing begins and ends with your goaltender.”
In that area and others, junior Craig Pantano was solid. The Bridgewater, Mass., native made a career-high 31 saves in the game, including 15 in the middle frame.
“I thought he did a good job,” Dennehy said. “He stopped the ones we expect him to stop. I also thought he did a good job of playing pucks and managing the game, getting whistles when we needed them. Along those lines, I give him high marks.”