Hockey East Quarterfinal Notebook
by Joe Meloni/CHN Reporter
BOSTON Boston University coach Jack Parker credited his penalty kill with the Terriers' victory over Merrimack in the Hockey East quarterfinals. BU clinched the victory Sunday night with its 3-0 win over the Warriors. In the victory, the Terriers held MC scoreless on its seven power plays and, for the weekend, BU successfully killed 17 of the 18 Warrior power plays.
The teams entered the series as the two most penalized in Hockey East, so both coaches expected a few power plays. For the season, BU has killed 81.2 percent of its penalties. The inconsistent unit kept the Warriors unit off balance by stifling the MC breakout and, when the Warriors did successfully gain the zone, pressuring the MC point men.
"The other thing that jumps out at me was they went 0-for-6 on the power, that doesn't happen very often," Parker said after BU's win on Friday night. "We need to stay out of the box.
"We darted out and darted back, not walked out and walked back," Parker continued. "It's real important to get back to the net because they get a lot of goals by outnumbering you in the crease."
Gifted Merrimack freshman Stephane Da Costa was noticeably frustrated as the final seconds fell from the clock in the series. He and BU freshman Alex Chiasson collided behind the BU net and quickly began exchanging punches. As Da Costa left the ice, he fired his gloves in disgust and punched the wall as he walked down the runway. He and Chiasson received game misconducts for their actions.
BU freshman Max NiCastro's wrist was severely cut by the skate of a Merrimack player in the second period of Saturday night's game; MC's 3-2 overtime win. Blood immediately began pouring out of his arm before a trainer and few BU player helped stabilize the bleeding. Parker said following the game that there was no damage to NiCastro's tendons or muscles, but that he received 26 stitches for the cut.
He did not play in Sunday's game as freshman Ben Rosen dressed in his place, although he played limited minutes in the game. Trainers tell Parker that NiCastro will likely be able to play in the Terriers' Hockey East Semifinal matchup against Maine on Friday.
A potential NiCastro absence could be especially difficult for BU to overcome. Not only had the freshman formed a formidable duo with fellow rookie Sean Escobedo as BU's third defensive pair, but he and sophomore David Warsofsky frequently serve as the point men on BU's second power-play unit. Senior defenseman Eric Gryba filled in on the man advantage. Despite Gryba's goal against Merrimack on Saturday, NiCastro's puck skills provide BU with more opportunities on the offensive end.
Also during the game, BU players Colby Cohen, David Warsofsky and Alex Chiasson struggled with injuries. All three players returned to action, but with center Corey Trivino lost for the season any more injuries to players who see substantial minutes could severely limit BU.
Not you father's Merrimack
Despite the loss, Merrimack proved to Hockey East that it's long-billed status as "a program on the rise" was more than just a label. Led by Mark Dennehy in his fifth season behind the bench, the Warriors earned their first Hockey East Tournament appearance since 2003-04.
Their win on Saturday was their first playoff victory since 1998 when they defeated BU in a Game 3 to advance to the Hockey East Semifinals.
Following the loss on Sunday, it was clear that the Merrimack players and coaches were not ready to reflect on a successful season just yet, but there's no doubting that this program is on the rise after years in the cellar.
"It's too early," Dennehy said. "We believed we were good enough to go to the Garden. I don't know that anybody believed in this except this team. Any advancement we made as a program is become of [the players.]"
"This program was in trouble a couple of years ago, and it took a special group of kids to bring it back to relevance. It started with the senior class, and we feel like we're on some stable ground right now. If [BU] is a team under consideration for the [NCAA Tournament] then we've made up a lot of ground."
The Terriers are unlikely to receive a berth to the NCAA Tournament unless they win the Hockey East Tournament, but for Merrimack to take BU to the third of a quarterfinal series is reason for the program's fans to be excited about the future.
When Merrimack won on Saturday night, it marked the sixth time in the last seven Hockey East Tournaments and the fourth consecutive time that BU's quarterfinal series went to a third game. The Terriers have won all six of the series, including 2003-04 when the eighth-seeded Terriers defeated top-seeded Boston College in the Hockey East Quarterfinals.
Prior to Sunday night, BU was the last eight seed to advance past the first round of the Hockey East Tournament. No. 8 Vermont defeated No. 1 New Hampshire, 1-0, in overtime to move to the Hockey East Semifinals for the second time since joining Hockey East in 2005-06. In their last appearance, they lost to Boston College, 4-0, in the Hockey East Championship Game.
Vermont's win also mean that UNH failed to reach the Hockey East Semifinals for the second consecutive season. Prior to that, UNH had advanced past the Hockey East Quarterfinals seven consecutive times. Advancing to the NCAA Tournament is hardly a guarantee for the Wildcats at this point who, along with several teams, are on the bubble.
“There’s a possibility [that our season is over] because we’re not playing anymore [until the selections are made] ,” UNH coach Dick Umile said. “We can’t control it. We’ll have to hang around for a couple days and wait for next Sunday. We’ll practice with the hope that we’ll play.”
UNH has earned a bid to the NCAA Tournament in eight consecutive seasons.