Merrimack shows mettle, looks forward
by Mike McMahon/Staff Writer
BOSTON Boston College kept taking leads and Merrimack College kept erasing them.
But at the final buzzer, the Eagles earned their sixth Hockey East championship in the past 10 years with a 5-3 win over the Warriors in last night's title game in front of 14,571 at TD Garden.
It was Merrimack's first trip to the Hockey East championship game in its 22 years in the league.
Boston College took a 1-0 lead before Ryan Flanigan tallied his fourth of five goals in the four-game tournament just 26 seconds later to tie the score.
BC took a 2-1 lead under two minutes later but with just 24 seconds left in the first period, Mike Collins stuffed in his 14th goal of the season to even things up again.
"We don't let one goal get us down," said Warrior senior captain Adam Ross. "We'll get that goal back. This was no different and we kept going. Unfortunately, they capitalized on some there at the end."
The teams remained tied through two periods before BC took a 3-2 lead midway through the third when Cam Atkinson, the tournament's MVP, fired his first of two goals on the night past Joe Cannata (30 saves).
Once again, the Warriors answered. Flanigan's second of the night made it 3-3.
But ultimately it was too much. BC scored at 14:49 and 18:24 to seal the win.
"We have a very resilient crew to keep coming back," said Merrimack head coach Mark Dennehy. "We did a lot of the things we needed to do to have success. It's a good learning lesson. That's the bad news. The good news is that we continue on. It will be nice to meet (BC) in the Frozen Four."
Merrimack is already a lock for the tournament — it will be the Warriors' first bid since 1988 — and looks to be a No. 2 seed. They'll either travel to Bridgeport, Manchester, Green Bay or St. Louis for the regionals next weekend.
"It's important for us to focus on what we could have done differently," said Flanigan. "We need to use that in practice this week and get ready to go next weekend."
Merrimack was excellent at protecting leads all season but couldn't gain an advantage on BC, who the Warriors beat in the season series 2-1.
"We really just kind of take it as it comes," Dennehy said. "We prided ourselves on our ability to respond to adversity all year. Obviously we would have liked to get a lead and put some pressure on them but we're just playing it shift to shift and trying to win one-on-one battles. (Not getting a lead) may have had an affect on the game but not on our players."
Warrior fans heard loud and clear
Merrimack’s fanbase, which packed about seven sections at TD Garden, rose in applause as the game’s final seconds ticked off.
They weren’t cheering for the result, they were cheering for their “boys.”
“It’s the entire community,” said head coach Mark Dennehy. “It’s alumni, it’s former players but it’s the people of North Andover and Andover, too. It makes you pretty emotional. You look in there and see a lot of friends and family members. We have a lot of players who are not in close proximity to Boston a lot of their parents were flying in for this.”
Joe Cucci, a senior center, echoed his coach’s sentiments, “I think it was (Joe) Cannata who said he had to take a step back a bit when we went out for warmups on Friday. I don’t think that we were expecting it. We knew there was a lot of support but that was a special moment.”
A necessary step
Though the Warriors dealt with defeat, it’s what most of the 28 players in the locker room is a stepping stone as Merrimack readies for the national tournament.
“It was huge for us to get here,” said senior Adam Ross. “This was something that when (my class) was brought in here was a goal of ours. We wanted to take the program to this point. It’s exciting to get to this game but we wanted to win it.”
This story original appeared in the Eagle Tribune.