Tuesday night at Agganis Arena, the No. 19 Boston University men’s hockey team made coach Jack Parker look like a hockey psychic.
“Don’t get yourself in a negative frame of mind and a negative attitude, because you never know how close you are to turning it around,” Parker said Monday of the team’s second-half struggles. “At any moment we can turn it around.”
It is hard to tell when that exact moment was, but the Terriers (15-14-2, 12-9-2 Hockey East) played what was arguably their best game in more than two months, beating Merrimack College 5-2.
Junior forward Matt Nieto scored twice and assisted on another, while freshman goaltender Matt O’Connor took care of business at the other end, making 32 saves in 34 chances.
“One of the things that has been a problem for us is that we’ve been playing games trying not to lose,” Parker said. “I don’t think we went out here trying not to lose. We went out trying to win tonight.
“It was nice to get a ‘W,’ it was nice to get a W at home. It was nice to get some goals. I liked our team tonight … I was happy with my goaltender. In the second period, he came up with some big saves to keep them off the scoreboard.”
BU controlled the pace from the outset and held a 3-0 lead by the end of the first period.
Even though the Warriors (14-12-6, 12-8-3 Hockey East) caught BU off guard by leaving one forward down at BU’s blue line — a tactic Parker said he hadn’t seen from Merrimack in a year and a half — the Terriers made the appropriate adjustments by leaving one of their own defenseman back as well.
Sophomore forward Evan Rodrigues got the Terriers on the board at the 9:47 mark, taking the puck up the right wing, cutting across the slot and backhanding it by Merrimack goalie Sam Marotta. Senior defenseman Sean Escobedo was credited with the primary assist on the play after blocking a shot with his head to start the Rodrigues rush.
A minute and a half later, junior assistant captain Garrett Noonan fed senior captain Wade Megan a slick pass from the left circle. Megan deked around a Warrior in the slot and junior forward Sahir Gill deflected Megan’s low shot to beat Marotta again.
Sophomore forward Cason Hohmann also found the back of the net on a rather odd play, which started when freshman defenseman Matt Grzelcyk’s shot from the point got stopped.
The rebound kicked out into the slot before Nieto, looking in the opposite direction, blindly hit it in the general direction of the Merrimack net. It bounced off Hohmann’s skate and in for a 3-0 lead at 15:41 in the first.
By the end of the frame, the Terriers had collected 19 shots on net — three more than they collected the entire game against the University of Massachusetts-Lowell Saturday.
The second period featured a new goalie for the Warriors, as sophomore Rasmus Tirronen relieved Marotta when the teams returned to the ice.
Unfortunately for Merrimack it was more of the same, as Nieto found the back of the net twice to extend BU’s lead to 5-0.
First Nieto gave his freshman linemate, Danny O’Regan, a pass on the right side. O’Regan took it up the wing before centering to Nieto, who caught up to the play and got a shot off while falling down for his 10th goal of the season at 5:59.
At 12:38 in the second, Escobedo sent a clean breakaway pass to Nieto, who easily beat Tirronen high stick-side.
Warrior captain Jordan Heywood ruined O’Connor’s shutout bid in the third with a pair of goals, first from the point on the power play at 9:01 and then by netting a rebound at 10:54.
The Terrier defensive corps locked it down — and endured a couple Merrimack power plays — in the final half-period to solidify the win.
It is BU’s third victory of the season against the Warriors, an especially important one given the time of year. The Terriers picked up two crucial Hockey East points and sit in sixth place — but just two points behind a quartet of teams tied for first.
“Even going back to last year, we have had [Merrimack’s] number quite a bit,” Rodrigues said. “I can’t really tell you what it is, we just seem to be ready to play them. We always come out with good starts. We needed this win, so it was good for us.”