Ice Hockey, Sports

Men’s hockey expects tough Merrimack team Tuesday

The No. 19 Boston University men’s hockey team may not have had practice Sunday, but BU coach Jack Parker spent his afternoon the same way a lot of college hockey fans in the area did: Watching No. 4 Boston College beat No. 17 Merrimack College in overtime.

And what Parker saw concerned him to an extent. The Warriors held Hockey East’s top offense — the third best in the country — to a single goal in regulation using a defense extremely similar to the one that stifled the Terriers (14-14-2, 11-9-2 Hockey East) all weekend.

“[Merrimack] played exactly like Lowell,” Parker said, referring to the team that held BU to one goal in two games over the weekend. “One man went down and then backed off. The other four guys waited at center ice because they wanted to bottle BC up and not give them anything through center ice.

“The bottom line is they played BC completely differently than they’ve played all year long.”

It could spell trouble for BU when the Warriors (14-11-6, 12-7-3 Hockey East) visit Agganis Arena at 7 p.m. Tuesday, a game the teams have to squeeze in after winter storm Nemo postponed it from its original Feb. 8 date.

Parker said he expects Merrimack to play its usual aggressive forecheck Tuesday — rather than the trap it rolled out against BC — but the team prepared for both Monday afternoon just in case.

“I would imagine we’ll see the usual stuff from Merrimack,” Parker said.

Unfortunately for the Terriers, “the usual stuff” also features Mike Collins, seen by some as a conference player of the year candidate.

Collins has put up 15 goals and 20 assists, head and shoulders above Merrimack’s next best point-getter. A trio of juniors, forward Shawn Bates (six goals, nine assists), defenseman Jordan Heywood (five goals, 10 assists) and forward Rhett Bly (five goals, 10 assists) have notched 15 points apiece.

“They have one guy with a lot of points, but he’s not getting those points by himself,” Parker said. “They have a lot of speed, too.”

At the other end, junior Sam Marotta has been rock solid in net for the last month and a half. His 2.01 goals-against average and a .931 save percentage are both near the top in Hockey East.

After an early-season goalie platoon, Marotta separated himself with a 1.3 GAA in his last eight games.

“I would be flabbergasted if [Marotta is] not playing tomorrow. He’s playing very well,” Parker said. “[To score on him] you got to make sure there’s indirect [shots], rebound opportunities to get there. You’re not going to get direct shots by this kid.”

The Terriers, meanwhile, will remain static, with a goalie rotation in place and midseason departures having sapped BU’s depth. BU will have zero lineup changes as freshman goaltender Matt O’Connor (2.91 GAA, .909 save percentage) gets the start between the pipes.

Parker did say, however, that he plans to rotate the top three lines while giving the fourth sparse ice time. Fourth-line center, senior Ryan Santana, will continue to get his time on special teams as the coach tries to get his top skaters going with more ice time.

With Merrimack sitting in fourth place in the conference, just three points ahead of sixth-place BU with five games to play, Parker said Tuesday is a must-win for the Terriers — as they all are this time of year, he insisted.

But if the team wants to turn it around and finagle a top-four spot to get home-ice advantage in the Hockey East quarterfinals, it has to stop trying too hard and stop holding its sticks so tight, according to Parker.

“As a team, we’re worried about the little things,” Parker said. “If we had won five in a row we wouldn’t have that feeling. But it starts to weigh on you. You lose your confidence. A ‘here we go again’ type of thing. We just have to push through that as well.”

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