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No. 3 Terriers begin Hockey East Tournament play with quarterfinal series against Merrimack

Matt O’Connor is ready for his chance to shine. The junior goaltender for the No. 3 Boston University men’s hockey team has had just once chance in his career to play in a playoff game. But this season, O’Connor has the opportunity to backstop BU to a deep playoff run.

That road for O’Connor and top-seeded BU (21-7-5, 14-5-3 Hockey East) starts with a Hockey East quarterfinal matchup against Merrimack College in a best-of-three series, beginning on Friday evening at Agganis Arena.

O’Connor missed all of BU’s 2012-13 playoff run when he was hospitalized with a collapsed lung in early March 2013. Then-freshman goaltender Sean Maguire took over lead netminding duties for the entire postseason.

Maguire played four games in the Hockey East Tournament, when BU ultimately fell in the final against an eventual Frozen Four qualifier, the University of Massachusetts Lowell.

O’Connor, whose only playoff experience came in a 3-2 first-round loss to the University of Notre Dame on March 8, 2014, said he has been getting some advice from Maguire entering the postseason. He also feels confident that playing like he has recently — including allowing just one goal in BU’s final regular-season game against Northeastern University on Feb. 28 — will be beneficial as BU seeks its first Hockey East Tournament championship since 2009.

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After capturing the conference’s regular-season title, junior netminder Matt O’Connor and the No.3 Boston University men’s hockey team enter the Hockey East Tournament as the number one seed. PHOTO BY ALEXANDRA WIMLEY/DAILY FREE PRESS STAFF

“I think playoffs are determined by grit, execution, but also goaltending,” O’Connor said. “If I continue to amp up my game like I did the last game of the season and carry that kind of style of play into this game [Friday] night, I think we’ll be in good hands.”

O’Connor and the Terriers enter the tournament on two weeks’ rest, having earned a first-round bye by way of the team’s first-place regular season finish. Head coach David Quinn and O’Connor said the bye week gave BU an opportunity to heal, both mentally and physically, though they’re all more than ready to get back on the ice.

“We took advantage of the off time and got some rest,” Quinn said. “Got some real good practices, but I think the guys are a little bit tired of practicing and looking forward to getting to play hockey tomorrow night. It’s been a while.”

Eleventh-seeded Merrimack (16-16-4, 5-14-3 Hockey East), conversely, earned its way into the quarterfinals with a first-round upset sweep of fifth-seeded Northeastern University last Friday, March 6, and Saturday.

Both victories came in overtime, with senior Kyle Singleton scoring in the first victory and freshman Mathieu Tibbet recording a double-overtime goal in the latter. The two wins were Merrimack’s first since Jan. 30.

Merrimack goaltender Rasmus Tirronen ranks third in Hockey East in goals allowed, with an average of 2.14 per game and a league-best .931 save percentage. O’Connor trails that closely with a 2.21 goals-against average and a .927 save percentage on the year.

BU has had success against Merrimack, beating the Warriors on Dec. 6, 2014, a day after earning a 1-1 tie against them. Junior right wing Danny O’Regan recorded a hat trick in that victory for the Terriers.

“You have to be patient,” Quinn said about Merrimack. “You have to match their grit and their desire and determination. They’re disciplined. They play a good defensive system. They wait you out. They’ll frustrate you.”

Should BU pull off two wins and avoid another Merrimack upset this weekend, it will qualify for a semifinal appearance at TD Garden on March 20.

Quinn said he isn’t concerned about any playoff jitters, given BU’s experience winning the regular-season title and its previous trip to TD Garden, where the team won a Beanpot title.

“The fact that we’ve been able to play in a tournament like the Beanpot, that’s so beneficial to all of our players,” Quinn said. “Especially a team as young as ours. For us to have success in big games, you’ve got to play in front of some hostile crowds and big environments, and we did that in the Beanpot.”

And with two trophies already to their name, the Terriers are ready to begin their quest for a third — and possibly a fourth at the NCAA level. But BU is focused on the task at hand.

“I’m pretty excited to play in the Hockey East playoffs and hopefully go to the Garden after a successful weekend here [at Agganis],” O’Connor said. “I’m kind of like a kid on Christmas, excited to get out there and earn every game from now on out.”

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Sarah covers men's hockey and other sports for The Daily Free Press, and is the chairman of Back Bay Publishing Co., Inc. She served as Editor-in-Chief of the FreeP during the Spring 2014 semester and was Sports Editor in Fall 2013. She has also written for the Boston Globe and When she's not writing, she loves baking and going to concerts. You can contact her by tweeting her at @Kirkpatrick_SJ or emailing her at

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