Ice Hockey, Sports

Shorthanded BU defense shines in quarterfinal victory over Merrimack

Even with just five men as opposed to the usual six, the No. 3 Boston University men’s hockey team’s defense came through.

Brandon Fortunato had a season-best four shots on goal against Merrimack on Friday. PHOTO BY JUSTIN HAWK/DAILY FREE PRESS FILE PHOTO
Brandon Fortunato had a season-best four shots on goal against Merrimack on Friday. PHOTO BY JUSTIN HAWK/DAILY FREE PRESS FILE PHOTO

Freshman defenseman John MacLeod, a game-time decision, sat out his second straight game with an upper-body injury. With sophomore forward/defenseman T.J. Ryan also unavailable due to an upper-body injury, BU head coach David Quinn chose to play with just five defensemen on the roster in Game 1 of a Hockey East Tournament quarterfinal against Merrimack College on Friday at Agganis Arena.

And though three of those active defensemen for BU (22-7-5) had never played a postseason game in a career, those three freshmen — Brien Diffley, Brandon Fortunato and Brandon Hickey — made an impact on offense in their playoff debuts in BU’s eventual 6-2 win over the Warriors (16-17-4).

Terrier defensemen accounted for five points on Friday: Diffley had two assists, and Fortunato, Hickey and junior captain Matt Grzelcyk each had a helper apiece. Along with sophomore Doyle Somerby, the five combined for 13 of BU’s 46 shots on goal.

“Merrimack backed off, especially in the neutral zone so they gave the d a lot of space,” explained BU senior assistant captain Evan Rodrigues, whose goal in the second period was assisted by Grzelcyk and Diffley. “They took it and wheeled with the puck and then in the offensive zone they collapsed a lot, so we tried to use our points and try to get to the front of the net.

“They were obviously doing a great job of getting it through. Merrimack usually bottles up and tries to just block as many shots as they can. The D did an unbelievable job just kind of helping, getting around them, getting it on net.”

The defensemen also made an impact for BU in their usual tasks. Fortunato, in particular, came up with a big play in the third period. With BU junior goaltender Matt O’Connor out of his crease and a wide-open shot coming from Merrimack, Fortunato jumped in the net to stop the Warriors’ opportunity.

Fortunato, who has not taken a penalty all year, also had a season-best four shots on goal against the Warriors.

“He’s been doing a lot of good things for a long time,” Quinn said about his freshman. “He’s had a great year, he’s playing with a lot of confidence, moving his feet, moving the puck. For a small guy, he defends well, he’s got an active stick, he’s on the right side of people.”

Was there concern about fatigue while playing without a full lineup of defenseman? Not for Quinn. They’ve done it before — on Jan. 24, in a 2-1 overtime win against the University of Vermont, when Somerby was suspended for a game.

In fact, Quinn said, forget fatigue — the team might even play better with just five defensemen suited.

“Our D, when we get to play like that and get into a rhythm, actually might play better,” Quinn said. “I wasn’t worried about the fatigue factor. You’ve got the TV timeouts. Our guys are smart on their changes and not staying out too long.”

Quinn also quipped: “Christ, they’re 18 to 22 years old. They better never get tired, for crying out loud.”

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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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