Thursday, February 14, 2013

Previewing the Merrimack College Warriors

Tomorrow night the #4 Boston College Eagles will look to ride their BC Invitational momentum into a huge date with the second place (In Hockey East) Merrimack Warriors @ Lawler Arena in North Andover. The Eagles and Warriors have met once so far this season with Boston College coming out on top in thrilling fashion, winning 4-3 after being down 3-0 early in the second period. Look, BC is playing real well right now but the hottest team in Hockey East might just be Merrimack. They're coming off wins vs UMass, Lowell, and UNH (on the road). This Merrimack team is not stacked with talent like they were in 2011 but they have a deep lineup, especially on their blue line as they're led by senior Kyle Bigos and rising junior Jordan Heywood. Both of whom rank as some of the top defenseman in Hockey East. The Warriors play a defensive first style of hockey that starts with solid play from these two and goalie Sam Marotta, someone that struggled at the beginning of the year but has definitely been one of the hottest goalies in the East over the past few weeks. Expect them to play their typical neutral zone trap game. They are going to try and do what Northeastern did in the first period on Monday night. Blog passing lanes, don't give BC anything through the neutral zone, and try to limit the Eagles' offensive chances. The problem for the Warriors is that they have yet to play a team with the type of speed and skill that BC has, especially on it's top couple of lines. BC has got to find a way dictate the pace in this game. The Eagles play as up tempo of a style as you will see anywhere in college hockey. Merrimack plays the exact opposite style, and it works...IF they get good goaltending. Look for the Eagles to do what they did vs Rawlings on Monday night. Try to get Marotta moving laterally as much as possible and try to get as many pucks to the net as they possibly can. If I remember correctly, this guys gave up a ton of rebounds earlier this season in Chestnut Hill. Get the puck to the net and crash on any rebound chances.

Now, if you've been to Lawler Arena, you'd know it's as big of a home ice advantage as you can possibly have. It's small and it's very loud for games like Boston College. The small ice surface has given the Eagles their fair share of fits over the past few season as they are 1-3 in their last 4 games there. The win came last season when Paul Carey scored a late third period goal. They say the ice is the same as Conte and other Hockey East rinks but I don't believe it. The surface looks smaller, the corners are tighter which gives BC less room to get out and skate. That's why they've had a hard time up there.

As for the lineups, I think the Eagles matchup rather well vs Merrimack. The Warriors have just one player (Mike Collins) that has scored more than 5 goals this season. Not to mention he had a rough game earlier this year vs the defending National Champs, going for 0 points and a -1 rating. Look for the staff to either put out the Arnold or Mullane line vs Collins' line every time they're on the ice. On Monday, the Mullane line started out versus Roy's line but as the game grew older, they started to put Arnold, Hayes, and Whitney against NU's big three. We'll see what happens tomorrow. The Warriors don't score a ton of goals (they rank 7th in HEA in goals per game) but they do what every Mark Dennehy team does, play really good team defense. As of tonight, Merrimack ranks 2nd in the league in goals given up per game as they've only allowed an average of 2.39 per game so far this season.  In terms of special teams, Merrimack has the 7th best power play in Hockey East (15%) and the 3rd ranked PK (84.8%).

This is a huge game. There is no other way to say it. The winner gets sole possession of first place and a victory for the Eagles would give them the season series plus a multiple game cushion over both MC and UNH (Sundays opponent). I look for BC to just try and continue what they did on Monday night. Get out and create odd man rushes, pounce on rebounds, drive to the net, and on the defensive end, just avoid dumb turnovers. The improvement I've seen in this team from the weekend in Maine weekend to now has been dramatic. Let's hope it continues tomorrow night.

Keys for BC-

1. Pressure this goalie. If Merrimack is going to win, let it be because Sam Marotta played the game of his life. This is his first home game against Boston College and there can be a lot of pressure. Test him early and often.

2. Don't go down 3-0 Again. Don't expect the Warriors to let up a 3 goal lead again, especially at home.

3. Convert on power play chances. The PP wasn't great on Monday night...probably the only rough spot I took out of the game actually. Expect both units to get back to their A games tomorrow night.

Scouting Merrimack-

Pairwise Rank- 20

Hockey East Standings- 2nd (one point behind BC)

Leading Scorer- Mike Collins 15-19-34

Best Wins- Vs UNH (x2), @ PC,

Worst Losses- @ Alaska Anchorage, vs UConn

Go Eagles !

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