Friday, February 12, 2016

Merrimack Preview

The 2016 Beanpot champion Boston College Eagles will continue their push for a #1 seed in both the Hockey East and NCAA tournaments this weekend when they take on the Merrimack College Warriors. This is right around the time of year where teams zone in on their pairwise standing and thanks to a terrific month of hockey, the Eagles are currently the last #1 seed and tied with the Fighting Irish for first place in Hockey East. With BU, Lowell, Notre Dame, and PC all scheduled to play games against each other in the next three weeks, the Eagles have a chance to separate themselves from the pack if they can win these games vs Merrimack and Vermont before the season finale against Lowell.

It has been a difficult year for Merrimack and they're about to head into a building they have not won at in 18 years. Ouch. The Warriors are 8-14-6 thus far but picked up a quality tie last weekend vs UConn, a game where they outshot the Huskies by a 45-23 margin, which, considering MC's offensive tendencies, is an astounding stat. Their go to player is undoubtedly Brett Seney, a sixth round pick of the New Jersey Devils in last year's NHL Draft but the sophomore out of Western Canada has had to deal with some injury problems as he has missed 7 games over the course of the year. As is typically the case with Merrimack's teams, most of their scoring has come from upperclassmen, a group that makes up 4 of their top 5 scorers. Senior Brian Christie is the leading point getter for the blue and gold with 20 on the season, in fact, he is the only Warrior to break the 20 point threshold at this point. On the other end of the ice, Boston College has 7 players who have recorded 20 or more points, which is the most in Hockey East. The style of play that Merrimack brings to the table is the exact opposite of what BC tries to do. As you all know, the Eagles play fast, try to carry the puck into the zone to create plays, and often times have defenseman get involved in the offense. The Warriors, on the other hand, are noted for their neutral zone trap that will often leave opposing fans snoozing by the middle of the second period but to MC's credit, it has worked at times over the past few years, particularly in 2011. The reason for the difference in playing style stems back to recruiting because by and large, you will not see two teams built more differently, year in and year out, than Merrimack and BC. The Warriors make their living off of Western Canadian players who have played, two, sometimes three, years of junior hockey before arriving in North Andover- which is why they are often the oldest team in Hockey East. The good news is that BC has faced teams similar to Merrimack already this season such as RIT and Army (who beat the Warriors last month) and had some success.

To be honest, these are the type of games that make me a bit nervous. On paper, it should be no contest but when you look at BC's recent string of success and the fact that Merrimack is fighting to avoid going on the road in the first round, you can't help but think MC will come out flying. I know they have not had the season they would like to but Mark Dennehy always gets his guys going to face his alma mater, no matter how good or bad they may be. MC might not be the most skilled team BC faces all season but they're going to come out and frustrate the Eagles early on by banging bodies, preventing easy entrances, and attempting to bait BC into taking stupid penalties (which BU did a good job of on Monday). The Eagles will be without star left winger Miles Wood tomorrow night due to his suspension and if I had to guess, either Chris Calnan or Chris Brown will take his spot on a line with Cangelosi and Gilmour. Calnan, who I thought looked great when on the ice earlier this week, might be questionable given that his ankle is still giving him some fits. I don't think there is a need to force anyone who is banged up to play this weekend but with Wood out tomorrow, they will have to move a few parts.

Scouting Merrimack- 

Record- 8-14-6 (41st in pairwise)

Leading scorers- Brian Christie (6-14-20), Brett Seney (6-12-18), Hampus Gustafsson (6-12-18)

Team offense- 2.36 goals scored per game (46th)

Team defense- 2.79 goals against per game (33rd)

Power play- 12% (50th)

Penalty kill- 82% (36th)

Shots on goal per game- 29.21per game (41st)

Keys for BC- 

1. Early and often. I think the best way to get Merrimack out of their system is by getting out to an early lead and forcing them to create offense. The slower the game, the more it plays into MC's hands, the faster, the more it plays into BC's.

2. Power play. BC's man advantage ranks 18th in the country but it has been better as of late, outside of the BU game. It would be nice to see them pot a goal or two tomorrow.

3. Don't take the bait. Merrimack knows that if the majority of this game is played 5 on 5, BC has a huge advantage. Therefore, look for the Warriors to try and bait BC into taking stupid penalties that will lead to power play chances for MC.

Notes- Wood out, Calnan only other question mark.

Go Eagles

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