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Merrimack finishes just short of Hockey East title
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BOSTON — Merrimack was this close.
But Lane Hutson’s goal at the 1:57 mark of overtime clinched the Hockey East championship for Boston University, sending Merrimack home empty-handed.
However, the Warriors will still get another chance to raise a trophy. Thanks to St. Cloud State’s win over Colorado College, Merrimack will still make the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2011.
“Congrats to BU,” said Merrimack coach Scott Borek. “They played hard and well. I love my team. I really do love this team.”
Christian Felton scored shorthanded to give the Warriors a 1-0 lead at the 6:57 mark of the first period. Felton’s goal came while Mike Brown was in the box for a hooking minor. The Warriors were called for four penalties in the first period, including a pair within 10 seconds late in the period which gave BU a 5-on-3 power play. Early in the second period, Hutson scored his first of two goals when he scored on the 5-on-3.
“My team made their entire community proud, and frankly, I didn’t think they got treated very well tonight by the way the game was managed,” Borek said. “That was disappointing. After going through the games we’ve been through all year, it’s very disappointing in the way that game was managed.”
Brown was called for a slash at the 19:21 mark which gave BU a power play. Then Ben Brar was called for interference at 19:31.
“I thought the referee made a bad call,” Borek said on the Brar penalty. “His stick flew up in the air. I don’t want to lose sight of BU, and they are a great team, they’re the best team in the league, but we showed our guys clips before the game. We said we can’t put our sticks in certain places because theirs would fly up in the air. … Then the trip (on Tristan Crozier) in the first period, you can’t tell me that was a trip if the play at the end of the third wasn’t a trip. Embarrassing.”
Borek was referring to a play near the end of regulation when it appeared a Merrimack player was tripped as time expired. He was visibly animated on the bench at the buzzer.
Once again, Merrimack fans filled the TD Garden. The turnout this weekend was larger than the turnout Merrimack had in 2011, the last time they were in the building for the Hockey East tournament.
“I’ve lost a lot of games before, I’ve been fired from a job before, the wins and losses aren’t important,” Borek said. “The way the community rallied around us, from the beginning of the year until now, it’s unbelievable. I can’t thank our student body enough and our community enough for getting here. It’s an honor to coach at Merrimack.”
Merrimack played its third straight overtime game of the playoffs, and the Warriors were coming off Friday night’s double-overtime win over UMass Lowell. Merrimack has gone to overtime in seven out of its last 11 games.
“We came here to win it,” Borek said. “We competed hard. The biggest disappointment for us is we were playing for more than wins and losses. We’ve been through a lot this year. It was deeper. That what hurts the most about this.”
Borek admitted that fatigue may have been an issue late in the game. The Warriors didn’t get back to their hotel on Friday until after 1 a.m. BU also played in overtime, but it was a single overtime period, and the Terriers had the early game.
“I don’t want it to sound like an excuse, but I think we were running out of gas in the third,” he said. “Our forecheck was poor at times. The energy level at that point, it was an issue. But we got it back near the end of the third period. For a little bit we were playing not to lose, and you can’t do that against a great team like BU. BU is a great team. What’s frustrating is I thought two teams played great today, and one didn’t.”
Merrimack will learn its NCAA fate Sunday night during the NCAA selection show. Merrimack will likely face Quinnipiac in Bridgeport next Friday to open the NCAA Tournament, but that will be confirmed on Sunday.
“This team doesn’t want to stop playing together,” Borek said. “It sounds cliche, but we don’t want to separate. We want to keep playing.”
Merrimack will have that chance.