NORTH ANDOVER — Boston University has dominated Merrimack since the rivalry started in 1964. But the Terriers have not had an easy time with the Warriors recently, and BU had to be resourceful to pull out a 4-3 win in a Hockey East game Friday night.
Dante Fabbro completed a hat trick, converting the deciding goal late in the third period as BU (10-11-2, 8-7-2 Hockey East) won at Lawler Arena for the first time since the 2012-13 season. Merrimack (8-11-4, 4-8-2) swept the two-game series with BU last season and was seeking to defeat the Terriers three times in succession for the first time.
BU, playing without leading scorer Patrick Harper, broke a power play drought and converted thrice in a 1:10 span late in the opening period.
“Our power play,” BU coach David Quinn said, “anyone who was there on Saturday night [BU went 0 for 6 on power plays in a 2-2 tie with Providence], it was not fun to watch. We didn’t have a team practice since Dec. 7 [but] at least we were able to practice a couple times with the power play and it showed.”
Fabbro, Harper, defenseman Kasper Kotkansalo, goalie Jake Oettinger and Brady Tkachuk left BU after a Dec. 9 game to play in the World Junior Championships in Buffalo. Harper (flu) also missed the Providence game and is doubtful for Saturday night’s BU-Merrimack rematch at Agganis Arena.
Quinn’s adjustments on the power play paid off after BU fell behind early.
“I thought Brady needed to be more involved in the power play,” Quinn said. “He’s much more than just a net-front presence. He makes great plays and moves the puck well. So, him on that half-wall, people may not perceive him to be that player but he’s got the stick skills to do it.”
Merrimack’s Brett Seney opened the scoring with the first of his two goals at 4:39. Seney‘s shot slipped past Oettinger near post after he sped through the left circle, sandwiched by two BU defenders.
Fabbro equalized, one-timing from the left circle off a Jordan Greenway feed 35 seconds into a power play at 17:07. Shane Bowers broke the deadlock with a backhander, his 10th goal of the season, at 17:54. Fabbro then upped the lead to 3-1 with a shot from the right point over Craig Pantano’s left shoulder at 18:17.
The Warriors rallied in the second period, outshooting BU, 14-7. Mark Biega cut the Merrimack deficit on assists from Cole McBride and Jonathan Kovacevic 14 seconds into a power play at 17:34 of the period.
“I really thought we were sluggish in the first period, yet we come out with a 3-1 lead,” Quinn said. “Then, I thought we were much better in the second period, and we lose the period, 1-0. Some chances jump out, I don’t know how we missed them. Some unbelievable chances in the second period, we could’ve gotten it to 4-1 and make it a little bit easier on ourselves. Then, they get the goal, 3-2.”
Merrimack retained its momentum in the third period, Seney wristing over Oettinger’s right shoulder from the left circle for his eighth goal of the season to equalize at 4:48.
Fabbro’s third goal (and seventh of the season) gave BU the lead at 15:33. Fabbro converted from the slot 19 seconds after Bowers won a faceoff following offsetting minors for hitting after the whistle.
“I thought we played too well not to get at least a point,” Merrimack coach Mark Dennehy said. “That makes it a little harder on ourselves because now we’ve got to go into their barn and get points, because you’ve got to get points each weekend or you can get behind in a hurry.”
Fabbro became the first BU defenseman to score a hat trick since Matt Grzelcyk in a 7-2 win at UMass on Jan. 9, 2016.
“I was struggling with injuries in the World Juniors,” said Fabbro, who played for Canada’s championship team in the tournament. “That was, obviously, an unbelievable experience for me, playing against some of the best players in your age group in the world. Coming back and trying to implement that in your college team is definitely huge.
“With the start we had first half, it’s nothing you want. And I think if we get off on the right foot second half we can definitely put ourselves in a position to move forward.”