NORTH ANDOVER — Ladies and gentlemen, your Merrimack Warriors — projected to finish eighth in the Hockey East preseason coach’s poll — are in first place here on Feb. 16.
And they are looking very much like Boston College typically does at this part of the year.
Merrimack, which won 2-1 in overtime over the Eagles here at Lawler Arena to jump one point ahead of BC in Hockey East, squandered several scoring chances in the first period, then fell behind 1-0 in the second while being outshot 15-11. The Eagles’ second period goal was ruled a goal only after being reviewed.
Momentum buster, right?
The Warriors kept on playing tough and won like good teams do during February and on home ice. They played like BC, a program that’s gone 48-4-3 since Feb. 1 over the last four seasons.
Since the beginning of January, Merrimack is 8-2-1. The Warriors are 4-0-0 in February. They arguably are playing their best hockey since the first half of the 2011-12 campaign when they went 9-0-1 in October and November and earned the No. 1 ranking in Division 1.
There is a huge difference, however, between last year’s hot streak and this one. This one comes at a time when it matters the most. The best college hockey teams play best after the New Year. Merrimack is playing better than anybody else right now and they doing it against the best of the best.
Of Merrimack’s four wins this month, three have been against squads ranked in the latest top 15 of the country (No. 4 BC, No. 5 New Hampshire and No. 14 UMass Lowell).
So how the heck is Merrimack, a team that went 4-7-2 in the first two months of this year, doing what it is doing right now?
Well, it’s a combination of terrific goaltending by Sam Marotta, strong defense, a killer penalty kill and some timely scoring.