The crowd was just 2,768, with less than half the seats occupied in the 6,150 capacity of Agganis Arena on Friday night because the Boston University students are on spring break.
But the tributes were everywhere and the sentiment was heartfelt. One fan had a photoshopped picture of the new pope with coach Jack Parker’s face superimposed, with the words, “Pope Parker.’’
Other fans brought signs recognizing Parker’s 40 years of guiding the Terriers. Between the second and third periods, there was a video tribute to the bench boss. It closed with, “Thank you, coach.’’
Parker made his retirement official on Monday but he and his team demonstrated that they aren’t going anywhere just yet. The third-seeded Terriers dispatched No. 6 Merrimack, 3-0, in the opener of the best-of-three Hockey East quarterfinals.
Parker was pleased not only with the result, but with the way his team performed.
“I thought we really played well in the second and the third periods,’’ said Parker, who joked that he wasn’t a good enough Catholic to take on the pope’s job. “I liked our grit and I liked our poise with the puck. I thought we were jumpy a bit in the first period. All in all, it was a really good effort for us, but nothing has changed for Merrimack. They still have to beat BU two games [at Agganis]. I believe we played well tonight and I believe we’re going to have to play even better tomorrow night.’’
BU needs a victory Saturday or Sunday to advance to TD Garden.
It was the fourth meeting of the season, and the Terriers have won them all, by a combined score of 15-4.
Both sides had scoring chances in the opening 20 minutes. Play was controlled by Merrimack, though the period ended with no score.
Merrimack came within a post of scoring when freshman left wing John Gustafsson connected with iron just 1:45 into the action.
At 12:54, the visitors nearly got on the board when Connor Toomey threaded a terrific pass to sophomore defenseman Justin Mansfield in the left circle.
Mansfield’s tricky shot was gloved by freshman netminder Sean Maguire (30 saves).
At 14:46, the Warriors threatened again with junior center Rhett Bly making a bid from the doorstep, but Maguire blocked it with his pad.
The Terriers thought they had the lead at 1:15 of the second when freshman center Danny O’Regan picked up a deflected puck and fired it past junior goaltender Sam Marotta. But after a review, it was ruled that Marotta (42 saves) was interfered with and the goal was disallowed.
It didn’t matter, though, because at 6:10, BU got a goal off the stick of senior left wing Wade Megan. Freshman defenseman Ahti Oksanen delivered the puck down from the left point and Megan tipped it home to make it 1-0.
O’Regan had a chance to make up for the one he lost at 12:50 on a breakaway, which started in the neutral zone just 10 seconds after the Terriers had killed off a penalty. Unfortunately for him, he missed the net just wide on a backhander.
BU doubled its lead at 16:48. Evan Rodrigues, who was positioned in the right circle, dished a pass to junior left wing Matt Nieto in the slot. Nieto fired it past Marotta for his 17th of the season. It marked the 10th point in 10 games for Nieto against Merrimack.
A late penalty came back to haunt the Warriors. Defenseman Kyle Bigos was called for roughing with 43.2 seconds remaining, with the power play carrying over to the third.
At the 55-second mark, the Terriers made him pay. This time, O’Regan was rewarded for his strong play around the net with an assist. He scooted behind defenseman Dan Kolomatis and began jamming away at the top of the crease. Senior center Ryan Santana knocked in a loose puck to make it a three-goal game.
The Warriors got a scare with 2:23 remaining when junior left wing Mike Collins fell into Nieto, pushing him into Marotta. The goalie was shaken up briefly, but remained in the game.
The crowd’s final thank you to Parker came when it was clear the Terriers were going to win. The students pointed at Parker and chanted, “Legend,’’ then pointed to Marotta and chanted, “Sieve.’’
Merrimack coach Mark Dennehy was unimpressed with his team’s final two periods.
When asked if he had any general thoughts, Dennehy held up the second-period scoring sheet, reflecting BU’s first two goals and the turning point of the game.
“I thought we got off to a good start and that’s about it. The path of least resistance, we’ve been taking it the majority of the year,’’ he said.
“[BU defends] incredibly well. When their defensemen go to neutralize you, it’s over. We’ve got to work harder.’’