Luck robbed junior forward Matt Nieto of multiple chances at a hat trick Tuesday, but the Boston University men’s hockey team will take the two goals it got from the junior forward in a 5-2 win over Merrimack College.
Nieto scored both of the Terriers’ (15-14-2, 12-9-2 Hockey East) second-period goals — their fourth and fifth of the game — giving them a cushion that came in handy later when Merrimack (14-12-6, 12-8-3 Hockey East) scored twice in the third. BU is now 6-2-2 when Nieto scores a goal and 9-5-2 when he has a point. Along with his linemates, he led the way in the most dominant offensive performance BU has had in months.
“The puck jumped in the net for us,” said BU coach Jack Parker. “We got some pucks, we made some nice plays, got some goals, took the pressure off.”
Both of Nieto’s goals were of the highlight-reel variety. On the first, sophomore center Danny O’Regan sent Nieto a perfectly timed pass across the slot, and Nieto knocked it past Merrimack goalie Rasmus Tirronen while diving through the air. Nieto began the play himself back in the neutral zone, finding O’Regan with a pass as he cut through center ice.
His second goal came from a long breakout pass by senior defenseman Sean Escobedo, who also set up a goal for Nieto’s linemate, sophomore wing Evan Rodrigues, by blocking a shot to send him on a rush in the first period.
Escobedo hit Nieto with a pass as Nieto approached the Merrimack blue line, and, having snuck behind the defense, Nieto had ample time to fire a wrist shot over Tirronen.
“Their ‘D’ likes to pinch up, and our coach has a play that we have been running,” Nieto said. “I just found a lane and Escobedo made a terrific pass, and I was in all alone and luckily it went in.”
Nieto also appeared to score late in the first period, when he collected a rebound from freshman defenseman Matt Grzelcyk and threw a slow, turning shot on net. But the puck glanced off sophomore center Cason Hohmann on the way in, and so the play became Nieto’s 14th assist of the year instead of his 10th goal.
“I just spun around and tried to get it on net, and it went off Hohmann’s skate, I think,” Nieto said with a laugh. “So he got the goal. He was credited with it, so good for him.”
Late in the game, when Merrimack took a series of penalties, Nieto took the ice on the power play with a chance to complete the hat trick. But Tirronen limited the Terriers’ chances, and Nieto remained without a three-goal night in his BU career.
Last year, Nieto had 16 goals and 22 assists for 42 points. With four games remaining in the regular season, he has 11 goals and 14 assists — and the points have come in bunches for him this year.
The drop-off in production has not been for lack of trying. Nieto now has 97 shots, more than any other Terrier except senior captain Wade Megan. But Nieto entered Tuesday’s game with a .097 shooting percentage, easily the worst of any BU forward with more than 10 points, suggesting some bad luck.
By scoring two goals on four shots Tuesday, he lifted his shooting percentage to .113 — still lower than all the other forwards on BU’s first two lines, but a leap in the right direction.
Tuesday was Nieto’s first multi-goal game of the year — his second with three points — and it came when BU sorely needed a decisive victory.
“Danny O’Regan’s line — Nieto, O’Regan and Rodrigues — had a hell of a night,” Parker said. “In general, it was a solid effort against a very, very good team.”