The No. 18/19 Boston University men’s hockey team received a crushing blow to its defense when junior defenseman Garrett Noonan separated his shoulder, forcing him to miss the rest of the season. With sophomore defenseman Alexx Privitera already missing the rest of the campaign due to a team suspension, the Terriers (18-15-2, 15-10-2 Hockey East) were whittled down to starting their final player on the roster, junior forward/defenseman Matt Ronan.
Down to its last resort, BU’s defense excelled Saturday night at Agganis Arena and held Northeastern University scoreless in a 5-0 BU win.
The defensive dominance started early for the Terriers, as they held Northeastern (9-21-4, 5-18-4 Hockey East) without a shot for a little over the first 18 minutes of the game. The Huskies barely controlled the puck in BU’s zone at all during the frame, as they only attempted eight shots — two of which were blocked.
Part of the success was due to the strong defensive-zone play of freshman defenseman Ahti Oksanen. Oksanen, who is recognized as an offensive-minded blueliner and has struggled in his own zone at times this season, had one of his best games as a Terrier in terms of positioning.
Oksanen, who is 6-foot-3 and 201 pounds, struggled to handle some of the bigger forwards by BU’s goaltenders earlier in the season when BU lost to Northeastern twice, and even in Friday night’s BU win. However, Oksanen was more successful against Northeastern’s bigger forwards Saturday night.
“Ahti played real well tonight,” said BU coach Jack Parker. “He struggled a little bit last night, but he came back and played physical, played better with the puck.”
While Oksanen did not produce any offense on the night, three of his fellow defenders did. Senior defenseman Sean Escobedo, who celebrated Senior Night after the game, led defensemen with two assists in the game.
Escobedo, who is usually considered a defensive-minded defenseman, recorded his third multi-assist game of the season Saturday night. He was also a plus-2 on the night and blocked two shots, which leaves him tied for the national lead with 91 blocks.
“I think [Escobedo is] the best defenseman in the league, defensive defenseman for sure,” Parker said. “He really gave us a lot of minutes and played well too.”
While Escobedo is not known for his offense, perhaps the most surprising point of the night came when Ronan earned his first career assist. Ronan rifled a wrist shot toward Huskies goaltender Chris Rawlings that junior forward Sahir Gill tipped into the back of the net. At first glance, it looked as if Ronan scored his first career goal in his fifth career game.
“I’d give [the goal] to him gladly if I could,” Gill said. “Maybe I shouldn’t have tipped it. But I was real happy for him.”
With Noonan watching the game from the stands, Ronan will be a part of the team’s lineup the rest of the season. Parker played five defensemen for most of the night, but appeared to give Ronan more ice time as his team’s lead expanded.
“[Ronan] played well in the defensive zone,” Parker said. “That’s what he’s got to do most, but he didn’t look nervous out there at all and he played well. Good for him.”
BU’s success against Northeastern’s offense bodes well for the Terriers entering the Hockey East quarterfinals against Merrimack College next week. Merrimack’s offense was only slightly better than Northeastern’s during the regular season, averaging only .06 more goals per game.
“This is where it counts,” Gill said. “Win, you’re in, you lose, you’re out. Good finish to the season, but that’s all it is. It’s time to kick it up a notch and make it count.”