Entering last weekend’s home-and-home against the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, the Boston University hockey team was staring at a 2-8-1 record and realized that it would only take one win at a time to get back to the top of Hockey East — a place where they spent much time last season.
Well, the Terriers now have three wins in a row toward that goal, after pulling a greasy, gritty 3-2 victory over the University of Maine Friday at Walter Brown Arena in front of 3,603 vociferous fans. After going down, 1-0, early in the game on a power-play goal from Martin Kariya, the Terriers scored three unanswered — and even-strength, no less — goals courtesy of junior wing Mike Pandolfo, freshman forward Frantisek Skladany and sophomore defenseman Freddy Meyer.
“As I told the guys in the dressing room, this brought us back from the dead,” said BU coach Jack Parker. “We were so bad the first semester. To win these last three was real important for us. … We’re making a statement that we can play with teams now and play hard.”
What was perhaps most impressive about Friday’s performance was that BU seemed to play better hockey and get stronger as the game progressed, as opposed to earlier games this season — such as against Colorado College and Northeastern University — when the Terriers have played much less than 60 minutes of solid hockey.
“We were a little rattled during the first 10 minutes of the game,” said Parker, referring to the timeframe when BU went down, 1-0. “During the second period, I thought we were handling [the puck] like it was a grenade. We were overpassing it; we were jumpy with the puck. But I really did think our best period was the third period, from a control point-of-view. And we had a lot of poise killing penalties.”
Indeed, BU killed off four power plays during the last two periods and while Maine outshot BU, 19-14, over the first two periods, it was the Terriers that dominated the flow of play in the third, outshooting the Black Bears, 11-6.
Maine went downhill from the start of the third as leading scorer Chris Heisten was hip-checked by Meyer only 1:19 in and had to be carried off the ice with an apparent knee injury. After the game, Maine coach Shawn Walsh said the team suspects Heisten has a torn medial collateral ligament and is lost for the year.
The Black Bears then had back-to-back power plays but could only register two shots on net despite constant pressure on the BU defense. After Meyer scored at the 5:12 mark with the eventual game-winner, Maine seemed to awaken and managed to crank out a goal by forward Matthias Trattnig to cut the lead to 3-2. But after Trattnig received a boarding penalty two minutes later, Maine seemed to have the wind taken out of its sails.
So BU now has a three-game winning streak going into the Dec. 29 showdown against No. 2 University of North Dakota at the Badger Showdown in Wisconsin. The defense has not allowed more than two goals in each of the last three games, and it seems now that defense — the most heralded aspect of this Terrier squad going into this season — is poised to make good on all the preseason praise.
“I really like BU, defensively, tonight,” Walsh said. “I think they are better than their record. I saw their team against New Hampshire and that was a game I think they should have won. They outplayed them, they didn’t get any breaks, and they didn’t score. So, clearly they’re better than a 5-8-1 team.”
That, however, does remain to be seen.