When the final shot of Saturday’s 5-0 win for the Boston University men’s hockey team over the University of New Hampshire rang off a post behind goaltender Kieran Millan as time expired, it served as a jarring reminder that the post was the closest the Wildcats would come to scoring all night.
Millan’s shutout was the sixth of his career and the win was his 62nd, tying him with former Terrier Sean Fields for the most wins by a goaltender in program history.
To be sure, Millan’s faltering defense created plenty of opportunities for the Wildcats – two-on-ones, three-on-twos, close-range shots – but Millan stood unwavering in net.
It was a stark contrast to the Millan of the week before, who looked flappable and frustrated as St. Francis Xavier University exposed him in an exhibition game by scoring five goals on 17 shots.
“I went into the dressing room and I asked Kieran, ‘Who was that guy wearing your uniform last week,’” coach Jack Parker said. “I’ve never seen him look like that ever, and I’ve seen him look like tonight a lot of times, so I’m glad to have him back.”
Millan answered postgame questions in his typical quiet, calm manner.
He said it was easy for him to wipe the memory of his horrific exhibition game from his mind and enter Saturday’s season opener collected and prepared.
“It’s an important game whereas last week was one where I was trying to get my feet wet,” Millan said. “It didn’t exactly go the way I wanted it to go, but in the end it didn’t mean anything so it was easy for me to re-focus and get ready.”
Millan also had plenty of support and encouragement throughout the seven days between games. Millan’s teammates and his coach proclaimed after last Saturday’s debacle that they trusted Millan fully to return to form against UNH.
Most importantly, Millan was able to identify why he struggled in the exhibition game.
“We had a lot of practice time and I had a couple extra fitness tests I had to do because I didn’t pass them all the first time,” Millan said. “It was a pretty tough week physically and I think that just weighed me down a little bit. This week, I was back to my usual self.
Millan certainly looked to be in midseason form when, in the first 10 minutes of the game, he frustrated UNH on a breakaway and two separate two-on-one rushes.
In the second period, UNH peppered Millan with 18 shots and enjoyed multiple shorthanded opportunities. With a little more than six minutes left in the period, an Eric Knodel shot appeared to carom wide of Millan’s glove, but he stretched out his glove to make a difficult save, then shrugged as he bounced it in the pocket of the glove as if to say, ‘No big deal.’
“He looked really poised,” Parker said. “He was on the puck. He was out of the crease. His glove looked terrific tonight so he had his glove in the right spot.
“He was having a little trouble where he was holding it [last Saturday] and from the get-go, he looked very, very poised.”
But shutouts do not happen just on the strong play of a goaltender.
Hockey is a team sport, and the zero on the scoreboard was a reflection of a team effort. Last season, Millan lost three potential
shutouts in the last two minutes of regulation largely because the team around him would collapse and stop playing thorough hockey.
The goaltender never admitted frustration with his defense after any of those games, but he was clearly appreciative of the effort from his teammates Saturday that allowed him the shutout.
“There were some individual efforts that really helped, like I know Kevin [Gilroy] beat a guy down the ice for an icing,” Millan said. “I think that’s the fastest I’ve ever seen him skate in my three years and a little bit.
“Just guys really buying into the system and putting in a good effort like that. It not only goes a long way for me keeping pucks in front of the net, but it makes me feel good about my teammates and know that they respect me and are willing to put themselves on the line to keep the puck out of the net.”