Ice Hockey, Sports

California Cool: Long Beach boy Nieto comes up with game-winner

Friday night at the Mullins Center, as he nonchalantly leaned with his back against a wall outside the media room, Matt Nieto maintained his naturally calm and collected demeanor, despite an unimpressive 2-2 tie with University of Massachusetts and despite the Boston University men’s hockey team’s overall underwhelming success.

“We’re not worried at all right now,” the sophomore forward said. “We have a good team.”

Apparently he was right.

Nieto came out the very next night and tallied two assists and the game-winning goal in overtime, spurring the Terrier (3-2-1, 2-1-1 Hockey East) come-from-behind 5-4 win over the Minutemen (1-3-2, 0-3-2 Hockey East) at Agganis Arena.

That final goal, which came 28 seconds after a controversial cross-checking call on UMass defenseman Michael Marcou, was the climactic finish to a game that saw the Terriers overcome a 3-0 deficit to take a 4-3 lead, only to let the Minutemen tie it up as the period wound down.

With the win – and two important Hockey East points – on the line, Nieto came through with his fifth and most important point of the weekend.

“We had a power play and we spread them out pretty nicely,” Nieto said. “[Sophomore forward Charlie Coyle], he found an opening, an opening lane to me, got me the puck and I just kind of buried it on net and it went in.

“I just threw it up and lost sight of it right when I shot it. I heard a thump and everyone was celebrating so I threw my hands up in the air,” Nieto continued, unable to keep a slight smirk off of his face.

It was the cherry on top of good-sized sundae that was Nieto’s weekend. On Friday, he scored a goal and assisted another in the tie, and he built on that game with two assists – the latter of which knotted the game at three – and the game-winning tally on Saturday.

The big weekend for the Long Beach, Calif. native is a continuation of his already-hot start to his sophomore campaign, in which he has collected 10 points (six goals and four assists) in six games.

Nieto has also run his goal-scoring streak to eight consecutive games, dating back to game two of last year’s Hockey East quarterfinals against Northeastern University. It’s the longest streak of that sort since November 1996 when Chris Drury found the back of the net in nine straight.

The impressive start is, according to Nieto, a development that started at this time last year when Nieto started his BU career on a much slower note.

“Last year I didn’t have a great start, and I think I really focused on having a good start out of the gate this year,” Nieto said. “I’ve just been working hard and taking my shots out there. It’s pretty easy when you have Charlie [Coyle] and players like Sahir Gill and Alex Chiasson playing with me, so I’ve just been throwing it on net and it’s been going in for me.”

Nieto’s improvement wasn’t lost on the coaches commandeering either bench over the weekend, especially BU coach Jack Parker, who was pleased with left wing’s play on Friday and even more so on Saturday.

“He was on the puck, he was flying, he’s moving his feet, he’s getting to people, he’s not cruising around looking for a loose puck,” Parker said. “He’s going to force issues, force plays,”

On the other side, UMass coach Don Cahoon was thoroughly impressed with the San Jose Sharks’ second-round draft choice.

“He’s a real good player, he’s a real good player,” Cahoon reiterated. “He took care of business when he had opportunities. We made some crucial mistakes, and he capitalized.”

After the capitalizing – and the ensuing celebration – Nieto quietly sat at a table during the post-game press conference, already suited up a short 20 minutes after netting the game-winner, and spoke with the same calm and collected tone he did after Friday’s tie.

It was as if the results of the games were identical.

“We’ve been a team who has kind of come slow out of the gate early and we find ourselves in [losing early] a lot,” Nieto said. “We always make a fight back and we play until they end, so can’t complain.”

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