LOWELL – Before the college hockey season began, No. 12 Boston University men’s hockey coach Jack Parker made it very clear who his top goaltender would be.
Senior Kieran Millan deserved the spot, Parker said, after three years of strong play in net and a 2010-11 season in which he was named as the team’s most valuable player. Millan’s roommate and close friend Grant Rollheiser would have to play second fiddle as a result of poorly timed injuries and Millan’s advantageous play.
But just seven games into the season, that landscape has changed in a hurry. Millan has played nowhere close to his usual stellar self through five of his six starts this season. He has not won a game since Oct. 15, when the Terriers (3-3-1, 2-2-1 Hockey East) topped then-No. 3 University of Denver and Millan won his 63rd game as a Terrier, a program record in career wins.
Excepting a shutout against the University of New Hampshire in the season opener, Millan has a .871 save percentage. Entering the season, Millan had a .911 career save percentage. In the goalie world, the difference between a .871 save percentage and a .911 save percentage can be the difference between a starting goalie and his backup.
Meanwhile, Rollheiser has picked up Millan’s slack. In a 5-4 win over the University of Massachusetts, Rollheiser bounced back from a three-goal deficit in the first period to remain poised and hold the Minutemen to just one more goal for the rest of the night.
In Saturday night’s 7-1 loss to University of Massachusetts-Lowell, Rollheiser relieved Millan after the starter gave up six goals through two periods. Rollheiser gave up just one goal on a play where his defense completely abandoned him, leaving River Hawk (3-3-0, 1-2-0 Hockey East) forward Derek Arnold wide open in the slot for a one-timer.
None of the Terriers were willing to admit Millan was off his game Saturday night. Instead, they cited the common reason that the defense in front of the goaltender did not do enough to help him.
“I don’t think he played extremely well tonight,” Parker said. “We left him out to dry in front of him. There were a couple goals we’d like to have back. It was a mess in front of the net.”
That said, the defense could potentially deserve its share of the blame for Saturday’s 7-1 fiasco – as does every facet of the team – but defensive miscues do not account for why Millan kicked a puck out to Arnold, who in turn fired the puck past Millan for the River Hawks’ second goal of the night.
After the game, Parker initially said in a 19-second press conference that, “not one guy played well,” for the Terriers, but later amended his comment when he returned a few minutes later to take questions.
“I think he did okay,” Parker said of Rollheiser’s play. “He had a lot of tough shots here, a lot of tough situations. I was happy with his play. And I should say he’s the only guy, literally there wasn’t one [other] guy that played well.”
Rollheiser’s statistics do not jump off the page this season, but they still look better than Millan’s.
Millan’s play has been problematic in the early goings, and Parker has said for a few weeks now that those who play well will be rewarded with future play. If Parker’s statement applies to his goaltenders as well, it seems that with Rollheiser playing well in the shadows, the pressure is now on Millan to play better or, like many other players on the team, see less ice time.
In a little more than 83 minutes of action, he has given up five goals on 47 shots to earn a goals against average of 3.61, which is slightly lower than Millan’s 3.67. He owns a .894 save percentage through four periods of play.
Rollheiser, said assistant captain Justin Courtnall, has also remained dedicated in practice despite his lesser role on the team.
“I think Rollheiser is doing a really good job stepping in,” Courtnall said. “He did a great job last weekend and he’s working extremely hard in practice. He’s being a good teammate. Tonight he showed that even further by stepping in and really stopping the door.”