Ice Hockey, Sports

Matt Nieto poised to improve performance

With a 5-on-3 advantage in the second period, fans eagerly yelled at the No. 10/11 Boston University men’s hockey team as it calmly distributed the puck around Providence College’s defense, looking for a hole to shoot through.

As time ticked down on the power play, freshman defenseman Matt Grzelcyk slipped a pass down to junior forward Matt Nieto, who one-timed the puck from a sharp angle into the back of the net to tie the score at two apiece.

The goal was Nieto’s fourth in his last six games, as he continues to prove to the impatient fans that he is one of the top offensive players BU (13–9–1, 10–6–1 Hockey East) has despite his slow start to the season. As BU coach Jack Parker pointed out, Nieto has always been a player who improves his production in the second half of the season.

“He’s always been a streaky scorer,” Parker said. “I said to him yesterday or the day before, ‘your time of year,’ because he’s always come on in the second half of the year and really put some numbers up. We’re hoping he continues that.”

Coming on strong in the second half of the season has certainly become a trend for Nieto. It began his freshman season, when he only scored six points before the New Year and went on to score 17 points in the second half.

Nieto had a better start to his sophomore year, but picked his game up during the second half of the season again. Nieto recorded seven multi-point games during the second half of the 2011-12 campaign, and had a seven-game point streak entering the final game of the season against the University of Minnesota.

Now, Nieto is up to his old tricks, climbing his way back among the team leaders in points. The Long Beach, Calif., native only scored nine points in the first 17 games of this season, and has matched that total over the last six games.

“The points are coming, which is nice,” Nieto said. “I try to play the same way every game, whether I get points or not, so I’m just going to continue to work hard and hopefully they keep coming.”

Part of the reason Nieto has picked up his point totals is because his entire line had been hot entering last night’s 3–3 tie with Providence. In his last six games, freshman forward Danny O’Regan has recorded 11 points, including the game-tying goal Saturday night.

Sophomore forward Evan Rodrigues had scored five goals in his last three games, but missed Saturday’s game due to a wrist injury. Two of those goals came in Friday night’s 3–2 win over Providence, and one of those was a result of a nifty passing play between all three forwards in the unit.

The line did not miss a beat without Rodrigues in the lineup Saturday though, as senior forward Ryan Santana stepped in and kept the line at the top of its game. Santana said he was impressed with how skilled his two new linemates were.

“They’re great players so they’re going to make a guy like me look pretty good,” Santana said. “I think it was more so their work and their passing and stuff, and I was just trying to support and keep my head up.”

Santana said he has also noticed Nieto’s performance picking up as the team enters the second half of the season.

“The second half is when it’s kind of playoff-style hockey … He does everything well, so that’s real key that he’s stepped it up now,” Santana said. “He’s been playing great all season but now the points are starting to roll in for him and I think he’s just building on that.”

An example of Nieto’s hard work paying off on the scoreboard was his one-timer goal he scored on the 5-on-3 power play. Nieto had prepared for that exact situation, and knew what to do with the puck when it came his way.

“I’ve been working on that shot a lot in practice, staying after and shooting pucks with [junior defenseman] Garrett Noonan and assistant coach Buddy Powers, so it’s something that I was familiar with,” Nieto said.

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