It wasn’t supposed to end this way for the Boston University men’s hockey team.
This was a squad that stormed its way to the national championship game with a 28-win campaign — seizing the Beanpot and Hockey East title along the way.
This was a team that boasted a high-powered offense that ranked second nationally in scoring — led by the reigning Hobey Baker Award recipient in freshman phenom Jack Eichel.
This was a unit that posted an imposing record of 19-0-0 when leading after two periods — a testament to both a youthful but talented blueliner corps and a Hockey East second team All-Star in junior goaltender Matt O’Connor.
And yet, in a game as unpredictable as hockey, it was somewhat appropriate that something as simple as a dump-in off the stick of Providence defenseman Tom Parisi proved to be the move that derailed a sixth national championship for the Terriers.
Parisi’s pedestrian maneuver — and O’Connor’s subsequent miscue — proved to be the turning point Saturday night at TD Garden, as the Terriers fell to Providence, 4-3, in what amounted to a heartbreaking end for BU in the NCAA national championship game.
With under 10 minutes remaining on the clock, the Terriers (28-8-5) were holding onto a precarious 3-2 advantage, but O’Connor’s fumble gave the veteran Friars new life — culminating in winger Brandon Tanev’s go-ahead strike at 13:43 to seal the victory for head coach Nate Leaman’s crew.
The Friars (26-13-2) secured their first national championship in program history, while BU fell to 5-6 all-time in the NCAA title game.
“I’ve been coaching for 20 years, and I’ve never enjoyed coaching a team more than the one we had this year,” said BU head coach David Quinn after the game. “And there’s not much I can say to make our guys feel any better or feel anybody associated with BU hockey feel any better right now, but it’s been an incredible year.
“The things we’ve accomplished, when nobody thought we could do any of it, an incredible testament to the two guys to my left and everybody else associated with our team. … We were a true team. And that doesn’t happen very often in sports. We get to this point because we won as a team. And we lost the game tonight because we as a team didn’t play well enough. Bottom line.”
Despite peppering Providence goaltender Jon Gillies with 52 total shots, the upstart Terrier offense was unable to best the South Portland, Maine native in the closing minutes of the contest.
“He was big time for us,” Leaman said of his goaltender. “He held the ship. I think it’s very much like our season. He held us in there. … But he was our best player tonight.”
Gillies — who stopped 49 shots in the contest — was named Most Outstanding Player of the tournament, while Eichel, junior forward Ahti Oksanen and junior captain Matt Grzelcyk represented BU on the All-Tournament Team.
Despite his error on Parisi’s goal, O’Connor stood firm in net for most of the game, registering 39 saves on the night. Oksanen led the way for the Terriers with a point and an assist on the night, while senior assistant captain Cason Hohmann and junior forward Danny O’Regan also lit the lamp for the Terriers.
The Friars struck first in the match, with defenseman Anthony Florentino’s one-timer sailing past O’Connor at 9:25 in the first period.
Rather than give Providence momentum, however, the Terriers asserted themselves, outshooting their conference foe by a 14-2 margin for the remainder of the period. Ultimately, the Terriers’ barrage of chances finally began to hit home.
After winning a battle along the end boards, freshman forward A.J. Greer dished the puck to Oksanen, whose shot from the left circle was able to sneak past Gillies at 12:50 to even the score at 1-1.
It would not take long for the Terriers to capitalize again on the Friars goalie, as O’Regan scored just four seconds later off of a nifty backhand attempt to hand BU its first lead on the night.
Oksanen and O’Regan’s tallies set the record for the fastest consecutive goals in NCAA Tournament history, breaking the previous set by the University of Michigan in 1948.
An interference penalty on freshman defenseman John MacLeod at 2:33 in the middle stanza gifted Providence with an opportunity on the man advantage, which ultimately resulted in a power-play strike by center Mark Jankowski at 4:29 — tying the game at two goals apiece.
The stalemate would not last for long, as the Terriers were able to get the better of Gillies yet again.
Oksanen released the puck from the left circle, but it hit off a Friar skater and trickled off into the crease. Thankfully for BU, Hohmann was there to make the play, depositing the puck into the Providence cage at 11:36 to put the Terriers out in front.
It appeared as if the game was all but sealed for the Terriers, but O’Connor’s error on Parisi’s play at 11:24 in the third locked the game in a deadlock once again — stunning the Terriers in the process.
Less than three minutes later, the Friars regained the lead for good.
After Providence secured a faceoff win in BU’s zone, winger Brandon Tanev soared along the slot before besting O’Connor by way of a quick wrist shot at 13:43, putting the Terriers on the ropes.
Quinn pulled O’Connor in favor of an extra attacker with 1:49 left in regulation, but the Terriers could not muster one final another third-period comeback.
A loose-puck chance for both Hohmann and sophomore forward Nick Roberto proved to be the only sizable opportunity for the Terriers, and Gillies and the Friars would ultimately not be denied.
Despite the crushing loss, Quinn noted that there was little for his team to hang their heads on.
In what could only be described as miraculous turnaround for the scarlet and white, BU orchestrated an 18-win improvement from the 2013-14 campaign — the largest such reversal in team history and the fifth largest win improvement in Division I hockey history.
While veterans will be forced to relinquish their scarlet and white sweaters and the scars left by Saturday’s contest will likely never fade anytime soon, Quinn harped on the fact that this would not be the swan song for the Terriers.
“I would love to be sitting here as the national champion,” Quinn admitted. “I’d like to have our guys have smiles on their faces instead of tears in their eyes, but sometimes it’s a process.”
Quinn added: “I think there’s certainly the beginning of hopefully something special here in the seasons moving forward,” Quinn said. “We feel great about the kids we have coming back. Not only are our kids great players on the ice, the way they carried themselves off the ice.
“Tough one to swallow, without question. But we’ll be back.”