ST. PAUL, Minnesota — The 2015-16 season began as a year of promise for the Boston University men’s hockey team — a year of redemption, vengeance for a heartbreaking loss in the 2014-15 national title game. The goal this year was to make a return to the national championship game, and to win one more game than they did last year.
But plagued by inconsistent play throughout the entirety of the season, that goal ultimately proved out of reach. The second half of the team’s schedule was dotted with L’s — in its final 12 games of 2016, the Terriers mustered wins in only five.
And the last three games of BU’s season ended the same way: with a loss. The season quietly fizzled into its conclusion, and on Saturday evening, one final loss closed the door on the season for good.
That final game, a 7-2 result to the University of Denver in the first round of the NCAA Tournament at the Xcel Energy Center, proved insurmountable early, and BU (21-13-5) could do little to scrape away at the damage.
“[It feels] pretty awful, of course,” said senior forward Ahti Oksanen. “Our class, we’ve played four unreal years and then we ended our fourth year with two horrible games.
“So yeah, not feeling too good right now.”
BU’s two goals game from seniors: Assistant captain Danny O’Regan scored the first of the game for the Terriers, with a shot off a rebound with 7:15 remaining in the game, but the goal came quietly as BU had already fallen into a 6-0 deficit at that point. Later, with 14.7 seconds left, forward Mike Moran closed out the scoring.
Freshman Blake Hillman opened the scoring for the Pioneers (24-9-6) at 13:49 of the first period when his shot sailed through a huge opening on BU goaltender Sean Maguire’s right side. Center Dylan Gambrell extended the lead to two goals when he backhanded a chance over Maguire with 2:20 remaining in the opening frame.
BU and Denver ended the first period knotted in shots on goal, at 10 apiece, but the Pioneers held the edge on the scoreboard.
“We always feel like we definitely have a chance, we just kind of talked about trying to get back to the basics, get back to the way we were playing the first 15 minutes,” said BU senior captain Matt Grzelcyk.
But just 24 seconds into the second period, defenseman Will Butcher then made it 3-0 in favor of the Pioneers while on the power play, with a patient wrister from the point.
“But you know,” Grzelcyk added, “they got an early power play goal, and it’s always tough, because you see heads go down and we kind of lost belief right from the start there.”
Forward Matt Marcinew, with a low slot shot just 2:58 into the second, made the score 4-0, prompting an early exit from Maguire and an entrance by BU sophomore goaltender Connor LaCouvee.
“It gets 4-0 in the second period and you can’t fault him on it, but you’re looking for a momentum change and something to spark your team,” said BU head coach David Quinn. “We felt that we still had a chance at 2-0 … We gave up that third goal and you could kind of feel it, and the fourth one went off a stanchion and they got a lucky bounce. At that point, we were just looking to make a change to spark the guys.”
Forward Evan Janssen pushed the puck through LaCouvee’s five hole and subsequently pushed the score to 5-0 with 4:12 remaining in the second period.
And 3:23 into the third period, Butcher added his second goal of the game as the score swelled to 6-0 in favor of the Pioneers.
Not even a minute and a half after O’Regan’s goal, forward Trevor Moore added a goal to give Denver a 7-1 lead — the first time BU has given up that high of a goal total since Jan. 11, 2014.
The Terriers lost by a five-goal margin for the second consecutive game — the two worst losses of the season, back-to-back. BU’s largest margin of defeat in 2015-16, previously, had been a 6-3 loss to the University of Massachusetts Lowell on Feb. 13. Never in 2015-16, before the final two games, had it lost by more than that.
It wasn’t how any of the Terriers wanted to end their seasons, and it wasn’t how anyone in the six-member senior class wanted to end his career.
“It’s obviously just pretty shocking, devastating,” O’Regan said. “It almost hasn’t really set in yet.
“Just — no one’s really talking.”
As I said lastnight all good teams in every sport are in the playoffs and all lose their last game. There may be a change in thinking about recruiting after this year. See if Quinn brings in one or two older players for next year. Might help.