Despite an obstacle-ridden season, the No. 20 Boston University men’s hockey team will find themselves exactly where they planned to be on the third weekend of March — TD Garden.
“It’s pretty exciting,” senior defenseman Brandon Hickey said. “It’s nice to be able to go to the Garden. It’s a fun place to play.”
The Terriers (19-13-4, 12-8-4 Hockey East) clinched a spot in the Hockey East semifinals against Boston College next Friday with a 2-1 win over University of Connecticut on Saturday night, sending the Huskies (15-19-2, 11-12-1) packing with a sweep that did not come easy.
“We played a little bit nervous,” BU head coach David Quinn said. “[But] we showed a lot of characteristics we are going to need going forward. It was a test. They’re good. That’s playoff hockey right there. We actually skated, we actually passed the puck, we actually hit people, some of the things that are required in this game.”
Despite landing 19 shots on goal compared to UConn’s 37, the Terriers hung on by the skin of their teeth behind a brave performance by sophomore goaltender Jake Oettinger. The Dallas Stars prospect saved 36 shots on the evening, propelling BU into the semifinals with 15 saves in the third alone despite being jeered by a raucous Huskies fan section throughout.
“Our goalie stood tall,” Quinn said. “Our goalie was really good tonight.”
“When your goalie is playing like that, it is really easy to go out there and play with confidence,” Hickey said. “If you let [Oettinger] see it, he is going to save it.”
The Terriers got the go-ahead tally off the stick of freshman forward Logan Cockerill with 3:08 remaining in the second period, a score which turned out to be the game’s deciding factor.
“[Cockerill] made a nice play on that goal,” Hickey said. “He made a nice fake. Not a lot of guys on our team can do that.”
Both sides trudged through the first 19:56 of the first period with little fanfare. The teams traded penalties but the shot totals were scant until the conclusion of the frame.
But with 20.2 seconds remaining, Huskies freshman defenseman Adam Karashik took an ill-timed roughing penalty, breathing some life into the Terriers offense.
After junior forward Jordan Greenway nearly scored on a wrap-around chance, BU finally broke through on the score sheet. Sophomore defenseman Dante Fabbro controlled the puck at the point and then flipped it to the right slot for freshman forward Brady Tkachuk.
Tkachuk received the dime and ripped it into the bottom corner of the net with 3.1 seconds remaining, giving the Terriers a 1-0 lead with his eighth goal of the season.
“We got off to a really good start,” Quinn said.
However, the Huskies fought back the following period. With 10:52 remaining in the period, junior defenseman Joseph Masonius received a feed from senior forward Spencer Naas at the top of the BU zone.
With the Terriers’ defense out of position, Masonius found open space on the left side of the point and fired a shot toward Oettinger. Multiple UConn forwards broke toward the goal, and junior forward Max Kalter was able to get his stick on the puck and redirect it into the net for his seventh goal of the season.
It was the second goal in as many nights for Kalter, who led off the scoring with a goal early in the first period in UConn’s 5-4 loss on Friday.
BU responded just over seven minutes later. Freshman forward Shane Bowers picked off a pass at the top of the UConn zone, setting up an odd-man opportunity. Bowers then skated toward the middle of the zone, drawing the defense in and leaving Cockerill open on the right side of the ice.
Bowers proceeded to flip the puck over to Cockerill in open ice, and he toyed with sophomore goaltender Adam Huska before ripping his seventh goal of the season into the net with 3:08 remaining to give BU a 2-1 lead.
“[Bowers] somehow slipped through the defense and found a 2-on-1,” Cockerill said. “I was able to put it up top, the goalie was down. I didn’t get the one-timer off, I wish I could say that.”
UConn had a variety of chances in the third period, with multiple coming in the final 1:45 of the game with Huska on the bench and an extra attacker in the BU zone. However, the Terriers were able to fend off the Huskies’ surge to preserve the win.
“We wanted to win championships and get to the league championship,” Hickey said. “To be able to put ourselves in the position to get there is a big deal and our team is moving in the right direction.”