Ice Hockey, Sports

Millan shuts down formidable UNH top line

DURHAM, N.H. – Moments after he had used everything in his arsenal to hold back the second-best offense in Hockey East, Kieran Millan reflected on his 38-save performance in No. 15 Boston University’s 2-1 win over No. 7 University of New Hampshire on his way out to the team bus after the game. With his pads slung over one shoulder and a scarlet jacket clutched in his usual glove-hand, the junior netminder took on a barrage of questions from reporters.

That is, until he was interrupted by BU coach Jack Parker, who had a few words of warning to his goalie.

“Put a coat on before you leave the building. I don’t need you getting sick on me.”

The moment said enough about how the 38-year Terrier bench boss felt about Millan’s recent streak of successful outings, none of which may have been bigger than Saturday night’s performance. Making his third straight start against a ranked opponent in five days, Millan was seemingly up to the task at every turn, especially late in the game when he made saves on all of the Wildcats’ 24 shots over the game’s final 35 minutes.

“Kieran Millan had a great night and made some great saves, but really kept things cool, calm and collected,” Parker said in his own press conference before the run-in with Millan. “There were a lot of bouncing pucks around in front of the net. He seemed to get on them and do a real good job.”

Millan did his best work in the remaining minutes of the second period. After teammate Ross Gaudet had made it 2-1 in favor of the Terriers with 7:17 left in the frame, the Wildcats began to throw everything they had – perhaps save for only the fish used to celebrate goals scored at Whittemore Center – at the Terrier offense. While BU defenders seemed to be skating in circles in their own zone, UNH had the last eight shots in the second, including two 3-on-2 chances that Millan had to scramble to save.

“At that point, [you have to] just basically hang in there and keep working hard,” Millan said.  “Everyone was running around a little bit, but they were doing a good job of still limiting the quality of the opportunities. After coach talked to us in that intermission, we brought out a better game in the third period and were able to keep the lead.”

Things didn’t get much better in the third. The Wildcats more than doubled the Terriers’ shot total, 13-6, thanks in part to their two power-play opportunities to BU’s none.

The best chance for the equalizer didn’t come from a UNH player, however, but instead from sophomore defenseman Max Nicastro. Off a faceoff to Millan’s left, Nicastro had a puck fly off his stick and toward his own net. Millan had to react instantly to make not only the original save but also one on a rebound bid. The Wildcats never got any closer to their second goal, as they lost not only the game but also the 2010-11 season series.

Individual saves aside, Millan’s biggest task Saturday was stopping UNH’s lethal first line of senior Paul Thompson (17-17—34), senior Phil DeSimone (5-18—23) and senior Mike Sislo (9-20—29). The trio, which ranks first, eighth and fourth in HE scoring, respectively, with Thompson also leading the nation in points per game, is the collective body, mind and soul of the UNH attack. (Parker even mentioned that if you fold away that line from the lines sheet, any team would think they’d have a pretty good chance against the Wildcats.)

On Saturday night, the puck-moving threesome had more than its fair share of scoring chances, with DeSimone and Thompson alone combining for 13 of UNH’s 39 shots on net. But Millan’s experience against the trio paid off, and the group was held scoreless for just the fourth time in 22 games.

“Well, I’ve been here for three years, and they’ve been around for that amount of time,” Millan said. “They kind of play this similar game every game. They like to move the puck well, generate opportunities by making the goalie move. Fortunately for me, I was able to keep up with them.”

Since allowing six goals in a disappointing 6-1 loss to Brown University in the first round of the Shillelagh Tournament on the first day of the New Year, Millan has not allowed more than three goals in any contest. His goals-against average has dropped 19 points from 3.04 to 2.85 following the end of the Chicago tournament while his save percentage has inflated from .906 to .913.

Millan said that he’s seen a change in not just himself but the entire team since that time.

“I think just the mentality of our team has changed a bit,” he said. “Now, we’re more focused on winning than playing well. Earlier in the season, we were happy with a good effort even if it didn’t come with a win – well, not happy, but satisfied. Whereas now, we’ve gotten down to the point where every game counts, and we need those wins. It doesn’t matter how it happens – as long as we get the win we’re happy.”

Parker, meanwhile, maintains that as long as his netminder can play up to his potential, he’ll continue to be a strength for the squad as it fights for home ice in the HE playoffs and potentially an NCAA invite down the road.

“When he’s on, and he’s been on for most of the time he’s been here, he’s a terrific goaltender,” said Parker.

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