For the No. 10/6 Boston University men’s hockey team, the 2011-12 season has started with some similarities to last year – including high expectations and 21 returning players – but at least one significant difference: the Terriers’ ability to finish.
Up 3-0 over the University of New Hampshire for much of the third period, the Terriers (1-0, 1-0 Hockey East) were successfully able to buckle down for the season-opening 5-0 win over the Wildcats (0-1, 0-1HE), thanks in large part to their bearing down on defense for the last 20 minutes.
“The minute we made it 3-0, I went up and down the bench and said, ‘Keep playing the same way,’” said BU head coach Jack Parker. “’Keep playing defense, first guys. Play on the defensive side of the puck. Don’t try to go get your goal now that it’s 3-0. The goals will come if you play defense first.’”
The team listened.
After that third goal – a rebound banged home by sophomore forward Matt Nieto – BU kept quiet and out of the penalty box, save for a charging call on senior defenseman Sean Escobedo halfway through the period, to preserve the shutout for senior goaltender Kieran Millan.
It was a big change from the 2010-11 team, which made a habit of losing concentration when winning late in the game, resulting in lost shutouts and blown leads.
And, just as Parker predicted, the extra goals indeed came.
As the period wound down, sophomore forward Charlie Coyle connected with junior assistant captain Alex Chiasson on the next scoring play at 15:41. Coyle sent the puck to Chiasson, who beat one UNH defender and carefully placed the puck into an empty net for the 4-0 BU lead.
With UNH goaltender Matt DiGirolamo quickly put back in goal, senior forward Kevin Gilroy extended the lead to 5-0 mere seconds later at 17:00 with an unassisted wrap-around goal to finish the scoring.
The apparent blowout wasn’t always that way, though.
After a scoreless first period that saw the Wildcats outshoot the Terriers 11-10, BU opened the scoring within a few minutes of starting the second.
Sophomore forward Sahir Gill ripped a shot wide right of the goal, with senior captain Chris Connolly recovering the rebound behind the net. Connolly sent the puck up front to junior forward Wade Megan, who tapped it past DiGirolamo for the power-play goal at 3:16.
Two and a half minutes later, Gill and Connolly tallied another assist each when Gill passed to the captain, who sent it on up to senior forward Corey Trivino from the right side. Trivino promptly powered it in to put BU up, 2-0, 5:46 into the second.
“Somehow it got up to the other side where Chris had it, and I kind of snuck in behind the defenseman, back door,” Trivino said. “Connolly saw me and made a fabulous pass. It went right to my tape and in the cage.”
BU didn’t waste much time in the third, as Nieto scored that all-important third goal at 1:11, capitalizing on the rebound off
“The goal at the beginning of the third was the biggest goal,” Parker said. “That kind of just took care of business.”
UNH coach Dick Umile agreed with Parker, saying that Nieto’s goal was what really took the steam out of the Wildcats.
“Even when it was 2-0, I thought we had quite a few chances,” Umile said. “The third goal was a killer for us, and I don’t think we played as well as we are capable of playing in the defensive zone, so we got beat in our own end not covering people.”
After attacking Millan with 29 shots in the first two periods, UNH lost all of its momentum to BU’s three third-period goals and mustered just six shots on the BU netminder in the last 20 minutes.
Millan was a human highlight for BU throughout the game, returning to his regular self after an uncharacteristically bad performance last week in an exhibition against St. Francis Xavier University when he allowed five goals on 17 shots. Millan had a perfect 35 saves in the shutout, matching his season total of one whitewash in 2010-11 and tying the BU record for wins with 62.
Parker said Trivino was the best player on the ice from beginning to end, but also offered praise for the team’s three freshmen, especially Alexx Privitera in a big turnaround for the defenseman that looked “nervous” the week before.
“The [freshman] that looked the best was Alexx Privitera,” Parker said. “He looked pretty poised.”
Everything considered, Parker and his team couldn’t ask for a much better start to the season.
“I thought all of our players played extremely well,” Parker said. “All in all, a pretty good deal. We got six shots on the power play, which wasn’t bad, [and we] actually got a power play goal.”