This weekend, as the No. 13 Boston University men’s hockey team played a home-and-home series with No. 2/3 Boston College, the Terriers learned – or re-learned, maybe – one of the most important trends about the team: so goes Kieran, so go the Terriers.
In both games, a 5-3 win Friday at Conte Forum and a 6-1 loss Saturday at Agganis Arena, the performance of senior goaltender Kieran Millan made most of the difference in the success of the Terriers (8-5-1, 6-4-1 Hockey East) against the Eagles (11-5-0, 8-3-0 Hockey East).
On Friday night, Millan got his weekend off to a start that could have hardly gone better. After limiting opponents to one goal or fewer in three straight games, including a 5-0 shutout of BC on Nov. 13, the 2009 Hockey East Rookie of the Year continued his torrid hot streak with 42 saves.
Twenty-two of those stops came in the second period, a period that saw his team serve seven penalties and BC take 14 power-play shots.
“Just trying to hold the fort down,” Millan said of his strategy that frame. “I know we got a lot of penalties that period. It was definitely not good for us . . . it was an interesting period but I’m glad we got out of it okay.”
On a night when the offense in front of him managed 15 total shots on goal, Millan’s performance stood out that much more.
“The only reason that that game wasn’t a hell of a lot closer was because Kieran Millan played unbelievable,” said BU head coach Jack Parker. “He was fabulous.”
Twenty-four hours later, the story was flip-flopped. The offense got back on track with 41 shots on target – albeit with just one goal to show for it – and Millan was off of his game. He allowed five goals and made 17 saves in two periods before being relieved by senior Grant Rollhesier at the start of the third.
Parker – who is usually quick to defend his four-year netminder after lesser performances – was not nearly as quick this time to give Millan the proverbial vote of confidence.
“As sharp as Kieran was [Friday] night, he didn’t have it [Saturday]. We left him out to dry a little bit, but in general . . . ,” Parker said before tailing off, stopping short of verbally leaving his goalie out to dry. “He didn’t look quite [like] himself tonight.”
He got off to a rough start almost right off the bat, when forward Danny Linell snuck a rebound by Millan after he couldn’t corral the rebound on a shot from forward Quinn Smith.
Millan couldn’t help himself on a couple BC goals, specifically “ripped bombs,” as Parker put it, from forwards Bill Arnold and Chris Kreider, but had some more trouble rebounding as the night went on.
BC forward Johnny Gaudreau took advantage of one of those miscues at 15:55 in the second for the fourth BC goal, one that really deflated the Terriers.
“Sometimes you get a little tired,” Parker said. “Sometimes the puck . . . sometimes it looked like [Millan] was there [in position], he just wasn’t reacting.”
The stark difference is especially evident because Millan was juxtaposed with BC’s goaltending tandem, junior Parker Milner and freshman Brian Billett.
Milner has struggled in his career against BU, and that trend continued Friday. Milner allowed five of the 15 BU shots to get by – including one in the second period that was the only Terrier shot on goal of the period.
The next night, the rookie made his second career start, and first in Hockey East play. Billett followed up his impressive 31-save showing in a 3-2 win over Yale University last Saturday with a 40-save performance against BU, drawing high praise from all parties involved.
“He played extremely well,” said senior captain Chris Connolly. “He made the stops he had to. We were a little snake-bitten at times.
“We should have buried a few shots. Like I said, he did his job and that’s a big reason why they were able to come out with such a lopsided win.”
Parker, who admitted “I don’t know much about goaltending after 39 years of doing this,” also had some strong words for the netminder.
“He looked pretty sharp, and not only was he sharp with the puck, he looked very, very poised doing it,” Parker said. “He looked like he was very casual doing it.”
BC coach Jerry York was so impressed by Billett that he was noncommittal in terms of a goalie for BC’s game against Providence College on Tuesday, and wouldn’t say Milner was his number one going forward.
“The hot goalie will play,” York said.
Billett’s breakout game – and possible emergence as a more regular goalie for the Eagles – could be reminiscent of what Millan did his freshman year, a season Connolly recalled as reassurance in Millan’s abilities.
“We’re confident with Kieran back there. He’s done a lot for us over the four years that I’ve been here,” Connolly said. “He led us to a national championship freshman year [in 2009], he’s [BU’s] all-time winning goalie. He’s done a lot of things here that are very impressive. He’s got an unbelievable resume.
“We’re never worried about Kieran . . . We couldn’t ask for a better guy back there.”