Overtime success has mostly served as a fruitless venture for head coach David Quinn and the Boston University men’s hockey team since the former’s arrival on Commonwealth Avenue.
That wasn’t the case Friday night at Agganis Arena.
After posting an underwhelming 0-0-5 record in overtime during Quinn’s tenure as BU bench boss, the No. 2/3 Terriers finally broke through, as freshman forward Jack Eichel’s wrister goal at 2:20 in extra time helped the Terriers (7-1-1, 5-1-1 Hockey East) topple the University of Maine by a score of 3-2.
It was the Terriers’ first overtime victory since the Terriers earned a 5-4 win — coincidentally over the Black Bears (3-8-1, 2-4-0 Hockey East) — on Feb. 16, 2013.
“I thought we had a little bit of grind and grit to our game and had some chances. … Not easy beating a time twice in a row, especially a team like that,” Quinn said. “They’re well-coached, they play hard.”
The Black Bears set the tone throughout the opening 10 minutes, controlling the pace of play by knocking the Terriers off-balance with a physical forecheck.
“We weren’t ready to match their intensity and their grit to start the game, first 10 minutes,” Quinn said. “Similar to what happened to us against Providence [College] when we beat Providence the first night [on Oct. 31]. It’s very difficult to win two games in a row even with a five-day break, or a six-day break.”
With the Terriers reeling from Maine’s aggressive efforts, the Black Bears were able to jump on the scoreboard at 7:33 in the first, as defenseman Ben Hutton collected a loose puck that careened off the pads of BU junior goaltender Matt O’Connor. Hutton promptly fired the puck through the legs of BU junior captain Matt Grzelcyk and into the net to give the Black Bears a 1-0 lead.
Despite their slow start to open the first 20 minutes of play, the Terriers would find their legs — and their looks on net — as play progressed, recording the final 12 shots in the period, but still entered the first intermission facing a one-goal deficit.
“Well, we’ve seen that movie before, off to a sluggish start,” Quinn said. “I thought we actually pulled it together midway through the first period. I thought the last seven or eight minutes we were doing the things we need to do to have success against a team like that.”
Momentum seemed to be on the Terriers’ side going into the second period, as a hooking penalty on defenseman Conor Riley at 18:58 in the first granted BU 58 seconds on the man advantage coming out of the break.
Unfortunately for the Terriers, Maine would be the team to capitalize on special teams, as senior Connor Leen recovered the puck off of a turnover from senior assistant captain Evan Rodrigues and skated into BU’s zone.
The Maine winger maneuvered himself around Grzelcyk and managed to poke the puck past O’Connor to notch a shorthanded goal with just two seconds left on the BU power play to pad Maine’s lead to 2-0. It was the fourth straight game in which Leen registered a goal.
The Terrier offense — beleaguered with three second-period penalties — found itself unable to generate any consistent pressure in the Black Bears’ defensive zone. While BU was once again stymied on the box score, O’Connor stood tall in net, turning aside 13 shots in the middle frame en route to a 26-save performance.
In what has been a recurring trend all season long, BU’s offense finally came alive in the third period. With 15:10 left on the clock, BU finally broke through, as junior forward Ahti Oksanen collected a crisp pass from freshman forward Jack Eichel and deposited the puck past Maine goalie Sean Romeo to cut the Black Bears’ lead in half.
“Great pass from [junior forward] Danny [O’Regan] to Eichel and Eichel just found me backdoor,” Oksanen said. “I basically had an empty net, so it wasn’t too hard. Great pass from him.”
BU would strike again less than five minutes later, as sophomore forward Nick Roberto delivered a drop pass to junior forward Matt Lane, who recovered the relinquished puck and tucked it into Maine’s net to knot the game, 2-2, at 9:03. The Terriers have now outscored opponents by a 20-3 margin over the final 20 minutes of play this season.
“I think just the fact that we’ve had success so far already this year,” Eichel said when asked about the Terriers’ confidence in the third period this season. “We’ve come from behind a few times and we’re a resilient bunch, so we were in just another one of those games and we knew that, like I said, the next goal was huge.”
While Lane and Roberto were able to generate another prime scoring opportunity in the closing minutes of the third, neither team was able to manufacture the game-winning goal in regulation, forcing both teams to enter into overtime.
Just 16 seconds in the extra five minutes of play, Leen was dealt a five-minute major for hitting from behind after crushing Grzelcyk into the boards, putting BU on the power play for the remainder of the game.
With the clock eating away in the extra period, Eichel skated down the left side of the ice, firing a shot past Romeo from the left circle to give the Terriers the dramatic win.
Despite the Terriers’ slow start, Quinn acknowledged that he was impressed by his team’s response in the later stages of Friday’s tilt.
“I thought at the end of the second, we really started taking control of the period,” Quinn said. “And then in the third, I thought we really established our forecheck and did the things we were going to need to do if we’re going to have success night in and night out in our league.”