TROY, New York — By the time the 2013-14 Boston University men’s hockey team notched its 10th win of the season, there was little reason to celebrate.
Reaching double-digit victories in their final regular-season game of the season — a 4-1 win over Northeastern University on March 1, 2014 — put the stamp on what was a miserable 10-21-4 campaign that saw the Terriers place ninth in the Hockey East standings.
It took considerably less time this season for the 2014-15 Terriers to shatter their lackluster win total from last year, as a 5-1 victory over Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute Saturday night gave No. 2 BU its 11th win of the season in just 16 games.
With the triumph over RPI (6-12-1), the Terriers (11-3-2, 7-1-2 Hockey East) stand as just the sixth team in program history to enter the holiday break with more than 10 wins.
“It’s awesome,” said junior forward Danny O’Regan. “It’s great to rebound from a pretty average season last year, to get off to a hot start, we’re really excited about it.”
The first 20 minutes of play yielded little results for either team, as a forceful RPI forecheck and the strong play of BU junior goaltender Matt O’Connor dictated the pace of play from the start.
A normally listless Engineers’ offense — which entered Saturday’s contest next to last in the country at 1.61 goals per game — managed to gather its shots against the Terriers, but O’Connor stood tall, recording 18 saves in the first period.
RPI appeared to draw first blood halfway through the frame after forward Jimmy DeVito roofed the puck past O’Connor to give the Engineers an early lead, but the goal was quickly waved off by officials after replay showed an RPI skater ran into the BU goaltender in the moments before the score.
The Engineers manufactured perhaps their best chance of the match with less than five minutes remaining in the period, as forward Mark Miller skated up to the BU net and fooled O’Connor with a quick dangle.
Miller moved to the left side of an open Terrier cage and fired a wrister, but O’Connor stretched out his leg at the last second, deflecting the puck with his skate and keeping the game knotted at 0-0. Both teams entered the first intermission still locked in a scoreless tie, with RPI holding an 18-11 advantage in shots.
“They’ve could’ve easily had three goals in the first, I thought we could’ve had a couple,” said BU coach David Quinn. “Just got completely away from the things we did last Saturday night when we moved the puck, we possessed it. To be able to survive that first period and only come out of it 0-0, we felt fortunate.”
The second period proved to be much more fruitful for the Terriers, as BU made its mark on the scoreboard at 11:57 in the frame.
Freshman defenseman John MacLeod received the puck at the blue line from senior assistant captain Evan Rodrigues and promptly ripped it towards RPI netminder Scott Diebold by way of a slap shot. The puck managed to slide past Diebold and into the Engineers’ net to give BU a 1-0 lead.
The goal marked MacLeod’s first tally since scoring against Providence College on Oct. 31 — a span of 11 games.
Less than three minutes after MacLeod’s goal, the Terriers were able to capitalize again after RPI forward Milos Bubela was called for a hitting-from-behind penalty at 13:18.
With a little over 30 seconds remaining on the BU power play, freshman forward Jack Eichel shot a wrister from the left circle that O’Regan managed to tip past Diebold to give BU a two-goal cushion. It was BU’s first goal on the man advantage in three games, with the Terriers posting an 0-12 power-play mark during that stretch.
“It was good, it was a key goal, timely goal,” Quinn said. “I thought Saturday night against Merrimack we moved it well, we had a good power play, we just didn’t get rewarded. It was nice to get one to make it 2-0, it was a key goal.”
BU would not relent in the closing minutes of the second, as the Terriers made it a 3-0 game with six seconds left in the period off of a goal from freshman forward Brandon Hickey — the second straight game in which the Calgary Flames draft pick has lit the lamp.
After fighting for the puck near the corner boards, Hickey nonchalantly released a backhand shot towards the RPI net, which recoiled off of Diebold’s skate and sluggishly edged its way into the Engineers’ goal.
The Terriers capped their scoring in the third period, as freshman forward J.J. Piccinich netted his first collegiate goal at 10:25 to extend BU’s lead to 4-0. After grabbing the puck off a pass from Rodrigues, Piccinich maneuvered into the slot and launched a turnaround shot that beat Diebold glove side.
RPI got on the board with 2:55 remaining thanks to a wrist-shot goal from Bubela, but the Terriers sealed the win with an empty-net score from sophomore forward Nick Roberto with 42 seconds left on the clock.
O’Connor, who came up just short of his second career shutout, stopped 35 shots en route to his 10th win of the season. The Toronto native is now third in the nation in goals-against average (1.67) and fourth in save percentage (.941).
“He was unbelievable,” O’Regan said. “We easily could have been down two- or three-nothing after the first, and we were all bummed out when he got the shutout lost there at the end, because he’s been standing on his head all year, really. But today, in particular, he was just lights out.”
Rodrigues led the Terriers in scoring with three points (three assists) on the night and is now tied for fourth in Hockey East in scoring with 16 points (five goals, 11 assists). … BU now holds a 35-30-3 series lead over RPI. … Eichel recorded his ninth multi-point game of the season with a two-point showing Saturday. … Eichel leads the nation in scoring with 27 points in 16 games this season.