DURHAM, New Hampshire — The clock wound down and the No. 2/3 Boston University men’s hockey team had one last chance in the final moments of the second period.
As the Terrier defensive corps threw a prayer at the net, freshman center Jack Eichel deflected a shot that fooled University of New Hampshire netminder Daniel Tirone. On any other day, this redirection probably would’ve hit the back of the net.
This day, the piece of the vulcanized rubber clanked off the right post. The buzzer sounded, and the Terriers were left thinking, “almost.”
It was a moment emblematic of BU’s afternoon at Whittemore Center. Down by four goals through two frames, the Terriers rallied back in the third for three of their own. A flurry of chances in the final minute of the third put the Terriers in prime position to tie it up.
But like Eichel’s redirection, the tying goal proved to be just another almost.
UNH (11-17-2, 6-11-1 Hockey East) closed out a 4-3 win, dashing hopes of another BU (19-5-4, 13-3-2 Hockey East) comeback. The loss also snapped BU’s season-high seven game winning streak.
In a year where BU has continually found ways to rally in the third period, it would’ve been far from a surprise if this game reached overtime. The early deficit, though, was too big to climb out of.
“I thought when we made it 4-3, I really felt we had the momentum, and [UNH] did a good job holding the fort,” said BU coach David Quinn. “Just a tough way to start the game, being down 4-0 at the beginning of the third period is just something that — the chances of coming back are minimal. And we almost did it, but didn’t get done.”
Right at the start of the first period, the Terriers had trouble doing anything they would’ve liked to do. Sloppy defensive-zone coverage, turnovers and a failure to get a clearance led to a goal 2:06 into the proceedings.
Freshman Shane Eiserman backhanded in the puck at the top of the crease through junior goaltender Matt O’Connor’s five hole, and just like that, the Wildcats had the advantage.
Fifteen minutes later, forward Jamie Hill redirected a point chance from defenseman Cameron Marks over O’Connor’s shoulder, pushing the UNH lead to two goals.
A tough start for O’Connor would only get tougher. Rebounds, an issue for the netminder in BU’s first game against UNH, came back to bite him in more way than one halfway through the second. While on a power-play, senior Matt Willows’ wrist shot bounced off O’Connor’s pads and ricocheted perfectly for forward Warren Foegele to put it into a gaping net.
Quinn then called a timeout to regroup his squad, and also pulled O’Connor, replacing him with freshman goalie Connor LaCouvee.
“We knew we were not playing the way we wanted to,” said senior assistant captain Evan Rodrigues. “It wasn’t O’Connor’s fault at all. I think it was one of those things where we needed to figure it out, get back to our game plan and we just needed a fresh start.”
If there was any blame put on O’Connor for UNH’s first three goals, there was none possible for the fourth. Forward Jay Camper, on LaCouvee’s first shot faced, one-timed the Wildcats’ fourth goal of the game at 11:12 of the second.
The decision to take O’Connor out of the game, at least in the short term, didn’t exactly pan out as it was supposed to.
“He’s played a lot of hockey and I just thought what the heck,” Quinn said of O’Connor. “They’re not listening to me up to this point so maybe if I pull the goalie they might actually get a little rattled and pay attention. They scored a goal a minute later, so that didn’t really work.”
After that, though, the Terriers fought back, and had numerous opportunities to score in the second, including Eichel’s near miss. But after a few failed attempts at scoring, BU captain Matt Grzelcyk singlehandedly brought the Terriers back in the third with two quick strikes.
Sitting at the top of the point, Grzelcyk fired a slap shot off a feed from Eichel that got BU on the board with about five and half minutes played in the third. Still on the ice 14 seconds later, Grzelcyk raced toward the slot, collected a pass from Rodrigues and wrsited in the goal to cut the UNH lead in half.
Rodrigues got back on the scoresheet six minutes later when freshman defenseman John MacLeod found him open on the low left side of the offensive zone. The senior beat Tirone short side for his 13th goal of the year.
After the game, Rodrigues said he was far from concerned about adding to his season point totals.
“Obviously, it’s nice,” Rodrigues said. “I mean, I’d rather take a win than points, but I’m not going to complain.”
For the rest of the period, BU spent significant time in the offensive end, but was forced to pull LaCouvee with about one minute left on the clock. It wasn’t meant to be, and the streak came to an end.
“Based on what we’ve done all year, I was anticipating a lot of pushback,” Quinn said. “I thought we started doing it a lot toward the end of the second, too. But we just couldn’t buy a goal.”