Ice Hockey, Sports

Moccia embraces O’Connor after season-ending loss

Anthony Moccia skates over to Matt O'Connor after BU's championship game loss to Providence College. PHOTO BY MAYA DEVEREAUX/DAILY FREE PRESS STAFF
Anthony Moccia and Brandon Hickey skate over to Matt O’Connor after BU’s loss to Providence College in the national championship. PHOTO BY MAYA DEVEREAUX/DAILY FREE PRESS STAFF

When the clock struck 0:00 on the TD Garden scoreboard, the Boston University men’s hockey team could only watch as Providence College celebrated its first national championship.

The Terrier contingent left on the ice was despondent, lifeless and clearly shocked at their 4-3 loss in the title game. At that point in time, graduate student goaltender Anthony Moccia jumped from his position on the corner of the bench to the defensive zone, skating side-by-side with a solemn junior netminder Matt O’Connor.

Moccia never left O’Connor’s side for the remaining few minutes the team hung around on the ice. As he kept a watchful eye on O’Connor in the locker room after the game, Moccia described how he tried to console the goalie after such a deflating loss.

“It’s hard to know what to say in that situation,” Moccia said. “As a goalie, you put everything on your shoulders, so when something goes wrong you think it’s all your fault. I just told him that I love him, he’s my best friend and he’s the reason that we’re here in this situation now — wouldn’t be here without him.”

From a goalie that largely split time over his first two years in the crease, O’Connor became the de facto No. 1 when goaltender Sean Maguire was sidelined for the season with a medical redshirt. And O’Connor took hold of the responsibility and made the most of it in an incredible season.

He set career highs with 25 wins, a 2.18 goals-against average and a .927 save percentage. The Toronto native backstopped the Terriers (28-8-5) to three different titles and a Frozen Four appearance this year. That’s what made this game, and specifically the goal he allowed third period, tougher to swallow.

O’Connor had already let in a fluky goal in the semifinal against the University of North Dakota. A puck bounced off the end boards, off his paddle and on to the stick of defenseman Troy Stecher for an easy tap-in goal. But that was when the Terriers held a three-goal lead late in the third period. It was a soft goal, but one that BU could come back from.

With the Terriers clinging to a one-goal lead with less than 10 minutes to play in the championship game, O’Connor let in one that changed the entire complexion of the game and was harder to overcome.

Defenseman Tom Parisi flung the puck from the neutral zone all the way down on net. O’Connor instinctively grabbed the puck, and tried to shovel pass it from his glove to a BU skater. But in that moment, he hesitated and lost control of the puck, which bounced through his legs and into the net.

All of a sudden, Providence (26-13-2) had life and all of the momentum. A touch more than two minutes later, forward Brandon Tanev scored what would be the championship-winning goal for the Friars. In just matter of 2:19, the Terriers let their once-high title hopes essentially slip away.

“Just a really weird, indecisive moment there cost us a national championship, I guess you could say,” O’Connor said after the game. “Definitely thought I played well and I think our team deserves better than that, but that’s a way a one-game series will go.”

As they had all season, though, the Terriers fought back and put pressure on Friars netminder Jon Gillies. BU buzzed in the final minutes, and a late goal seemed all the likely given its third–period heroics throughout the season. But unlike O’Connor, Gillies was unflappable in the final frame, which truly sealed BU’s fate. Despite the loss, O’Connor was proud of the way his team battled back for him.

“It was really admirable to see our team rally back like nothing happened,” O’Connor said. “That’s why we’re such a good team. Everyone really picked me up after and that’s a testament to the kind of character we have in the locker room.”

Players fought back on the ice and tried to pick up O’Connor after the game, but arguably no one did as much to attempt to keep the junior upbeat more than Moccia. He’s played in just four games during his BU tenure, yet Moccia’s passion for the program and fellow goalie made him an invaluable leader.

“He cares about BU hockey more than anyone in the locker room does,” said junior captain Matt Grzelcyk. “For the younger guys to see how much passion he has in the game, just like how he took over our team really in pressure situations and especially handling OC, roommate at the school, his best friend.

“Hockey is not going to last forever but the friendships you make along the way will.”

The bond that Moccia and O’Connor have seems to be as close as any, so close in fact that Moccia said he’ll look after O’Connor long after the season is over.

“Just tried to tell him that I love him and it’s been a pleasure playing with him,” Moccia said. “I’m going to keep telling him that ‘till I’m probably dead.”

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