The final score was 6-5, though it didn’t seem like it would be in the beginning.
As the No. 11 Boston University men’s hockey team skated off the ice following the first period of its game against No. 5 Harvard University on Thursday, things could have been going better.
The Terriers (10-6-3, 4-3-2 Hockey East) were being outshot 18-2 at the Bright-Landry Hockey Center, and had only attempted eight shots total, none of which came from closer to the net than the circle dots. They couldn’t get close to Harvard goaltender Merrick Madsen while the Crimson (8-2-3) were at the other end of the ice with eight shots on the BU goal just from the low slot.
With senior netminder Sean Maguire making 17 total stops in the opening frame alone, the Terriers limited the damage to a 1-0 deficit. The lone marker was a power-play rebound goal off the stick of Harvard captain Jimmy Vesey 8:23 into the game.
The second period was better, though BU escaped trailing again by one goal after senior assistant captain Matt Lane and centerman Sean Malone each found the back of the net twice through the middle 20 minutes. They tested Madsen eight times that frame while allowing the Crimson 11 shots of their own.
The Terriers were improving.
“When the game started out, we were terrible,” said BU head coach David Quinn. “As the period went on, we went from terrible to awful, and then we closed the first period out being less awful. When the second period started we were bad, and then we got to not-so-bad and then to okay and then to pretty good.”
The third period, in contrast, was much better.
The teams exchanged goals in the first seven minutes of the stanza, center Jake Horton netting one from a bad angle that squeezed between Maguire and the post 3:33 in and senior assistant captain Danny O’Regan responding at 6:51 on the power play with his first of three goals on the night.
Exactly halfway through the period, the Crimson regained a two-goal lead. Vesey found senior Kyle Criscuolo in front of the net, and he knocked it in to put Harvard up 5-3. However, Quinn was not deterred.
“At 5-3 it’s still a hockey game, you know what I mean?” he said. “Anything can happen, there’s still plenty of time, and then you got the goal, and then boom.”
Six minutes later, as BU went to work on the power play, freshman center Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson tossed a pass to senior captain Matt Grzelcyk from low on the right down to the center point. Grzelcyk threw it on net from there and it hurtled through the slot, hitting O’Regan in the process as he screened Madsen in front and then fluttering into the net. 5-4.
Just over a minute later, at 17:06, freshman defenseman Charlie McAvoy was stationed high in the left circle. He directed the puck toward the net with Madsen drawn to the left post, giving a hovering O’Regan the plenty of room to tap it in on the vacant side. 5-5.
“I thought we were playing better as the game went on,” Quinn said. “We just kept playing better and better and we started competing and winning some battles and playing smarter hockey and not trying to make heroic plays. We had some really good players make some really good plays to score some goals, and the next thing you know it’s 6-5.”
As the final two minutes of the contest were rapidly approaching, the Terriers began cycling the puck around the attacking zone.
Oksanen from the lefthand cornerboards down to sophomore defenseman Brandon Hickey at the left point. Hickey on net, rebound to the endboards for freshman winger Jordan Greenway to pick up. Gathered by Lane while cruising behind the goal as Oksanen glided to the right circle. Lane to Oksanen with Madsen hugging the right post, freeing up the whole left side at which the winger could take aim. Controlling the puck very briefly, Oksanen placed the wrist shot with care and gave BU its first lead of the game. 6-5.
Three goals in 2:09.
“I wish I knew why that happened, but if I knew why I wouldn’t tell anybody anyways,” Quinn said. “… We kept battling back all night. They get a two goal lead and then boom, we make it 4-3. Then they make it 5-3, and we just kept battling, and that’s the story of our season.”
Where the Terriers had looked like they “never killed a penalty before” on Harvard’s first goal, the coach noted, special teams ended up being an important part of the victory. BU killed off its other three shorthanded situations and managed to convert on two of its four power-play chances as well. Both goals with the man advantage, unsurprisingly, occurred in the third.
“We really came together,” O’Regan said. “Especially in the third period there, just we came together. A group of guys, it seemed to be everyone was clicking, great chemistry throughout the whole team, and everyone just kind of found their legs, and we started playing the game that we wanted to play all game.”
The Terriers started off “slow-thinking,” per Quinn, and slow-playing as well. They turned the puck over “an awful lot” and probably could have done a better job taking care of it throughout the game. Five goals against speaks to that.
Three players returning to the lineup from injury, four guys coming back from the Under-20 World Junior Championship in the last 24 hours and a 26-day break from game play made what ended up being an unpredictable game all the more so.
“I had no clue what to expect tonight because this is the first time we really were together,” Quinn said. “The last game we played was the 12th of December, and we haven’t had a practice as a whole team for almost a month. Watching what was going on in the first period, I knew it was going to be bad, I just didn’t know it was going to be that bad. But again, we got better and better and overcame.
“We’ve been a resilient group all year,” he added. “It’s just a great win.”