The Boston University women’s hockey team concluded the 2017-18 regular season with a 2-1 win followed by a 2-0 shutout in a home-and-home series against the University of New Hampshire over the weekend.
The two wins bumped the Terriers (13-15-6, 8-11-5 Hockey East) over the University of Connecticut in the Hockey East standings for sixth place, meaning they will face the University of Maine in a best-of-three quarterfinals tournament.
The two teams had faced off once this season and skated to a 2-2 tie on Oct. 29 in Durham, New Hampshire.
BU head coach Brian Durocher said he anticipated another set of low-scoring games and emphasized the importance of well-rounded play in order to be successful late in the season.
“Good defense is the key,” Durocher said. “You look at the last two or three weeks in Hockey East, there’s awful lot of 1-0, 0-0 ties, 2-1, 3-1 [scores] and those are the kind of games you want to play.”
In Saturday’s game, the Terriers held onto the first period with strong offensive play, firing 12 shots on net right out of the gate.
The attack was rewarded late in the first when senior forward and captain Rebecca Leslie battled her way through the offensive zone, picked up her own behind-the-net pass and held the puck into open ice. Leslie eventually found her window through the entire opposing roster for the score at 16:41 in the period.
UNH’s (14-13-7, 9-10-5 Hockey East) offense tightened up through the second period, as the team pulled ahead in shots by a 9-8 margin.
However, the Terriers’ net remained unbothered through the end of the frame.
Freshman goaltender Corinne Schroeder held off three of the Wildcats’ power-play opportunities and then a breakaway attempt from forward Meghara McManus.
Despite a dip in shot production, Leslie struck again on the power play at 9:44 in the third, her 21st goal of the season.
Sophomore defenseman Abby Cook earned the primary assist on both of Leslie’s goals, bringing her up to a total of 23 on the season, tied for the most among NCAA defensemen.
Senior forward Victoria Bach picked up a secondary assist on Leslie’s goal. Her 60 points (35 goals and 25 assists) in a single season are a first in program history.
With moments left in the game, Wildcat freshman goaltender Ava Boutilier abandoned post for an extra attacker.
The risk paid off when UNH forward Taylor Wenczkowski made good use of quick passing and popped the puck past Schroeder, who made a total of 25 saves through the game.
The Wildcats would end the game with an empty net as BU collected a 2-1 victory on the road.
“We played the kind of game you have to play,” Durocher said. “It includes goaltending, it includes special teams, but you really have to be focused on [defense.] Everyone was pretty committed to giving ourselves a chance to win low-scoring games.”
The series continued in Boston at Walter Brown Arena Sunday afternoon, where the pre-puck drop ceremony honored the Terriers’ senior class: Bach, Leslie, forward Nina Rodgers, defenseman Savannah Newton, and goaltenders Erin O’Neil and Ashlyn Aiello.
In net, O’Neil, who has served as one of three assistant captains this season, claimed her 10th start of the season. It was her first since a 3-2 loss against Maine (17-12-5, 11-9-4 Hockey East) on Jan. 7.
BU began its scoring 5:20 into the first when freshman forward Kristina Schuler held her ground in front of the net and found the back of the net over Boutilier’s blocker.
Neither netminder allowed a goal through the remainder of the period despite solid opportunities on both sides of the ice.
O’Neil cited the Terriers’ defense as a key aspect of recent play. The team blocked 20 shots throughout the game.
“It’s been really fun to watch them grow as a group,” O’Neil said. “Earlier in the season, I thought we struggled a little bit in our D-zone, but today we blocked a ton of shots and broke the puck out really well. They’ve really come together.”
With six seconds left in the first, Rodgers got called for holding, leaving UNH on the power play to start the second.
BU’s penalty kill held strong throughout the game, even with another penalty 1:04 into the second period and another at the halfway mark when coinciding minors put the teams 4-on-4.
O’Neil held off eight shots on net, while Boutilier knocked aside 11 from the Terriers, keeping the score 1-0 BU through the second period.
“I always say, don’t give the puck away, make them beat you by making saves or stopping [the puck,” Durocher said.
The third period saw the offensive battle evening up.
While the Terriers remained dominant at the face-off circle by winning 35-of-56 draws, shots drew to a close 35-32 BU.
In the final 30 seconds of the game, Bach to scored her 36th goal of the season on the empty net to seal the Terriers’ win.
After making a total of 32 saves, O’Neil secured her third career shutout and first win of the season, ending with a goals against average of 2.81 and a goal save percentage of .916.
“It’s been a while since I got a shutout and it’s been a while since I’ve got[ten] a win, so it was nice to get in there and make the most of my chance,” O’Neil said. “It’s definitely bittersweet, I’m going to miss wearing the home whites. It’s great to get a win and go into playoffs feeling the right way, but it’s a little sad finishing up the career here.”
With the door shut on the regular season, BU will be looking forward to starting its playoff run at Maine’s Alfond Arena against a team that hasn’t won in its last four matchups.
“When you get into playoff hockey, it’s that one power-play goal that can turn a 1-0 game into 2-0 and send you on your way, or one bad kill that can turn you the other way,” Durocher said. “We’re solid in those areas, we’re playing smart, creating opportunities. No questions asked, you’re going to have to continue to play good defense and be sharp on your special teams.”