In Friday night’s 2019-20 Hockey East opener at the Tsongas Center, the Boston University men’s hockey team outshot the University of Massachusetts Lowell 36-28, but tied 3-3.
“No one’s satisfied with not getting two points, but there’s a lot of positives to take out of [the game],” BU head coach Albie O’Connell said.
After senior forward Patrick Curry took the game’s first penalty six and a half minutes in, a successful kill set the stage for BU to break the ice at full strength.
Shortly after the penalty expired, junior defenseman David Farrance found senior forward Patrick Harper streaking into the attacking zone. The assistant captain slid the breakaway chance through the five-hole, marking his third goal in four games.
“[Harper] was our best player,” O’Connell said. “When he’s confident, he’s one of the best players in the country.”
The teams would go on to trade two penalties each later in the period. The best chance for either special teams unit would come for the shorthanded Riverhawks with a minute left.
With BU trying to find a rhythm on the power play, UMass Lowell freshman forward Matt Brown got through for a breakaway bid of his own. BU’s graduate goaltender Sam Tucker was up to the task, turning away the one-on-one opportunity and preserving the 1-0 lead after 20 minutes.
BU started the second period with a man in the box, but still found a way to get on the board just 14 seconds into the middle frame.
Taking control, Harper weaved his way around the crease and finished off his second goal of the game to double the Terrier lead. His fourth goal in four games equaled the mark set by his classmate and linemate Curry, who did the same through BU’s first three games.
“We really play as a unit of five in the [offensive] zone,” said Harper to explain his recent production. “It just opens up so many opportunities and so much space.”
Seven minutes later, BU found their third goal through a rocket from David Farrance. On the power play, Harper and freshman forward Trevor Zegras combined to set up Farrance, who teed it up from range and found the back of the net.
Down by three, the Riverhawks started chipping away thanks to a convenient bounce that landed to Tucker’s right and was last touched by junior forward Connor Sodergren on its way in.
O’Connell described it as a “flukey” goal and noted “it gave them a little bit of life”.
BU did well to take control again after the hosts got on the board, coming up with chances from all angles en route to a 25-16 shots on goal advantage through 40 minutes.
Despite the Terrier pressure, it was UMass Lowell who scored the game’s next goal. On an odd-man rush into the BU end, senior forward Kenny Hausinger knocked one in to bring UML within a goal at the second intermission.
It didn’t take long for the Riverhawks to finish their comeback once the third period began. 1:20 in, a loose puck fell to sophomore defenseman Seth Barton, who hammered it in to tie the game at threes.
The game’s sixth goal would be the end of the fireworks, as each side’s goaltending took over the rest of the way. The best looks as the final minutes wound down would come off the stick of Harper, but senior netminder Tyler Wall denied the senior his hat trick with saves on back-to-back chances from close range.
The Terriers survived two late penalties to conclude regulation and push the game to overtime. Penalty killing was a concern for the Terriers last weekend, but against UMass Lowell, the shorthanded unit went a perfect five-for-five.
“I thought our penalty kill was tremendous all night,” O’Connell said. “Compared to last week, it was a ginormous improvement.”
What made the difference? As Harper said, “the focus throughout the week was just to be a little more aggressive [on the penalty kill].”
In overtime, it was Tucker who came up big in the crease to keep his team alive. Freshman forward Carl Berglund found a seam and skated into the BU end alone, but the graduate transfer keeper made a sprawling save to prevent the potential game-winner.
“I thought he was terrific,” O’Connell said about Tucker’s 25-save performance. “We’re really excited about his effort tonight.”
Despite late chances on both sides, the game would conclude a 3-3 tie, splitting the coveted Hockey East points.
O’Connell said he found it to be an encouraging effort for his team, but the second-year boss knows his Terriers left opportunities on the table.
“I think at times we were looking for style points,” O’Connell said.
One Terrier who certainly did not disappoint was junior Kasper Kotkansalo. Due to injuries on the depth chart, the natural defenseman was asked to skate at center for the first time since he was 14-years-old, according to the team.
“He was pretty responsible for not playing center for seven years,” O’Connell said. When asked whether or not the utility man would see time at center again, the coach smirked and said, “we’ll see”.
Transitioning to center for the night was an adjustment for Kotkansalo, but learning on the job is nothing new to this BU team. All season thus far, O’Connell and his men have been quick to point out that this team is gaining knowledge with every game.
“We’ll tighten things up, we’ll look at the film, and we’ll try to be better tomorrow,” Harper said.
The coach added, “we’re trying to refine our game and get it to the highest level that we can.”