From the FreeP: Saturday night’s all right

By Scott McLaughlin/DFP Staff

Saturday night was the kind of effort Boston University men’s hockey coach Jack Parker had been waiting for from his team. No slow start. No letting up after getting the lead. No lulls in focus that led to costly mistakes. No stupid penalties. The Terriers came out strong and sustained that level of play all game long en route to beating University of Vermont 3-1. They finally put together a 60-minute effort.

“I thought it was really a thorough game,” Parker said. “We talk about progress, not production, and that was close to being as sharp as you can be for 60 minutes. I thought we played extremely well in all three zones.

“I thought we played smart with the puck and even smarter without the puck. A bunch of guys had great nights. Everybody played well. There wasn’t a guy who had an off night.”


From the FreeP: New first-line combination settles in

By Sam Dykstra/DFP Staff

Nine different forwards on the No. 15 Boston University men’s hockey team have come together to form nine separate first-line combinations in the 34 games of the 2010-11 season. The latest trio of junior left wing Chris Connolly, freshman center Sahir Gill and freshman right wing/center Charlie Coyle have combined for 52 of the possible 102 starts at the top of the lines sheet, but before last weekend’s series against Providence College, those three had never played together on a line.

Put that relative inexperience with one another alongside their collective goal-scoring struggles heading into the end of the season – Coyle was the latest member of the newly formed line to light the lamp, with his last goal coming way back on Jan. 21– and it’s easy to understand how those struggles continued against the Friars, resulting in a pointless weekend for all three.

“It’s hard for guys to hit it off right away,” said Connolly, after BU’s 3-1 win over University of Vermont on Saturday. “Guys are used to kind of doing their own thing. Everybody’s their own guy and brings something to the line. Charlie’s a big strong kid with a lot of talent. Sahir’s a great playmaker. I just try to provide some energy for the line, get after the D a little bit. It takes a little bit [to gel].”


UPDATED: Terriers take season series from Vermont with 3-1 win

By Scott McLaughlin/DFP Staff

Chris Connolly, Alex Chiasson and Matt Nieto each netted a goal and Adam Clendening contributed two assists as the Boston University men’s hockey team beat the University of Vermont, 3-1, Saturday night. Kieran Millan saved 27 shots and lost a shutout bid with just 4.5 seconds left in the game.

The Terriers outshot the Catamounts 15-6 in the first period and completely dominated time of possession, but failed to find the back of the net. Vermont hung goalie Rob Madore out to dry several times, but the junior netminder repeatedly bailed his team out with some huge saves. The one time he did get beat, Connolly missed an open net.

Madore’s magic only lasted so long, though, as the Terriers got on the board twice in the second. Their first goal came on a five-minute power play that resulted from a hit from behind on Wade Megan that earned Connor Brickley a game misconduct.

Three and a half minutes into the man advantage, Sahir Gill cut to the net from the right side and drew two defenders before sliding a pass back to Connolly. The junior co-captain was left with another open net to shoot at, and this time he didn’t miss.

Seven minutes later, BU struck again. Clendening sprung Chiasson on a breakaway with a beautiful 100-foot breakout pass. Chiasson raced in and made a few nifty stick dekes before popping the water bottle off the top of the net with a laser over Madore’s glove.

The Terriers appeared to make it 3-0 four minutes into the third, but the goal was waved off after a video review. Max Nicastro threw a slap-pass toward the front that deflected in off Charlie Coyle’s skate, but the officials ruled that Coyle made a distinct kicking motion.

Vermont racked up its second game misconduct of the night with six minutes left in the game when Jack Downing leveled Garrett Noonan from behind and then proceeded to stand over him screaming.

The Terriers once again made the Catamounts pay for their lack of discipline. With 1:08 remaining on the power play and 2:09 to go in the game, Corey Trivino had a centering pass intercepted, but Nieto whacked the puck off Dan Lawson’s stick and past Madore.

The Catamounts ended Millan’s shutout bid with just 4.5 seconds to go in the game, marking the fourth time this season BU has lost a shutout in the final two minutes of a game.

***Reporter’s note: Due to the unforeseen possibility of a three-way tie for third, a previous report that BU clinched home ice for the Hockey East quarterfinals was incorrect. This blog, the BU athletic department and Hockey East all stated before this weekend that the Terriers could clinch home ice with three points. However, a member of the athletic department discovered after tonight’s game that that was not true. Maine’s sweep of Merrimack this weekend means there is a possibility that BU, Merrimack and Maine could finish in a three-way tie for third that would leave the Terriers as the five seed and put them on the road for the quarterfinals. Here’s how:

Right now, BU is third with 34 points, Merrimack is fourth with 33 and Maine is fifth with 30. If BU gets swept by Northeastern next weekend, Merrimack takes just one point from Providence and Maine sweeps Massachusetts, the three teams would end up tied for third with 34 points apiece.

The first tiebreaker in that scenario is head-to-head against the other teams involved in the tie. All three are .500 against the other two combined, so that doesn’t get us anywhere. The next tiebreaker is wins in league play. Merrimack and Maine would both have 15, while BU would only have 14. Therefore, the Terriers would be the five seed. Maine would be the three because it won the season series against Merrimack, meaning BU would play at Merrimack in the quarterfinals.

There’s a very slim chance of all that happening, but just to reiterate, the Terriers DID NOT clinch home ice tonight.

Grading the Terriers: 2/26 against UVM

By Jake Seiner/DFP Staff

Offense: A-minus
The three goals aren’t entirely impressive, but that subpar total is mostly a credit to UVM goaltender Rob Madore. The Terriers were absolutely buzzing around the Catamount net, especially in the first period. Madore had to make a number of dazzling saves to keep BU off the board in the first as the Terriers tested him with nine grade-A chances and 16 shots on goal. In particular, BU’s top lines were outstanding. The top line of Charlie Coyle, Chris Connolly and Sahir Gill combined for 10 shots and five grade-A chances, while Alex Chiasson, Corey Trivino and Matt Nieto totaled 10 shots and 10 grade-A chances.

Defense: A
This writer doesn’t hand out A-grades lightly –– in fact, this is probably the first. But the Terriers were that good in their own end, holding UVM to nine grade-A shots the entire game, including just one in the second period. Parker said postgame he thought freshman Adam Clendening looked like an All American Saturday, while Max Nicastro and Sean Escobedo both played possibly their best games of the year. Vermont isn’t the most talented team in Hockey East, but BU was downright unbreakable in its own end tonight.

Special Teams: A-minus
The Terriers scored both their goals on five-minute power plays, and held UVM to three shots on three power-play chances. BU continued to make big strides on the man-up, moving the puck quickly and effectively, and the PK was as stingy as its been for the last month or so, when it’s been fantastic. The big hang up here is that UVM is an awful team on both sides of the power play, converting just 13.2 percent of its man-up chances and killing just 80 percent of opponents chances heading into Saturday’s game.

Goaltending: A-minus
Kieran Millan lost a would-be shutout with 4.5 seconds to play, continuing a habit of losing potential blankings late in games. Because the defense played so well, Millan wasn’t asked to handle as much tonight as others, but he still had to make a handful of crucial saves. Most notably, the junior robbed Lenz on a 2-on-1 rush in the first period with a nifty glove save that could’ve swayed momentum big time as Madore played the part of Patrick Roy at the other end.

X-Factor: It’s a 60-minute game…
…and BU played it for all 60 minutes. The cliché has been a huge talking point for the Terriers for the past few weeks, as third-period leads have slipped away. Locking this one down with a strong third period is crucial for BU’s psyche, especially after blowing a 3-0 lead in the third period Friday night against the Catamounts. With the power play working and the team settling into a solid mental state, the Terriers could be bringing their full skillset right into for at the perfect time.

Grading the Terriers: 2/25 vs. Vermont

By Sam Dykstra/DFP Staff

Offense: A-
Everyone’s immediate reaction to Friday night’s game is to blame the tie on every aspect of the game. But when all things are considered, the BU offense actually played as well as it has all season. The team’s 46 shots were the second-highest amount it had put on net in game this season, behind the 49 it put up against Harvard University in the Beanpot consolation. That’s 30 more shots than BU had in its first game against the Catamounts up in Burlington on Jan. 9 And those shots weren’t exactly the weakest of attempts. The Terriers had 27 Grade-A chances, including 10 in the first period alone, with all three goals coming below the dots. Sure, anyone would like to see a goal total slightly higher than three, especially after a tie, but if BU wants a blueprint to succeed offensively, you can’t get much better than the one they used Friday.

Defense: B-
For 46 minutes and change, this looked like it would be an easy A- at the least for the Terriers. They held the Catamounts scoreless mostly by following the design they’ve used since the beginning of the season: forcing teams to shoot from the outside and limiting chances from in close. Vermont only had seven Grade-A’s in the first two periods. In fact, that trend continued in the third, but unfortunately for the Terriers, they allowed the Catamounts to take advantage of their chances from below the dots. Vermont had only four shots from the Grade-A trapezoid in the third and scored on two of those opportunities. (The other goal came on a shot from up top that flew through traffic.) As easy as it would be to reward the defense for its play early or completely punish it for its play over seven minutes in the third, you simply can’t talk about one and ignore the other so a B- feels about right in that situation.

Goaltending: B-
You could almost copy and paste the pros and cons from the defense into Millan’s grade here. He played up to his standards of late over the first two periods. (In fact, there was some talk in the press box about who deserved the first star of the game: Millan or freshman forward Sahir Gill, who had a goal and an assist.) But then it all came apart in the third. He may have come out a bit too far on Anders Franzon’s goal, allowing the Vermont defender to scoot around him and place the puck into the net. Then on Vermont’s third and tying goal, he did little to control a rebound and kicked it right to Lance Herrington who had a wide open net on the left side. Mind you, the second goal had tons of traffic in front of him and he did have 38 saves on the night. But that last goal by Herrington really highlighted Millan’s weakness all night: his rebound control. Even when times were good in the first two frames, there were instances when Millan didn’t do as much to hold onto the puck as he’s done in the past. Luckily for him, those situations didn’t result in more goals, but it was still not the same Millan that we’ve perhaps grown accustomed to in the latter parts of the season.

Special Teams: C+
Coming into Friday, it was pretty easy to predict that the special-teams game for both sides wouldn’t be all that great. Vermont and BU came in ranked 50th and 51st in power-play success rate before the puck dropped, and neither side did much to prove that it deserved to be placed higher. Both teams went 0-for-4 with a man advantage. However, it’s easier to say that BU didn’t play nearly as well as Vermont in those situations. The Terriers had a 5-on-3 advantage halfway through the first that they couldn’t capitalize on – mind you, this is against the penalty-kill unit that was ranked a lowly 45th in the nation – and they had just over half the amount of shots on the power play that the Catamounts did (9 to 4) with the same amount of opportunities. The penalty kill, which continues to be a strong suit for BU, is probably what kept the special teams grade from dropping down into the lower C/D range.

X-Factor: Defensive mistakes
BU coach Jack Parker had mentioned in the lead-up to this weekend that he feared his team got a bit too selfish when it got a lead, that sometimes players would try to get “my goal” when the scored reach 2-0 or 3-0. However on Friday night, that didn’t appear the case. Instead, Parker praised his team’s effort throughout the game but blamed the tie on a few key mistakes. By allowing Franzon and Herrington to be that open in the slot, the Terriers essentially handed the goals to their opponents. If they had collapsed correctly on one of those plays or had not clogged up the middle on the second goal, perhaps BU would have walked away with two points instead of just the one.

Parker says mistakes, not lack of effort, caused latest collapse

By Scott McLaughlin/DFP Staff

The Boston University men’s hockey team has made a habit of letting off the gas when it gets a lead. This month alone, they blew a shutout bid with 1:34 left in a win over UMass-Lowell, completely self-destructed after taking a late lead in a 5-4 loss to Harvard, and then saw another shutout bid fall by the wayside on a late goal in last Friday’s 2-1 win over Providence.

On paper, blowing a three-goal third-period lead in Friday night’s 3-3 tie against Vermont looks worse than all of those. But BU coach Jack Parker, always one to keep the media on their toes with his postgame press conferences, didn’t see it that way.

“No, not at all,” Parker said when asked if this was similar to his team putting it in cruise control in those other games. “I told them in the dressing room that I thought we played pretty hard. It wasn’t like we just wanted to get out of there and all of a sudden we lost the game.”

Instead, Parker said Friday’s collapse had more to do with a few costly mistakes than letting up or not trying hard enough.

“We made three huge mistakes that gave them three goals,” Parker said. “I think they had two grade-A shots the entire third period. They scored on both of them. We had a horrible non-backcheck on [Lance] Herrington’s goal, the tying goal.

“A bad play on the 4-on-4 play by a defenseman stepping up [on the first goal] and then a bad play by a wing leaving a defenseman all alone when he should’ve been all over him from the get-go [on the second goal].”

Parker said that outside of those errors, he thought everyone on his team gave a solid effort for most of the game.

“Without those mistakes, even during the last 13 minutes of the third period, I thought we played pretty well,” Parker said. “We got a bunch of good opportunities, a bunch of good grade-A’s.”

The third-period shot chart is evidence of that. As Parker mentioned, Vermont had just two grade-A chances in the third. The Terriers, on the other hand, had eight, something that cannot be said for the UMass-Lowell, Harvard and Providence games.

Senior co-captain Joe Pereira said he agreed with Parker that the team didn’t really play any differently in the third and that the three goals were the results of mistakes rather than a lack of effort. But at the same time, Pereira said that doesn’t make it any easier to swallow.

“At the end of the day, we can’t make excuses,” Pereira said. “We tied a game we should’ve won. That hurts.”

Earlier in the year, some of BU’s inconsistent play, especially late in games, was chalked up to the team being young and inexperienced. Pereira said that isn’t a valid excuse any more.

“I don’t even think it’s that we’re young,” Pereira said. “We’ve grown up. Those freshmen, they can’t be freshmen any more. They’ve played a lot of hockey for us and they’ve played in a lot of big situations. It’s just that we’ve got to have that mentality that we can’t lose.”

Parker and Pereira both said that all the Terriers can do now is pick themselves up and focus on Saturday’s rematch with the Catamounts and getting a much-needed win.

“As I said, I’m not aggravated with my team tonight,” Parker said. “I hope they don’t get down. They’ve got to get even. They’ve got to come back and play better tomorrow.”