By Arielle Aronson/DFP Staff
With less than five minutes remaining in the first overtime of the No. 6 Boston University’s 3-2 double-overtime loss to the University of New Hampshire, Wildcat goaltender Casey DeSmith kicked a rebound out to his left, just a few feet in front of where junior forward Ross Gaudet was waiting. There was nothing between Gaudet, the puck, and a virtually empty net, but Gaudet could not reach the rebound fast enough to play the hero for BU.
Instead, UNH freshman Grayson Downing took the spotlight, as he potted the game-winner two minutes into the second overtime to lift the Wildcats to the 3-2 game 1 victory.
Gaudet’s missed opportunity was one of many for the Terriers (21-13-1), who were outplayed, out-shot and out-skated all night long by the Wildcats (15-17-3). The only bright spot for the Terriers was the play of senior goaltender Kieran Millan, who set a new career record for saves in a game with 47 saves on Friday night.
By virtue of the loss, BU will need to win the final two games of the best-of-three series in order to advance to the Hockey East semifinals. Following Friday night’s game, BU coach Jack Parker singled out the team’s skating as one of the key reasons for BU’s underwhelming play.
“I thought my team looked absolutely legless tonight, from the beginning of the game to the end of the game,” Parker said. “I thought the lack of speed on our part and the great speed on UNH’s part, and I don’t mean just up and down the ice, but beating us to pucks … we didn’t deserve the win, but UNH certainly did deserve the win.
“It wasn’t for lack of effort. We looked like we were skating in sand and they looked like they were skating on new ice every shift.”
Despite the team’s fatigued display Friday night, the Terriers took the first lead of the game almost 15 minutes into the first period. The goal came in transition, as sophomore forward Matt Nieto carried the puck deep into the offense zone, then fed a pass to a surging Alex Chiasson. The junior assistant captain undressed both the defender and DeSmith with a deke and a faked shot before slipping the puck in for the score.
But BU’s lead did not stand for long, as UNH tied the game then took the lead less than two minutes later when it scored two goals in 46 seconds. The first tally came when the BU defense failed to control several rebounds low in its own zone. Wildcat sophomore Nick Sorkin capitalized when he picked up a rebound down low and roofed it over senior goaltender Kieran Millan.
UNH took the lead shortly after when UNH sophomore Kevin Goumas sent a light wrister past Millan from the top of the slot to give the Wildcats a 2-1 lead with just 1:54 remaining in the frame.
The Terriers did not look much better in the second period. They lost most of the puck battles and could not maintain possession in their offensive zone.
Things seemed to take a turn for the worse for BU when freshman defenseman Alexx Privitera turned the puck over at the top of his own zone, creating a 2-on-1 for UNH. Millan, however, made the save, and Privitera redeemed himself immediately after with a long pass to senior forward Kevin Gilroy, who was waiting at the opposite blue line. Gilroy raced in on a breakaway and beat DeSmith with a forehand-to-backhand move to tie the game at 2-2 with 3:10 left in the period.
But BU’s play deteriorated in the third period. The Terriers were out-shot 18-10 in the frame and seemed especially tired after UNH power play eight minutes in during which the Wildcats pinned BU in its own zone without a line change for 1:41. Then, just four minutes after killing off the penalty, the Terriers played two minutes of open-ice 4-on-4 play due to matching roughing minors assessed to Chiasson and Goumas.
“[We] got exhausted killing the penalty and then it was 4-on-4,” Parker said. “From then on, it was like the ice was tilted I thought. I thought UNH played extremely well the entire game. We struggled to control it in our end and we struggled to control it in their end.”
Parker said the only factor he could think of for the team’s legless play was a flu bug that has been traveling through the team ever since senior goaltender Grant Rollheiser fell ill during the bus ride back from the University of Vermont two weeks ago. Following Friday’s game, Parker mentioned that multiple players did not practice as much as usual this week because of the illness. Still, Parker said he did expect to see or recognize the poorly skating team wearing BU sweaters Friday night.
“It was like I was watching a team that I didn’t recognize tonight, not effort-wise, our skating ability-wise,” Parker said. “We’ll have to see what we can come back with tomorrow.”
Tomorrow will come quickly for both teams. Game 2 of the series is scheduled to begin at 4 p.m. Saturday afternoon, just 18 hours after the end of the first game. The 82-minute Game 1, the longest game in the history of Agganis Arena, was the third overtime affair in the last five games for the Terriers and the second in the last six games for the Wildcats.
“I’m sure both teams will be a little tired with the quick turnaround there,” said senior captain Chris Connolly. “It comes down to being mentally prepared and ready to play a full 60 minutes and cutting down on some of the errors and some of the turnovers. We just have to remind the guys [UNH is] feeling the exact same way we are.”