TROY, New York — As with most games this year, it wasn’t the prettiest of starts, but the No. 2 Boston University men’s hockey team figured it out by the end, putting together a comfortable 5-1 win over Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute at Houston Field House.
The Terriers (11-3-2, 7-1-2 Hockey East) escaped one of their sloppiest first periods of the year to date without allowing a goal thanks to junior goaltender Matt O’Connor. A solid second period with goals from junior forward Danny O’Regan and freshmen defensemen John MacLeod and Brandon Hickey put BU ahead to stay. Freshman forward J.J. Piccinich and sophomore winger Nick Roberto put the game on ice with goals late in the third.
Here’s a closer look at went both right and wrong for the Terriers on Saturday night:
O’Connor stands on his head
If not for the play of O’Connor in the first period, the Engineers might have multiple goals and a lead in the frame. But the Toronto native made save after save on 18 chances in the first 20 minutes. Most notably, with about five minutes left in the first, O’Connor sprawled out with his right pad, just barely getting a piece of the puck with his foot to keep the biscuit out of the net.
He continued this play throughout the game, making many tough saves with big bodies screening him near the crease. Not only did he make the stops, but he also kept rebounds to a minimum, something that at times has hampered him during his two-plus years at BU.
Only forward Milos Bubela’s goal with 2:55 left the game could spoil the goaltender’s night, which would’ve been his second-career NCAA shutout.
“Well, obviously we survived another bad first period. I thought our goalie was outstanding,” said BU head coach David Quinn. “I thought their goalie made some great saves, too, but I thought our guy made a lot more.”
Save that puck
Throughout the first half of the 2014-15 season, Piccinich has worked hard on the forecheck as part of the second line. Despite his hard-nosed play, he had been kept goalless in 13 games. But his consistent effort finally paid dividends at RPI.
With BU already leading by three, Piccinich corralled the puck in the middle of the zone, turned around and fired a wrister that beat goaltender Scott Diebold glove side for the freshman’s first goal with the Terriers.
According to Quinn, this score could be the first of many for Piccinich.
“He’s been playing very well,” Quinn said. “It’s good to see a guy like that get rewarded. We’ve kind of always felt once he gets one, maybe it’ll start coming in bunches. Hopefully that’ll happen once the second half starts.”
The drought is over
It had been over three games since BU last converted on a power-play chance. Bad zone entries, missed passes and losing puck battles marred the Terriers’ man-advantage unit over a 0-for-13 span. Late in the second period, though, BU finally scored with an opponent in the penalty box.
After a failed attempt in the first period, the Terriers made the most of their second opportunity of the game. The unit cycled the puck well through the zone and cashed in when O’Regan tipped in a shot coming from the left circle from freshman center Jack Eichel. O’Regan found himself at the right place at the right time, but more importantly, so did his stick.
“It took us a couple tries to get settled in I think, but once we got it in the zone, and we got them running around a lot off of great puck movement up top, those other four guy son with me, and Jack just feathered a pass to me for an empty net,” O’Regan said. “I think just the puck movement was the key to that.”
Second period turnaround
Solid third periods have won BU many games this year, but back-to-back three-goal second periods have carried the Terriers the last two games.
Better passes led to more and efficient offensive zone time, and BU made the most of this. For more on this part of the game, check out Sarah’s sidebar.
Same old start
It’s been well documented that the Terriers don’t play their best hockey in the first period. Saturday night was no different by any means. O’Connor’s play might’ve been the only thing that went well for the Terriers in this 20-minute span. The Engineers continually camped in front of the net and had some quality chances by the end of the frame.
RPI did actually have a 1-0 lead for a brief moment before the referees waived off forward Jimmy Devito’s would-be goal because O’Connor was bumped into by an Engineers skater.
Poor play continues to be a part of this team’s starts, and it could end up biting the Terriers back one of these games.