MADISON, Wisconsin — It seemed as if the No. 2 Boston University men’s hockey team’s 1,100-mile journey to the Midwest was pegged for a disheartening start.
With 58 minutes already expired on the clock Friday night, the Terriers (11-3-4, 7-1-2 Hockey East) stared at a two-goal deficit against the University of Wisconsin — a squad that had slumped its way to a 2-11-1 mark over the first 14 games of the 2014-15 campaign.
Thankfully for the Terriers, the final two minutes of play helped paint a different story.
Junior forward Ahti Oksanen found the back of the net twice in the closing minutes of the third period to rally the Terriers to a 3-3 draw against the Badgers in Madison, Wisconsin.
Here’s a quick look at what went right (and wrong) for David Quinn’s squad at the Kohl Center.
Ahti To The Rescue
For most of Friday’s game, it was a performance to forget for Ahti Oksanen. A number of turnovers and poor play even led to Quinn slotting the Finnish forward down to the second line during portions of the final stanza.
The slow start served as a microcosm of the junior’s struggles as of late. After notching 11 points (eight goals, three assists) over his first 10 games of the season, the winger had failed to light the lamp — while only posting two assists — in the following six games leading into the Terriers’ match against Wisconsin.
All things aside, Oksanen ended up picking a good time to break out of his slump.
With BU tasked with eliminating a 3-1 Badgers lead in the final minutes of play, Oksanen struck first with 1:52 left in the third.
After collecting the puck, senior assistant captain Cason Hohmann sent the puck to a lurking Oksanen camped out in the right slot. The Kirkkonummi, Finland, native promptly tipped the puck past Wisconsin netminder Joel Rumpel to make it a 3-2 game.
With the clock dwindling down to three seconds, BU netted its equalizer — once again off of the stick of Oksanen.
In wake of a flurry of shots levied against Rumpel, the Terriers attempted one last frenzied strike from the blue line, with junior captain Matt Grzelcyk firing a rocket of a shot toward the tangled mass of skaters entrenched near the Badgers’ crease.
Fighting through a hodgepodge of hockey sticks and bodies, Oksanen managed to redirect the puck past Rumpel to force the game into overtime.
For Oksanen, his first tally ended up being the difference maker — giving the Terriers the added push that they needed to fight for a draw.
“We played terribly, so we needed people to step up, we could tie the game,” he said. “So we decided to give all we got and see what happens and today we got the two goals.”
Fortunato finds his mark
Lost in the midst of Oksanen’s late-game heroics was the offensive performance of freshman defenseman Brandon Fortunato, who helped BU get on the boardwith his first collegiate goal.
With the Terriers in the midst of a power-play opportunity, Fortunato gathered the puck at the blue line and sent a searing wrister into the Badgers’ netting at 7:53 in the first to push BU out to an early advantage.
“[Fortunato] was good, [Fortunato] obviously needs to shoot the puck more, he doesn’t have many shots on net,” Quinn said. “But, he got the puck and just got rid of it. And it was a great play on the power play.
“We tried to attack them down low and the puck came out high, they were converging down low and just one-timed it. Good to see that, good to see him get rewarded and get a goal. He’s going to be a great player for us.”
A goaltending gaffe
From looking at the box score, it looked like BU goaltender Matt O’Connor put his team in a good position to come away with a win.
The Toronto native turned aside all 16 shots sent against him over the opening 20 minutes of play, and steeled himself against multiple Badger breakaway opportunities.
However, a costly play outside of the crease almost proved to be the deciding factor in Friday’s game.
As the Terriers’ labored to cut into the Badger’s one-goal lead in the third period, forward Matt Ustanski managed to clear the puck out towards O’Connor.
The goaltender ventured out from between the pipes to play the puck, but his pass bounced off of freshman defenseman Brien Diffley and slowly coast into BU’s cage to give Wisconsin the easy insurance score.
“I didn’t even see what happened. I just saw that they dumped the puck in and I was grabbing a water bottle, and somehow suddenly everyone started celebrating,” Oksanen said. “I didn’t know what was going on. So of course it felt pretty bad to see on the screen what actually happened. That just happens and we just had to keep going on — not care about that.”
For the second straight game, the Terriers were forced to watch their opponent find the back of net while skating with a man down. After relinquishing a shorthanded goal to Union College on Jan. 3, BU was once again stung while on the man advantage Friday night.
Just 41 seconds into the second period, Wisconsin captain Brad Navin gathered the puck and skated into the Terriers’ zone. Navin maneuvered the puck towards trailing blueliner Kevin Schulze, who beat O’Connor by way of a backhand attempt to even the score at 1-1.
Fortunato’s extra-man tally might have been an encouraging sign to a BU power play that compiled a nine percent success rate (2-for-22) over its six games prior to Friday night, but surrendering two shorthanded goals in two games is an issue that will need to be addressed for the scarlet and white.
BU’s two-goal rally against Wisconsin might have ushered in shades of the Terriers’ miraculous comeback in the 2009 National Championship game, but for Quinn, the biggest takeaway was not his team’s play in the final two minutes. Rather, he was more concerned with the preceding 58 minutes.
“We need to play 60 minutes like we got the goalie pulled all the time,” Quinn said. “And that’s going to be our challenge tomorrow night.”