MANCHESTER, New Hampshire — The No. 2 Boston University men’s hockey team knew it would have its hands full against No. 17 Yale University entering the first game of the NCAA Tournament, and the Terriers didn’t get anything different from the Bulldogs on Friday afternoon at Verizon Wireless Arena.
Yale sported the best defense in the country entering the game, and showed that for much of the game, shutting BU out for two periods. BU managed to earn the 3-2 win in overtime with some heroics from junior forward Danny O’Regan, but not without some pains along the way.
Here’s what we liked and didn’t like:
BU’s freshmen appeared somewhat nervous, but its veterans picked up a lot of the slack in the end. All three of BU’s goals came from upperclassmen, and BU’s leaders in shots on goal were two juniors: captain Matt Grzelcyk (8) and O’Regan (6).
“One of the reasons we’ve been able to overcome our slow starts, why we’ve had great third periods, why we’ve had the season we’ve had, is because of our leadership,” said BU coach David Quinn. “And I’m not just talking about our seniors, I mean, our juniors, our sophomores have assumed a leadership and its kind of got contagious throughout the roster.”
On the topic of those sophomores, we at the blog were particularly impressed with the play of sophomore defenseman Doyle Somerby. He played with an offensive aggressiveness we haven’t seen all year — recording three shots on goal — and made a great play to keep the puck alive on BU’s overtime goal.
“Without question those guys are pivotal to our success,” Quinn added. “They really set the tone for our season.”
Comeback kids… again.
I swear I talk about this every time I write a pluses and minuses, but BU somehow does it every time. Conor talks more about BU’s two crucial third-period goals — and their overtime miracle — in his sidebar.
As expected, Yale’s defense swarmed the Terriers early, and BU’s young defensive corps committed lots of crucial turnovers throughout the game, leading to plenty of prime scoring opportunities throughout the game.
One BU turnover also led to a second, game-tying goal for Yale after BU had taken a 2-1 lead midway through the third period.
“I think it’s what we try to do on a game-to-game basis,” said Yale head coach Keith Allain. “We consider ourselves a strong forechecking team, we like to apply pressure on the puck all over the ice, and do that effectively. Not just with one guy but with all five guys kind of acting in concern with creating turnovers.”
Bad, bad penalties
One of the lowest moments in the game was most certainly junior forward Ahti Oksanen’s elbowing penalty at the 13:01 mark of the second period. Yale had been keeping BU close all game, and there was very little margin for error.
Oksanen’s penalty led to a Yale 1-0 lead 19 seconds into the Bulldogs’ power play, which could have been the dagger were it not for the goals in third period and overtime.
BU only had eight penalty minutes in the game, compared to Yale’s 10. But when you’re playing the best defense in the country, every little mistake counts, and a 1-0 deficit can be hard to overcome. The Terriers managed to do it on Friday, but they might not be so lucky later down the line if they’re in a tight game again.
As expected, some of BU’s woes came from its freshman-heavy roster playing on the big stage. Certainly playing a game broadcasted on ESPN isn’t a small thing. Quinn mentioned, as we said earlier, that BU’s leaders managed to keep the younger players in check somewhat.
“Playing on this big, big stage, it takes guys maybe a few extra minutes to kind of get into the game and relax themselves,” said senior assistant captain Evan Rodrigues. “But, I think we’ve done a good job of being able to kind of relax as the game goes on.”