In the final home game of the regular season, the No. 9 Boston University men’s hockey team kept afloat in Hockey East play, holding off the University of New Hampshire for a 3-2 win on Saturday at Agganis Arena.
The victory, which came after a 3-3 tie on Friday up in Durham, pushed BU (18-9-5, 11-5-4 Hockey East) into a tie for fourth place with the No. 11 University of Massachusetts Lowell. Both teams have two games remaining next weekend.
In the meantime, here’s what we loved about Saturday’s game, and also what we didn’t love as much:
On a night in which they were recognized in a pregame Senior Night ceremony, those same seniors took charge of the offense. Judy has more about the ceremony and the seniors’ contributions in her sidebar.
Keeping Kelleher and Poturalski quiet
UNH (10-16-6, 4-10-6 Hockey East) boasts two of the biggest scoring threats in the nation — forwards Andrew Poturalski and Tyler Kelleher. Poturalski ranks second in the country with 48 points this season, while Kelleher isn’t far behind, sitting at sixth with 42 points.
BU managed to hold the talented duo to just one point this weekend: an assist to Poturalski during Friday’s game.
“I thought we were physical on them, I thought we took away time and space,” said BU head coach David Quinn. “You have to do that with everybody, but particularly guys with that skillset. … But there’s good players in this league and they’re two of the better ones, that’s for sure.”
Plenty of BU fans have been on the #FreeSwitzer bandwagon for quite some time now, and, at least myself included, we’ve been behind freshman defenseman Shane Switzer getting more playing time this season.
With sophomore defenseman Brandon Hickey going down with injury Friday night, the coaching staff opted to play Switzer on defense for Saturday’s game. Quinn noted that Switzer has “earned the opportunity to play” — and he certainly showed how much he’s earned that opportunity.
In his first game in more than two months — his last appearance was on Dec. 12 against then-No. 2 Quinnipiac University — Switzer made an immediate impact in both zones, recording his first collegiate point on a smart pass to senior assistant captain Danny O’Regan to help BU go up 2-0 in the first period.
Switzer also found himself back on a 2-on-1, on which sophomore goaltender Connor LaCouvee made what was advertised at Agganis Arena the “save of the game” – but LaCouvee gave all of the credit to Switzer.
“I didn’t really do too much on that,” LaCouvee said. “I think Switzer actually got back and kind of stick-lifted the guy at the last second there so he didn’t really get too much on it. So kudos to Switz.”
Overall, Switzer was adequately physical and smart with the puck. He even earned some time on the power play. He wasn’t flawless — UNH forward Tyler Kelleher took advantage of a mishandle by Switzer which led to a breakaway and nearly a goal early in the game — but given that it was only his sixth appearance of the year and his first since December, it’s probably fair to say some rust came into play. But he more than made up for it with his play over the course of the game, and made a strong case to remain in the lineup going forward.
“I think he did a lot of good things,” Quinn said. “He made a great play on our second goal, and made some good plays. So we’ve liked what we’ve seen out of him. He’s a good player.”
On that same note of “rust” — while senior goaltender Sean Maguire has missed the past two games with a broken finger, LaCouvee has stepped in and been solid over his past two starts. After starting 12 of the first 17 games of the season, his first start since the New Year came
While LaCouvee is determined to be ready to play at a moment’s notice, he admitted after Saturday’s game it wasn’t easy at first.
“Yeah, it kinda sucked for a good portion of three weeks or so, but then I was just kinda like, ‘Hey, you know what, no sense kinda being a moody little kid, might as well just work hard here and support the team,’” LaCouvee said. “And Magsy’s playing unreal, so keep supporting him.’”
But LaCouvee came in this weekend and kept BU in the game, making 19 saves in each game.
On a similar note, we do love any chance we get to talk to LaCouvee at a presser — he really brings a great, as he would say, “atmo” to the room, and we can always count on him for a good laugh.
Quinn admitted that during the third period, the team had the improper approach. He said that he told the team to be more defense-focused, which may have turned out to be a mistake.
“I thought I took a cautious approach for the third period, and you have to play hockey. You have to play to win,” Quinn said. “Maybe I created a little bit of a defensive mindset, and you can’t do that. You’ve got to go play hockey. And lesson learned, for sure, from my end a bit. I told them that’ll never happen again.”
Hard to be too picky since the team did get two power-play goals, but Quinn expressed some unhappiness with the team’s performance on the power play in terms of the number of shorthanded chances the team gave up.
“Our power play has to become more responsible,” Quinn said. “It’s something that we have to clean up if we’re going to have success moving forward. And we just, we got two power-play goals, but we need to be better. We absolutely need to be better. And it’s just, it’s just way, way too slow. We get it, we hang onto it, we hang on to it, and we just have to correct it. We have too many good players out there to approach it that way.”
We didn’t see exactly when he got benched, but sophomore defenseman Brandon Fortunato didn’t play a good deal of the third period from what we saw. He wasn’t particularly sharp all night — we were initially skeptical about him pairing with fellow sophomore Brien Diffley, but Diffley emerged as the better, stronger player on the evening.
Fortunato was irresponsible with the puck in his own zone, and had trouble managing the gap. We didn’t see what the final straw was that had him sitting the rest of the game. But since he’s not the most physical of players, he has to rely more heavily on skill and offense to stand out — which has been quite lacking the past several games. Though he had an assist Saturday, that’s just one of two points in his past nine games.
Particularly with the coaches seeming to have Switzer in the mix, too, this is not a good time for Fortunato to lack any sort of production if he expects to stay in the lineup. If he’s not bringing a refined game on a consistent basis, there are many more viable options on the blue line.