Backed by a career-high 49 saves by graduate goaltender Sam Tucker, the Boston University men’s hockey team survived a late comeback bid by No. 5 Massachusetts to prevail 4-3 on Friday night at Agganis Arena.
“Tucker was the difference,” said BU head coach Albie O’Connell. “Sometimes a goalie needs to be the best player for you to win.”
Last season, the Minutemen (6-3, 2-3 Hockey East) skated to their first sweep of the Terriers (3-3-4, 2-2-3 Hockey East) in program history. Having reached as high as second on the national polls already this fall, UMass represented BU’s biggest test of the young season thus far.
The hosts took the upper hand early as sophomore forward Matt Quercia charged on as the extra attacker for BU in a delayed penalty situation and turned in a rebound created by senior forward Patrick Curry. Freshman forward Trevor Zegras had the second assist on Quercia’s opener.
“He’s going to the dirty areas and he does a good job of putting them home,” O’Connell said of Quercia, who now has four goals in his second year at BU.
Undeterred by the Terrier tally, the Minutemen fired 21 shots on goal to BU’s seven in the opening 20 minutes. Against relentless pressure, Sam Tucker put an exclamation point on a flawless first frame with a pair of highlight-reel stops in the final seconds to keep the 1-0 lead.
We were under duress quite a bit in the first period,” said O’Connell. “[Tucker] kept us in there.”
BU’s advantage became two 3:30 into the second period when Curry got the last touch amidst a crowd in front, forcing the puck over the line. Senior forward Patrick Harper and junior defenseman Cam Crotty were credited with the assists for Curry’s eighth score of his senior campaign.
Returning from injury, Crotty played his first full game since October 26, and according to Coach O’Connell, “he was terrific for not playing in a long time.”
Senior forward Gabe Chabot got in on the action two minutes later, winning a puck battle and zipping a shot past Matt Murray, chasing the junior keeper from the game. It was Chabot’s second goal of the 2019-20 season, with junior forward Jake Witkowski providing the assist.
“I had all day,” said Chabot, one of just four seniors on the BU roster. “I just tried to get a little move in before the shot and it worked.”
Not done just yet, BU added a fourth on the power play five seconds before the buzzer as junior defenseman David Farrance slipped in his team-leading ninth goal of the season, benefitting from puck movement between freshman forward Robert Mastrosimone an Harper.
“We’ve got some guys who can make plays,” said O’Connell, who noted that his team is averaging around four goals per game.
Sam Tucker kept his clean sheet with 17 saves in the middle stanza, including a pair of back-to-back breakaway stops against junior forwards Mitchell Chaffee and John Leonard, the co-leading scorers for the Minutemen.
The Minutemen finally broke through 48 seconds into the third period, and the floodgates opened. Freshman defenseman Gianfranco Cassaro broke the ice for the visitors from close range before junior forward Oliver Chau followed suit four minutes later. Shortly after, freshman d-man Zac Jones roofed a third, and in a matter of nine minutes, the deficit was cut to one.
“We’ve gotta keep getting better at doing the right things for the whole game instead of, you know, 55 minutes or 50 minutes,” said Chabot.
Battling to preserve the lead, Tucker and his Terriers held strong against a final UMass push. Tucker finished with 11 third-period saves to bring his game total to 49, earning his third win in scarlet and white by a score of 4-3.
“I’m proud of the way we hung in there,” O’Connell said.
As Tucker added, “we definitely didn’t make it as easy for ourselves as we could’ve, but I liked the compete [level] overall.”
The Minutemen outshot BU 52-22, with BU’s total marking their lowest in 19 games going back to last February. As for the 52 attempts against, BU hadn’t faced more than 50 shots in a single game since their 2017 national tournament clash with North Dakota, which also resulted in a Terrier win.
“I thought that was as dominating as we’ve been since I’ve been at UMass,” said UMass head coach Greg Carvel, who took his team to last season’s national championship game. “We got beat by their goaltender.”
The victory marked BU’s second in Hockey East play through seven contests, and against the reigning regular season conference champions, the two points felt even sweeter.
“We’re learning to win as a team, and tonight was a start for that,” said Chabot.
For Coach O’Connell, the focus is already on the rematch and what BU can do to make it an undefeated weekend.
“You celebrate [the win] for about 20 minutes and then you’ve gotta recover and get ready for the next game.”
BU and UMass will meet again on Saturday night at 8pm as the series shifts to Amherst’s Mullins Center.