BOSTON, MA – The Boston University men’s hockey team fell to the Northeastern University Huskies by a final score of 2-1 at Agganis Arena on Saturday afternoon.
“It was a pretty tight game, start to finish,” BU head coach Albie O’Connell said following the loss. “I like the way we played all weekend.”
The Terriers (13-13-8, 10-9-5 Hockey East) celebrated Senior Day before puck drop, honoring their four seniors – captain Patrick Curry, assistant captain Patrick Harper, forward Gabe Chabot, and goaltender Nico Lynch, as well as their two graduate students, goaltender Sam Tucker and forward Alex Brink.
O’Connell sang high praise for his group of upperclassmen following the game, citing their leadership both on and off the ice.
“I think [the seniors] have been huge,” O’Connell said. “We had a little reception before the game with the parents and those guys, they’ve kind of transformed the culture.
“They’ve done a good job – from last year to this year, the buy-in from the team in all areas of the program is night and day, and I credit all the seniors and the juniors who are here of changing what guys do day-in, day-out, what guys do at night, how guys go to class, how they behave.”
For Harper, the Senior Day festivities marked a bittersweet approach to the end of his time on Comm. Ave.
“Obviously I’m very fortunate to play for BU,” Harper said. “I’ve given my all to the program so [it’s] obviously bittersweet.”
After dropping the first game of the series by getting shutout on home ice on Friday night, the Huskies (18-13-3, 11-12-1 Hockey East) bounced back and clinched a Hockey East playoff berth with the win.
Northeastern head coach Jim Madigan thought his group put out a strong response with their backs against the wall.
“I thought we responded really well after last night’s game,” Madigan. said. “I thought our kids really played a gutty, tough, determined game.”
Huskies senior captain Ryan Shea thought the team had the right mindset heading into Saturday’s game after assessing their issues earlier in the day.
“We had a little team meeting this morning just to talk about pretty much what is going wrong and [why] we lacked confidence,” Shea said. “We didn’t want to leave [a playoff spot] up to chance. We just wanted to get the job done ourselves.”
The game got off to an interesting start, as the Terriers had a power-play right from the drop of the puck after Northeastern backup senior goaltender Curtis Frye shot a puck that hit Curry in the head during warmups, leading to an unsportsmanlike conduct penalt at the opening puck drop. After senior forward Grant Joezefek served the two minutes, the Huskies were able to kill off the minor.
Aside from the BU power play, the game got off to a sleepy start, much like Friday’s contest at Matthews Arena. About five minutes in, Northeastern assistant captain John Picking set up Matt Thomson off the rush, but Thomson’s redirect skittered through the crease and wide of the open goal.
Moments later, BU junior forward and assistant captain Logan Cockerill took a slashing minor, sending Northeastern to the man-advantage. On the ensuing power play, Huskies freshman Aidan McDonough found open space in the slot, where he took a centering feed from Jozefek before beating Tucker to the glove to give Northeastern a 1-0 lead with 11:52 to go in the first.
The one-goal lead held heading into the locker rooms for the first intermission before the second period got off to the same sluggish start, with BU failing to execute little details, telegraphing passes, and doing fly-bys on Northeastern attackers.
The intensity and physicality began to ratchet up with some extracurriculars after the whistle involving freshman forward Wilmer Skoog’s line and Northeastern senior assistant captain Biagio Lerario about seven minutes into the middle frame– the two of them were at the center of the testiness in Friday’s game as well.
Shortly after the jawing between Lerario and Skoog and Co., Brink delivered a thunderous hit on Huskies d-man Jeremie Bucheler behind graduate netminder Craig Pantano’s goa as BU began to seize momentum.
On the heels of Brink’s check, sophomore forward Jack DeBoer found freshman forward Trevor Zegras all alone in the slot, who nearly beat Pantano, but his shot caught the post. Going the other way, junior defender Kasper Kotkansal delivered a hard hit, knocking Northeastern frosh Riley Hughes to the ice before Alex Vlasic got a big piece of Hughes in the defensive zone seconds later. In the end-to-end action, Harper and Zegas combined on a two-on-two rush, but Zegras could not complete the between-the-legs deke.
With 19.9 seconds to go in the second period, junior assistant captain Cam Crotty thought he tied the game at one apiece for the Terriers, cleaning up the loose change to beat Pantano on the doorstep. However, after the officials reviewed the play, it was ruled that there was a distinct kicking motion from Crotty, disallowing the goal.
Harper said the Terriers did not receive much of an explanation from the officials about the decision to wave off the goal.
“They just said it was a kicking motion,” Harper said.
Just 43 seconds into the final frame, Northeastern senior assistant captain Matt Filipe capitalized on a rebound in front of Tucker off Shea’s blast from the point, putting Northeastern up 2-0.
With 18:42 to go in the third, Huskies defenseman Julian Kislin took a cross-checking penalty, sending BU back to the power play. On the ensuing chance, Harper unleashed a slap shot from the top of the left faceoff circle that appeared to ring off the crossbar before Northeastern went on to kill the penalty.
But at the next stoppage of the play, a review of the play showed that Harper’s shot crossed the goal line and ricocheted out of the net off the back bar, pulling BU within one with 16:54 remaining in regulation.
After the game, Harper said he thought the puck simply hit the crossbar.
“Honestly, I didn’t think it went in,” Harper said.
With an assist on Harper’s 14th of the season, Curry extended his point streak to eight games.
The Terriers continued to push the pace as the third period wore on before heading back to the power play with 1:44 remaining in regulation.
With Tucker off for the extra skater, the Terriers put in a last-ditch effort to tie the game and force overtime, but some key saves from Pantano and clutch defensive clears for the Huskies snuffed out the BU attack as the final horn sounded.
Madigan was pleased by his team’s ability to turn out a strong defensive stand in the final moments of the contest.
“To kill off the penalty at the end in the six-on-four just I think speaks to how well our kids played and how they bought into tonight’s effort,” Madigan said.
With the loss, the Terriers finish as the sixth seed in Hockey East and will travel to the University of Massachusetts Lowell for a best-of-three Hockey East Quarterfinals series, beginning next Friday at Tsongas Center.
Had BU lost, the Terriers would have traveled to Maine for the Quarterfinals. Harper said he and the Terriers favor the trip to Lowell as opposed to a road trip to Maine.
“Obviously being in Lowell is an easier commute than going all the way up to Orono and it’s a place where we’ve had a little bit of success, compared to Maine where it’s been a really tough spot for us the past few years,” Harper said.
O’Connell knows his squad must bear down heading into postseason play.
“We’re excited to move on and get into the postseason,” O’Connell said. “It was a really long, grinding year. We’ve got to move on and start a new season.”
Puck-drop for game one between the Terriers and River Hawks is set for 7:15 pm on Friday, March 13.