LOWELL, Mass. — Shootouts are a controversial part of hockey that made its way back into the college game this season, and the Boston University men’s ice hockey team (10-3-1) finally got to experience one in their final game of the regular season. The Terriers edged the UMass Lowell River Hawks (7-8-1) 3-2 in the shootout following the 3-3 game that will go down as a tie in the record books.
With the quasi-victory, the Terriers clinched the No. 2 seed in the Hockey East tournament, which means they will host one of Lowell, Maine, New Hampshire or Vermont after Wednesday’s play-in round next weekend.
“It was one of the toughest games we played all year,” BU coach Albie O’Connell said, “We didn’t have the sharpness we would like, but second place, solidifying that is huge, and I’m happy for the players.”
Sophomore defenseman Domenick Fensore led the Terriers with two points (1g, 1a) on the day, while freshman forward Luke Tuch and sophomore forward Jay O’Brien scored the other two goals. Freshman goaltender Drew Commesso made 35 saves.
For Lowell, forward Charlie Levesque scored two goals while defenseman Jon McDonald tallied two assists to lead the River Hawks, while goaltender Owen Savory made 25 saves.
Both sides traded shots to open the period, but the Terriers were more successful getting pucks deep in the offensive zone. The River Hawks executed a strong back check, but BU continued to build momentum.
A Wilmer Skoog hooking penalty 6:42 into the opening frame gave Lowell their first power play opportunity of the game. The River Hawks tested Commesso and the Terrier penalty kill with a variety of shots, but couldn’t strike gold.
Lowell went back on the power play five minutes later when the Terriers were called for too many men on the ice. Play had started to even out in the interim, but the second man-up opportunity allowed Lowell to strike first, as a slapper from defenseman Chase Blackmun from the point beat Commesso to put the River Hawks up 1-0 with 7:31 left in the first period.
BU responded aggressively to the early deficit, and eventually got a power play opportunity of their own with four minutes left in the period. Lowell forward Lucas Condotta hit sophomore forward Jamie Armstrong high with his elbow to draw the penalty.
Four seconds later, Lowell forward Reid Stefanson was called for interference to give the Terriers a five-on-three opportunity for a maximum 1:56. BU peppered Savory with shots, and a minute into the power play, senior defenseman David Farrance used his extra real estate to find a wide open O’Brien near the left circle. O’Brien fired the one-timer to tie the game 1-1 with 2:55 left in the period.
The remaining 56 seconds of five-on-four time bled out without any further damage from the Terriers, and the River Hawks responded almost immediately. Rolling deep into the offensive zone, McDonald dropped the puck back to Levesque, who was left wide open as three Terrier players crowded their own net. Levesque used his space to rip a shot past Commesso and take back the lead for the River Hawks, making it 2-1 with 1:28 left in the period.
With time trickling away, the River Hawks possessed the puck behind their own net, attempting to clear it out to kill the last seconds of the period. With little elevation on the puck and Tuch gliding right in front of net, the freshman forward intercepted the clearance out of the air, settling it down and spinning quickly to rip a shot off before time expired.
The puck rang beneath the crossbar to get past Savory with just 0.3 seconds remaining, tying the game and entering the “BU Goal of the Year” conversation. The two sides entered the intermission tied 2-2.
Despite the stellar play from Tuch, O’Connell felt the team could have performed better in the offensive zone.
“We didn’t really establish our forecheck all that well or offensive zone play. We had sporadic doses of it, but we stuck with it, you know, and you gotta give them credit,” O’Connell said.
The River Hawks got a chance to get back on top early in the second as sophomore forward Robert Mastrosimone was called for roughing 1:26 into the period, but the Terriers killed the penalty without much danger.
Five minutes into the second, Skoog worked the puck through center ice all by himself, knifing through the River Hawk defense to get a shot on net. Savory made the save, but a streaking Fensore swooped in to tap in the rebound to give the Terriers their first lead of the game.
The Terriers came up short on another power play opportunity with 11:54 left in the second, but got another chance with 7:08 left in the period after Lowell’s Josh Latta was called for high-sticking. The River Hawks delivered their strongest penalty kill of the day, generating more shots while short-handed (2) than the Terrier power play unit (1) in the two-minute stretch.
“It was just a poor play by us in that regard, and that happens in some power plays, you’re not gonna be great on every one. It’s about generating and looks and I thought we had a lot of good looks tonight,” O’Connell said.
That kill gave the River Hawks momentum, as Lowell did a better job keeping the Terriers out of their zone while applying more pressure on Commesso in the offensive end. Lowell remained in control through the end of the period, but the Terriers still led 3-2.
The third period opened with another too many men penalty called against the Terriers, and after a highlight reel sprawling save from Commesso, the River Hawks rallied again to tie the game with 17:01 left in regulation. Levesque got his second of the game, poking a bouncing puck to the back of the net.
A Terrier power play chance from a Condotta interference penalty came and went in the middle of the period, and possession shifted back and forth as each side fought to break the tie.
With four minutes left in regulation, the River Hawks began to dial things up, barely letting the puck get behind them. Commesso stood tall in net, but pressure continued to mount for the Terriers. The River Hawks never let off the gas, and while the Terriers mustered up occasional chances on the other end, regulation time expired with the score still tied and Lowell carrying the momentum.
The Terriers opened overtime with possession, but quickly ceded to the River Hawks. Possession shifted back and forth through overtime, neither side putting together dangerous chances. With no score, the two teams headed to the shootout.
The shootout went down to the wire, as three rounds weren’t enough to decide a winner. Skoog and Farrance scored two slick goals to put the Terriers up 2-0, as Sam Knoblauch missed in the first round for the River Hawks. Levesque scored in the bottom of the second round, and an O’Brien miss plus an Andre Lee score in the third round tied the score at 2-2 to force the extra round.
“O’Brien jumped third and we didn’t even know he was going, so he was the only guy that didn’t score, so next time we’re gonna have to put a handcuff on him,” O’Connell said, poking fun at the Terrier goal-leader this season.
In the fourth round, Mastrosimone took the puck down and executed a nifty toe drag move to get past Savory, and a Commesso save on Stefanson on the other end sealed the narrow victory in the last regular season game of the season.
“If there was fans, it would be really entertaining,” O’Connell said about the shootout as a whole, “We go up two, they score two, and then, you know, it was some terrific moves from both sides.”
With the playoffs ahead, O’Connell will have his team rest and focus on film to start off the week before reassessing once next weekend’s opponent is known.
“I think we’ve proven that, you know, we’re one of the best teams in the league,” O’Connell said, “It hasn’t been perfect. We’ve had a lot of stops and starts, more so than almost everyone else, but the guys have stuck with it.”