By Gillian McMahon
Following a decisive 7-2 victory on Friday night, the Boston University Terriers men’s ice hockey team (6-3-0, 4-2-0 Hockey East) returned home to Agganis Arena and came away with a 5-1 victory against the University of Massachusetts Minutemen (5-5-1, 1-5-0 HE) in their first Hockey East weekend sweep of the young season.
Securing a sweep was top of mind for the Terrier team, who have struggled early on to come out of the gates strong in their Friday night contests.
“That was a point of emphasis for us coming into the year… to get off to a strong start and just take it game by game and we’ve had a tough schedule. As a captain of this team, I’m really proud of this group in the way we’ve handled ourselves,” senior forward Jay O’Brien said after the game.
The Terriers came out of the gates hard with the same level of intensity they had in Friday night’s contest. Neither team had secure puck possession for the first few minutes of the game but as they settled, the Terriers worked the puck around with a couple of solid scoring chances from O’Brien and freshman forward Devin Kaplan in front of a roaring Dog Pound that hadn’t seen any home action since Halloween.
Sprawling saves from junior goaltender Drew Commesso kept the Minutemen at bay following a flurry of shot attempts. The Olympic netminder brings confidence and poise between the pipes that haven’t missed a beat in his recent absence dealing with a hamstring injury.
Freshman forward Ryan Greene opened the Terrier scoring for the second night in a row after finding an opening in the center slot on a rebound from freshman forward Quinn Huston’s shot. Junior forward Luke Tuch got a stick on it before Greene eventually capitalized.
“He’s playing in all situations. Now he’s killing penalties, he’s on the powerplay. He’s earned it with his play. He’s very calm out there. He makes smart decisions with the puck and he’s been really good for us” head coach Jay Pandolfo said of Greene’s performance on the weekend.
On the defensive end, the effort was cohesive. With shots being blocked, plays broken up, and pucks immediately cleared out of the zone, Massachusetts was unsuccessful in getting on the board in the first period. The Terrier squad was fast and looking to get off to the races, pushing the puck up ice every chance they got.
With about three minutes left to go in the first, senior forward Jamie Armstrong was at the right place at the right time to score on a rebound at the net following a shot from sophomore defenseman Ty Gallagher for a 2-0 Terrier lead.
The Terriers managed to go the entirety of the first period without committing a penalty. This team has struggled to stay out of the box, and it was an important facet to focus on during the bye week.
“It hurts the flow of our game when we’re in the box too much because we have a lot of depth and we want to use that depth,” Pandolfo said.
Early in the second period, both teams exuded a bit more chaotic play, trying to get things going in their respective offensive zones. It started getting chippy as the Terriers and Minutemen continued looking for their chances and not seeing much success.
The first penalty of the game came halfway through the second period on Massachusetts’ junior forward Ryan Sullivan. The Minutemen penalty kill worked hard to disrupt the skilled Terrier special teams. As a result of the rush back to five on five play, senior defenseman Case McCarthy found the back of the net from the right circle on a clean feed from senior forward Wilmer Skoog.
With five minutes to go in the second period, UMass’ freshman defender Owen Murray was called for a hooking penalty, giving the Terriers a second chance to score on the power play, but instead found themselves going four-on-four after a slashing call against Greene. Big blocks by Gallagher and Cade Webber kept the Minutemen from scoring and allowed the Terriers to take a 3-0 lead into the locker room ahead of the final period of play.
At the start of the third period, the Minutemen beat Commesso, as Kenny Connors drew the goaltender to the right side of the net, leaving an opening on the left for captain Eric Faith to get his team on the board.
The Terriers successfully killed off a Hutson slashing penalty, even taking an opportunity to shoot the puck while down a man.
When it seemed like not much was materializing for the Terriers for much of the third, they sealed the game with two quick goals midway through the period. The first came from junior forward Nick Zabaneh, who found the back of the net from the center slot on a crisp set of passes from senior forwards Ethan Phillips and O’Brien for a 4-1 lead.
Tonight, Zabaneh slotted in on the first line and made his presence known. He was involved with every play, fighting for pucks, and looking to set up his teammates for success.
The Toronto native took hold of the message from the coaching staff to come out hot: “Down the stretch we’ve played really good teams. UMass is a really good team. The message was just come out hot Friday because that’s where we’ve been lacking this year… I think this was a huge step this weekend” Zabaneh said post-game.
Then, O’Brien scored on the power play from Matt Brown and McCarthy. The senior assistant captain has been hunting for his first goal of the season, and after hitting the pipes twice tonight, his celebration making his way down the bench said it all: the wait was worthwhile.
“Our players were really happy for him — same thing with Wilmer Skoog last night. They were really happy to see those two guys contribute because, you know, I think our team knows that those guys put a lot of pressure on themselves to produce for our team” Pandolfo said.
The Terriers showed their ability to dominate this weekend, and it seems that the bye week came at an opportune time to evaluate the season so far and make adjustments moving forward.
“I think we just looked at a lot of different things as a team with video sessions with the coaching staff. It felt like a month that we didn’t play. We were all chomping at the bit to play this weekend and obviously it showed,” said O’Brien.
Next weekend, the Terriers will face off against the Northeastern Huskies in a home-and-home series in what should be a highly competitive matchup against the team they edged 1-0 last February in the Beanpot championship. Be sure to follow along on Twitter @BosHockeyBlog and Instagram @Boston.Hockey.Blog for updates and coverage all week.