BU defense steps up following loss of Garrett Noonan, holds Northeastern scoreless in win

By Kevin Dillon/DFP Staff

The No. 18/19 Boston University men’s hockey team received a crushing blow to its defense when junior defenseman Garrett Noonan separated his shoulder, forcing him to miss the rest of the season. With sophomore defenseman Alexx Privitera already missing the rest of the campaign due to a team suspension, the Terriers were whittled down to playing their final player on the roster, junior forward/defenseman Matt Ronan.

Down to its last resort, BU’s defense excelled Saturday night at Agganis Arena and held Northeastern University scoreless in a 5-0 BU win.

The defensive dominance started early for the Terriers, as they held Northeastern without a shot for a little over the first 18 minutes of the game. The Huskies barely controlled the puck in BU’s zone in the frame, as they only attempted eight shots — two of which were blocked.

Part of the success was due to the strong defensive-zone play of freshman defenseman Ahti Oksanen. Oksanen, who is recognized as an offensive-minded blueliner and has struggled in his own zone at times this season, had one of his best games of the season in terms of positioning.

Oksanen, who is 6-foot-3 and 201 pounds, struggled to handle some of the bigger forwards by BU’s goaltenders earlier in the season when BU lost to Northeastern twice, and even in Friday night’s BU win. However, Oksanen was more successful against Northeastern’s bigger forwards Saturday night.

“I thought Ahti played real well tonight,” said BU coach Jack Parker. “I thought he struggled a little bit last night, but he came back and played physical, played better with the puck.”

While Oksanen did not produce any offense on the night, three of his fellow defenders did. Senior defenseman Sean Escobedo, who celebrated senior night after the game, led defensemen with two assists in the game.

Escobedo, who is usually considered a defensive-minded defenseman, recorded his third multi-assist game of the season Saturday night. He was also a plus-2 on the night and blocked two shots, which leaves him tied for national lead with 91 blocks.

“I think [Escobedo is] the best defenseman in the league, defensive defenseman for sure,” Parker said. “He really gave us a lot of minutes and played well too.”

While Escobedo is not known for his offense, perhaps the most surprising point of the night came when Ronan earned his first career assist. Ronan rifled a wrist shot toward Huskies goaltender Chris Rawlings that junior forward Sahir Gill tipped into the back of the net. At first glance, it looked as if Ronan scored his first career goal in his fifth career game.

“I’d give [the goal] to him gladly if I could,” Gill said. “Maybe I shouldn’t have tipped it. But I was real happy for him.”

With Noonan watching the game from the stands, Ronan will be a part of the team’s lineup the rest of the season. Parker played five defensemen for most of the night, but appeared to give Ronan more ice time as his team’s lead expanded.

“[Ronan] played well in the defensive zone,” Parker said. “That’s what he’s got to do most, but he didn’t look nervous out there at all and he played well. Good for him.”

BU playing well against Northeastern’s offense bodes well for the Terriers entering the Hockey East quarterfinals next week. Merrimack’s offense was only slightly better than Northeastern’s during the regular season, averaging only .06 more goals per game.

“This is where it counts,” Gill said. “Win you’re in, you lose you’re out. Good finish to the season, but that’s all it is. It’s time to kick it up a notch and make it count.”

BU defense struggles again in loss to Huskies

By Kevin Dillon/DFP Staff

Boston University men’s hockey coach Jack Parker hoped that his team’s defensive struggles had come to an end after a strong performance in the Terriers’ 4–1 win over Merrimack last week. However, the No. 9 Terriers are back to the drawing board after allowing six goals in a 6–5 loss to Northeastern University Friday at Agganis Arena.

Defensive zone turnovers and poor coverage doomed the Terrier (12–8, 9–5 Hockey East) defense, which allowed six goals for the third time in five games since returning from winter break.

“Our team defense has been something that has been sorely lacking since we’ve come back from break, and this was another example of it tonight,” Parker said. “We looked like we’ve lost our confidence on the defensive side, playing without the puck.”

Frequently, the Huskies (7–10–2, 4–8–2 Hockey East) turned rushes out of their own zone into odd-man rushes against the Terriers’ defense, which struggled to cover Northeastern on the backcheck.

“This was a ‘trying not to make a mistake’ defense corps we had out there tonight, instead of ‘trying to make good things happen.’ It’s just a frame of mind they’re in,” Parker said. “When you’ve been in this funk we’ve been in the last few games, with the exception of the Merrimack game where I thought we played extremely well defensively, it just seems to be growing on us.”

Parker emphasized that the lack of confidence from his core of defensemen is the main thing that is preventing the group from being successful again, saying his defensemen are “like an egomaniac with an inferiority complex.”

While freshman goaltender Sean Maguire could have stopped the first Northeastern goal, multiple Northeastern scores were a result of mistakes by BU defensemen.

The first of these incidents was on Northeastern forward Adam Reid’s goal in the first period, when Reid won a battle for a rebound and put the puck past Maguire. The rebound sat in the slot for two seconds with both senior defenseman Sean Escobedo and sophomore defenseman Alexx Privitera unable to clear the puck away or cover Reid.

Northeastern’s forecheck appeared to have frustrated the Terriers at times, especially while trying to break the puck out of the zone. For a team that has an abundance of puck-moving defensemen, it struggled to remain composed with the puck in the face of the Huskies’ pressure.

An example of the forecheck causing issues for the Terriers came when freshman defenseman Ahti Oksanen lost control of the puck while trying to escape Northeastern forward Cody Ferriero. The Kirkkonummi, Finland, native put it right on Northeastern freshman Kevin Roy’s stick, where he backhanded it over Maguire.

Another play that stood out among BU’s poor defense was on a goal by Ferriero, when he skated one-on-one with Privitera, undressed him with a slick between-the-legs deke, and fired it past Maguire for the goal. Privitera failed to get in the way of Ferriero, who was relatively unobstructed on the play.

The struggles for BU’s defense are relatively new. Before the break, BU had not allowed more than five goals in a game and had only allowed four or more goals in a game four times.

Before the winter break, the Terriers allowed only 2.33 goals per game. Since then, they have allowed 4.20 goals per game.

“Sometimes in hockey you go through ruts,” said junior defenseman and assistant captain Garrett Noonan. “That’s what we have been going through a little bit. We have got to be better and we know that. All of us.”

One way BU will hope to improve its defense is to bring junior Patrick MacGregor back into the lineup. The 6-foot-4, 230-pound defenseman is the biggest and most physical player that Parker can put in his six-man rotation, and was bumped out of the lineup when senior assistant captain Ryan Ruikka returned to the lineup Friday night.

According to Parker, there is no single defenseman that has played bad enough that he deserves to be a healthy scratch. One of them though, likely Ruikka, will have to sit tomorrow.

“It isn’t any one defenseman and it certainly isn’t any pair,” Parker said. “It’s the overall grand funk that we’re in from a defensive point of view.”