Matt Nieto looking for new challenges with Sharks

By Annie Maroon/DFP Staff

After foregoing his senior season to sign an entry-level contract with the San Jose Sharks, Matt Nieto said he’s ready for a new challenge beyond what college hockey can offer him.

“I think that’s what it came down to – I want to challenge myself, and I thought that it was better for my development as well,” Nieto said Monday after joining the Worcester Sharks, San Jose’s AHL affiliate.

Nieto said he’s been weighing his options since BU’s season ended on March 23 and only decided to sign with the Sharks “recently.” Outgoing head coach Jack Parker and incoming coach David Quinn had both been notified of his decision by Monday.

“It was up in the air,” Nieto said. “All year I was just trying to focus on winning. I was just waiting till the end of the season to make a decision.”

San Jose drafted Nieto in the second round (47th overall) of the 2011 draft. He said the three-year deal he signed is worth $833,000 per year.

The 20-year-old wing also said he plans on finishing the remaining courses he needs to earn his BU degree over the next few years.

In his junior year, Nieto put up 18 goals and 37 points, with 28 of those points coming after Jan. 4. From mid-February to the end of the season, his line, with sophomore wing Evan Rodrigues and freshman center Danny O’Regan, was BU’s best, with all three playing significant roles both on the power play and at even strength.

O’Regan was also drafted by the Sharks, in the fifth round (138th overall) of the 2012 entry draft. Nieto said with a laugh that it would be exciting to play with O’Regan again at the professional level in the next few years.

Nieto said he didn’t consider leaving BU after his sophomore season, in which he had the second-most points of any Terrier (42) and tied for the second-most goals (16) in 37 games. Known as a streaky scorer, he said sticking around for his junior year helped him in a number of ways.

“I definitely gained maturity,” Nieto said. “I think, along with that, I struggled at the beginning of the year. I know one of my weaknesses is that I need to be more consistent, so I think there’s a lot of things that I can use moving forward from this season.”

Matt Nieto to sign with San Jose Sharks Monday

By Tim Healey/DFP Staff

Junior Matt Nieto will begin his professional career and sign an entry-level contract with the San Jose Sharks Monday, according to his mother, Mary. The forward reported to Worcester to sign and join the Sharks’ AHL affiliate.

The 6-foot, 192-pound left wing has already alerted Jack Parker and David Quinn, tabbed to be the new Boston University men’s hockey coach last week, of his decision.

Nieto’s decision to forgo his senior year comes just nine days after the conclusion of a season in which he led the team in goals (18) and finished second in total points (37) behind linemate and fellow Sharks prospect Danny O’Regan. Nieto struggled for much of the season but turned it on down the stretch, netting 28 of his 37 points after the new year.

The decision caps a three-year career in scarlet and white, highlighted by a 42-point (16 goals, 26 assists) as a sophomore. He netted 10 goals and 13 assists as a rookie in 2010-11.

The Long Beach, Calif., native was drafted by the Sharks in the second round (47th overall) in the 2011 NHL Draft.

Breaking down the HEWBA and Boston Hockey Blog Hockey East awards

The Hockey East Writers and Broadcasters Association announced Wednesday the organization’s year-end awards as voted on by members of the media who cover the conference in a variety of capacities. Boston College sophomore Johnny Gaudreau took home Player of the Year honors while Providence College goalie Jon Gillies was tabbed Rookie of the Year and UMass-Lowell’s Norm Bazin Coach of the Year.

The complete results, followed by the ballots of each of the Boston Hockey Blog writers, are as follows.

Player of the Year: Johnny Gaudreau, Boston College, (Runner-up: Jon Gillies, Providence College)
Coach of the Year: Norm Bazin, UMass Lowell (Runner-up: Nate Leaman, Providence College)
Rookie of the Year: Jon Gillies, Providence College (Runner-up: Kevin Roy, Northeastern)

All-Hockey East First Team
*Johnny Gaudreau (So.), Forward, Boston College
Steven Whitney (Sr.), Forward, Boston College
Mike Collins (Jr.), Forward, Merrimack College
Trevor van Riemsdyk (So.), Defense, New Hampshire
Chad Ruhwedel (So.), Defense, UMass Lowell
Jon Gillies (Fr.), Goaltender, Providence College

All-Hockey East Second Team
Kevin Goumas (Jr.), Forward, New Hampshire
Pat Mullane (Sr.), Forward, Boston College
Joseph Pendenza (Jr.), Forward, UMass Lowell
Jordan Heywood (Jr.), Defense, Merrimack College
Mike Matheson (Fr.), Defense, Boston College
Connor Hellebuyck (Fr.), Goaltender, UMass Lowell

All-Hockey East Rookie Team
*Danny O’Regan, Forward, Boston University
*Kevin Roy, Forward, Northeastern
Devin Shore, Forward, Maine
*Mike Matheson, Defense, Boston College
Matt Grzelcyk, Defense, Boston University
Jon Gillies, Goaltender, Providence

* = unanimous selection

Kevin’s picks
Player of the Year: Johnny Gaudreau
Coach of the Year: Norm Bazin
Rookie of the Year: Jon Gillies

All-Hockey East First Team
Johnny Gaudreau – Mike Collins – Steven Whitney
Trevor Van Riemsdyk – Mike Matheson
Jon Gillies

All-Hockey East Second Team
Joseph Pendenza – Pat Mullane – Evan Rodrigues
Sean Escobedo – Eric Knodel
Casey DeSmith

All-Hockey East Rookie Team
Kevin Roy – Danny O’Regan – Devin Shore
Mike Matheson – Matt Grzelcyk
Jon Gillies

Picking Johnny Gaudreau over Jon Gillies was a tough choice for me, but in the end Gaudreau was just the most impressive overall player in the league this season. He led the conference with 36 points in 27 Hockey East games while tying for the league lead in game-winning goals (five). It is tough to compare goalie statistics with player statistics, but Gillies was only third in Hockey East in goals-against average (2.17) and save percentage (.929) during Hockey East play.

Mike Matheson earned the spot on the First Team because of his play in his own defensive end as well as his offensive ability. The freshman was tied for second in the league in points by a defenseman with 17, but his plus-18 plus-minus rating bumped him up to the First Team. Sean Escobedo earned a spot on the Second Team thanks to his performance in his own zone this season. Escobedo led the league in blocked shots (76) and was relied upon heavily whenever his team had to preserve a lead.

It was tough to leave Kevin Goumas off of my Second Team, but Joseph Pendenza and Evan Rodrigues were simply better in Hockey East play. Pendenza scored two more goals than Goumas while playing on a team that played all four forward lines consistently, while Rodrigues scored four more goals and had a league-best plus-16 rating.

Some honorable mentions include Goumas, Chad Ruhwedel, Matt Nieto, Jordan Heywood, and Connor Hellebuyck.

Tim’s picks

Player of the Year: Jon Gillies
Coach of the Year
: Nate Leaman
Rookie of the Year: Jon Gillies

All-Hockey East First Team
Johnny Gaudreau – Kevin Goumas – Mike Collins
Trevor van Riemsdyk – Mike Matheson
Jon Gillies

All-Hockey East Second Team
Matt Nieto – Pat Mullane – Steven Whitney
Sean Escobedo – Chad Ruhwedel
Casey DeSmith

All-Hockey East Rookie Team
Kevin Roy – Danny O’Regan – Devin Shore
Matt Grzelcyk – Mike Matheson
Jon Gillies

For my picks, I used players’ performance throughout the season — not just Hockey East play. There were surely plenty of strong choices, and none of mine are outlandish, but here I’ll elaborate on a few.

My picks of Jon Gillies for player of the year and Nate Leaman for coach of the year were simple: They lifted Providence to within a win of the Hockey East regular-season title in a season when the Friars weren’t supposed to have a chance. Gaudreau, the other obvious choice for player of the year, was far from alone in helping BC to the No. 2 seed. It’s similar for Norm Bazin. Don’t get me wrong – he has done a spectacular job turning Lowell around in just two seasons – but it was much less of a surprise after they tied for second in 2011-12.

My Second Team has what could be a couple surprise choices in Matt Nieto and Casey DeSmith. Nieto, though, put BU on his back down the stretch is it clinched home ice in the quarterfinals. His seven-game point streak (which included two playoff games, granted) featured nine goals and four assists to launch him to tied for seventh in the conference in scoring. For DeSmith, it was mostly a matter of a lack of other choices. Many voted for UMass-Lowell’s Connor Hellebuyck, but he started just half of the River Hawks’ 36 games. 

Annie’s picks
Player of the Year: Johnny Gaudreau
Coach of the Year: Norm Bazin
Rookie of the Year: Jon Gillies

All-Hockey East First Team
Steven Whitney – Johnny Gaudreau – Kevin Goumas
Trevor van Riemsdyk – Jordan Heywood
Jon Gillies

All-Hockey East Second Team
Pat Mullane – Danny O’Regan – Kevin Roy
Michael Matheson – Sean Escobedo
Connor Hellebuyck

All-Hockey East Rookie Team
Kevin Roy – Danny O’Regan – Devin Shore
Michael Matheson – Matt Grzelcyk
Jon Gillies

Although I eventually went with Gaudreau for Player of the Year, my decision essentially came down to a coin toss between him and Gillies. While Nate Leaman has surely led the Friars well, I attribute their playoff run, and their success all year, much more to Gillies’ play, so Norm Bazin was an easy Coach of the Year choice for me. 

I left Mike Collins off my first team, where many others had him, mainly because of the way he tailed off at the end of the year as Merrimack fell out of the race for home ice. He had just two points over the regular season’s last seven games. (I also made my decisions based on overall stats, not just conference.)

I like Kevin’s choice of Rodrigues on the second team, but I couldn’t quite pick him over O’Regan or Roy in the end. O’Regan has been arguably BU’s most consistent forward this year. He led the Terriers in scoring with 34 points in the regular season and hasn’t gone more than two games without a point all year – all as a freshman who didn’t turn 19 until Jan. 30.

And Roy deserves recognition as by far the best player on a last-place team. His 1.17 points per game  is the third best in the conference, despite him being part of the eighth-best offense. With a better supporting cast, he might well have been able to put up the kind of numbers that would have earned him my ROY vote over Gillies.

Three up, three down: Poor power play, faceoff results doom Terriers vs. Catamounts

By Tim Healey/DFP Staff
Two steps forward, one step back.
That seems to be the tactic the No. 19 Boston University men’s hockey team is using in trying to dig itself out of its second-semester hole. After winning the week’s first two games, the Terriers (16-15-2, 13-10-2 Hockey East) blew a chance at a perfect week by dropping the season finale to the University of Vermont, 5-2.
Here’s a look at what went right and what went wrong against the Catamounts (11-16-5, 8-12-5 Hockey East).
Three up
Matt Nieto
With his parents in town, the junior forward capped his best week in scarlet and white with a power-play goal at the end of the first period, the sixth Terrier tally in a row to come off of Nieto’s stick.
At times it looked like the second-line left wing would get even more, but UVM freshman Brody Hoffman (26 saves) shut the door.
Nieto now has six goals in his last three games and eight in his last seven — a far cry from the seven he put up in his first 26 games of the season.
With 15 goals on the season, Nieto is one shy of his total from last year and is six points away from 100 for his career.
Nieto gave us another real good [game],” BU coach Jack Parker said. But “we had too many of our important players have off nights.”

Staying disciplined and killing penalties
The Terriers stayed relatively disciplined Saturday — their four penalties were the fewest they’ve taken since the first round of the Beanpot Feb. 4 — and when they did end up in the box the penalty-killing units did a good job of keeping the puck out of the net.
BU went a perfect 4-for-4 on the kill, though it did give up 10 shots on net.
The Terriers may have finally turned a page in terms of staying out of the sin bin, but they are still far and away the league leaders in penalty minutes (510) and penalty minutes per game (15.5).
Sean Escobedo
Since defenseman Alexx Privitera was suspended for the rest of the regular season, Privitera’s former partner on the blue line has stepped up even more so.
Escobedo led the team in blocked shots, just as he has each of the last four games, this time with four. The senior defenseman leads the team in blocked shots on the season with 87.
He was also one of the few Terriers to draw praise from Parker.
“I thought Sean Escobedo had a hell of an effort,” the bench boss said.
Three down
Sean Maguire
One night after I wrote about how good he had played of late, the rookie gave up four goals on 41 shots against a gritty Catamount team that absolutely attacked the net every chance it got.
At least two of the UVM goals — Brett Bruneteau’s at 6:35 in the first and Michael Paliotta’s wrister 39 seconds into the second — were soft, and Maguire did not look nearly as sharp as he did during his 49-save performance the night before.
Vermont also got its first two goals on its first three shots.
To be fair, Maguire found out just hours before puck drop he was going to be starting, with classmate Matt O’Connor having respiratory issues. It was the first time in his young collegiate career Maguire started back-to-back nights and the second time he has started two games in a row all season.
He didn’t get himself prepared like he usually does,” Parker said. “And obviously he had a tough night physically last night … He probably would like to have a couple goals back.”
Power play                            
As much as the penalty kill was a strength, the man-advantage was not for BU Saturday night.
Although the Terriers picked up another goal — thanks to Nieto, of course — they also gave up a shorthanded tally and managed just two shots on five power-play opportunities.
“We did a much better job on the kill, and I’m pleased for our guys,” said UVM coach Kevin Sneddon.
If faceoffs were graded, the Terriers would’ve failed their quiz Saturday.
They managed to win just 16 out of 60 — 26.7 percent — with senior forward Ben Rosen the biggest culprit with a 0-for-13 mark.
It was quite the turnaround from Friday’s result, when BU went 41-21 led by Cason Hohmann’s 18-2, and Sneddon made sure to hammer that home to his players between the two games.
“We addressed it. You talk about urgency, we got absolutely killed last night on faceoffs,” Sneddon said. “Our centers did an excellent job. There was a sense of urgency. That’s a little thing, but it’s huge.
“I think we won every power-play faceoff tonight. That gives you possession right off the bat instead of chasing it 200 feet. It’s a small detail that we really harp on and it’s nice to see us respond after last night.”

UPDATED: Terriers fall to Vermont, 5-2, split weekend

By Annie Maroon/DFP Staff

In a reversal of Friday’s outcome, Boston University men’s hockey goaltender Sean Maguire couldn’t hold his team in a game where they were significantly outshot, and BU fell 5-2 to the University of Vermont.

BU had 28 shots to Vermont’s 42 on the night, and Vermont goalie Brody Hoffman helped make the difference for the Catamounts, coming up with a number of game-changing saves.

Maguire had not been scheduled to start, but when freshman goalie Matt O’Connor had trouble breathing earlier Saturday due to a respiratory ailment, he took the net for the second straight night. BU coach Jack Parker said O’Connor saw a doctor Saturday, and that he could have anything from a collapsed lung to complications from a chest cold.

After making 49 saves on Friday, Maguire looked shaky early on Saturday but settled down eventually to stop 37 of the 41 shots he saw.

“I didn’t see anything different in him, and like I say, I thought he battled,” Parker said of Maguire.

BU fell into an early hole in the first period, losing control of the puck at the blue line on the power play and allowing Vermont’s Matt White a shorthanded breakaway. White shot five-hole on Maguire for his fourth goal of the year.

Then Brett Bruneteau flung the puck at the net from the right face-off dot, and it found a way through traffic and past Maguire to make it 2-0.

“They jumped on us right off the bat and we didn’t recover from it,” Parker said. “I thought once they got up, because of our lack of effort and our lack of concentration and focus – then we tried to get going and we tried to play harder, but because we weren’t mentally ready to start, we couldn’t get it going.”

Junior wing Matt Nieto brought BU within one on a play that was strikingly similar to one that netted him a goal Friday. Freshman center Danny O’Regan hit him once again with a pass through traffic on the power play, and Nieto shot high over Hoffman for his sixth straight goal (his 15th of the season).

“He’s not standing out on the periphery hoping somebody finds him for a one-timer,” Parker said of Nieto’s scoring streak. “He’s closing down on the net and he’s driving hard.”

That goal came with less than three minutes left in the first period, sending BU to the locker room with a manageable one-goal deficit. But Vermont’s Michael Paliotta fired a shot from the point cleanly over Maguire just 39 seconds into the second to stretch the Catamounts’ lead back to two.

By the end of the second, BU was being outshot 29-19. They began the third period on the power play, but it took them one more penalty from Vermont to score again.

As sophomore wing Evan Rodrigues drove the net, he was tripped in front of the crease. He was still lying on the ice as junior defenseman Garrett Noonan fired the puck over him, into the crossbar, and over the goal line to make it 3-2.

At that point, just over 12 minutes remained in a one-goal game. But the Terriers were outshot in the third, 13-9, as they were in all three periods, and managed just one shot in four minutes on the power play that period.

Maguire was on his way out of the net late in the third when he had to come back to defend against a Vermont rush. Catamount wing Kyle Reynolds beat him just seconds after he got back into the crease. Vermont added an empty-netter with 8.9 seconds remaining to make the final 5-2.

The loss dropped BU into fifth place in Hockey East, two points behind a three-way tie for second place and three points behind the first-place University of New Hampshire. Meanwhile, Vermont kept itself three points ahead of the University of Maine, hanging onto seventh place.

“We needed more mental toughness and we needed more focus tonight,” Parker said. “We needed to understand that [Vermont] would play harder because their backs were against the wall.”

Three up, three down: Defense allows 50 shots against, but Maguire stands out

By Annie Maroon/DFP Staff

Against a University of Vermont team desperate to clinch a playoff spot, the Boston University men’s hockey team earned a 3-1 win at home Friday to move into a tie for fourth place in Hockey East. Junior wing Matt Nieto and freshman goalie Sean Maguire turned in outstanding individual performances for the Terriers. Here’s a look at what went right and what went wrong for BU.

Three up
Maguire’s 49 saves
In his last three starts, Maguire has stopped 40, 36 and 49 shots. He said Friday that the more pucks he sees, the more focused he is, and that was evident as he turned away a barrage of 22 Catamount shots in the third period.

Of those 22 shots, 11 came from below the faceoff dots in the defensive zone, many rebound chances and one-timers that forced Maguire to react quickly. Vermont didn’t stop threatening until the final buzzer sounded, but Maguire held on to turn in one of his best performances yet as a Terrier.

Second line
Nieto got the first-star recognition, and rightly so, but his linemates, freshman Danny O’Regan and sophomore Evan Rodrigues, each had two assists on the night. Rodrigues created the rush that led to Nieto’s third goal, and O’Regan threaded a pass through traffic in the slot to set him up for his second.

“My teammates and linemates made it easy for me,” Nieto said. “They set me up for success where I just had to tap pucks into open nets.”

Nieto has six points – five goals and an assist – over the last two games, and Rodrigues has at least a point in seven of his last eight games.

Power-play success
After going 0 for its last 18, the BU power play scored twice on six opportunities Friday, with 10 shots. The power-play unit with O’Regan, Nieto and senior Ryan Santana up front and Rodrigues and freshman blueliner Ahti Oksanen at the points accounted for both goals.

That group has shown the balance of skills the Terriers need: O’Regan’s playmaking vision, Nieto and Rodrigues’ creativity with the puck and finishing ability, Santana’s hard work in the corners and at the crease, and Oksanen’s powerful slap shot from the point. Santana’s net-front presence and Rodrigues’ poise at the point have made them the Terriers’ most effective power-play unit.

“He has been a great addition to our power play in front of the net as well, getting screens and creating mayhem in front of their net,” Nieto said of Santana.

Three down
50 shots against
Vermont averaged 28.7 shots per game before Friday. They got 50 through to the net in the game, had 22 more blocked by BU players, sent 12 off target, and hit one pipe. All in all, the Catamounts attempted 85 shots to the Terriers’ 66.

BU allows, on average, more shots than it takes per game – 32.9 compared to 30.5 – but that ratio got out of hand Friday, forcing Maguire to make numerous saves on second and third chances from close range.

“We’ve got to play harder in front of our net than they do,” BU coach Jack Parker said. “We had too many times when they were banging away and we weren’t clearing them out, so we’ll take a look at that.”

Matching Vermont’s physicality
The Terriers got off to a quick start on Friday, but midway through the first period, the Catamounts’ style of play began to slow them down. Although they weren’t called for a penalty until almost 15 minutes into the period, they found other ways to impede the Terriers’ progress through the neutral zone and tie them up along the boards.

Despite being the most-penalized team in the league, BU isn’t a particularly physical squad, and early on Friday, it looked as though Vermont might be able to shove and check them off their game. Eventually, BU’s superior speed won out, but not without some bruises.

“I saw them play in a 1-1 game against UNH, their last game,” Parker said. “I had that game on film, and I watched that just to scout UVM and I thought they were unbelievably physical that night. They weren’t quite as physical tonight.”

BU winding down, Vermont winding up
In the first period, BU outshot Vermont 14-11. In the second, Vermont led 17-10 and in the third, 22-8. While BU didn’t play badly or lazily late in the game, they did lack some of the Catamounts’ intensity after the latter found themselves in a 3-1 hole, still fighting to secure a playoff spot.

“This is a desperate hockey club we played tonight,” Maguire said. “They’re going to be shooting from everywhere, trying to get some gritty goals, and that’s what they did tonight.”

Updated: Nieto, Maguire lead Terriers to 3-1 win over Vermont

By Kevin Dillon/DFP Staff

Junior forward Matt Nieto did all of the heavy lifting for the No. 19 Boston University men’s hockey team Friday night, as he scored a hat trick and led the Terriers to a 3-1 win over the University of Vermont at Agganis Arena.

With the win, BU moved into a tie for fourth place in Hockey East with No. 20 Providence College.

BU knew coming into the game that Vermont’s first line was its main scoring threat, and it showed that ability early. With 1:33 remaining in the first period, junior forward Chris McCarthy finished off a pass from linemate Kyle Reynolds to give the Catamounts the 1-0 lead.

The goal was the 10th of the season for McCarthy, who leads Vermont with 25 points on the season.

However, when defenseman Nick Luukko was called for a hitting from behind penalty less than 30 seconds after McCarthy’s goal, BU capitalized on the opportunity. Senior forward Ryan Santana snapped a pass over to junior forward Matt Nieto, who finished off a one-timer for his 12th goal of the season. The goal broke a streak that left BU goalless in its last 18 power plays.

“I thought it was the biggest goal of the game,” said BU coach Jack Parker. “When you don’t score on the power play it’s demoralizing. When you do it really jacks you up and to get one right after they score at the end of the period was great. It got us feeling pretty good going into the dressing room.”

Nieto continued to find success with a man advantage, as he finished off a nice pass from freshman forward Danny O’Regan four minutes into the second period for his second goal of the game. It was his fifth power-play goal on the season.

Freshman goaltender Sean Maguire held the Catamounts at bay through the second and third periods, as stopping all 39 shots that came his way. Maguire earned his second win against the Catamounts on the season, and stopped a career-high 49 shots in the process.

Less than five minutes into the third period, Nieto finished what he failed to complete Tuesday night against Merrimack College as he scored his third goal of the game. Sophomore forward Evan Rodrigues started a 2-on-1 from his own defensive zone and set up Nieto for a one-timer into an empty left side of the net.

With the goal, Nieto had scored five consecutive goals for the Terriers extending back to Tuesday and he is now tied with senior captain Wade Megan for the team lead in goals with 14. It was the first hat trick by a BU player since Mar. 6, 2009, when Brandon Yip tallied three goals against Providence College. It is also BU’s first natural hat trick since Jason Lawrence accomplished the feat at UMass on Feb. 27, 2009.

Nieto’s linemates, O’Regan and Rodrigues, each recorded two assists on the night. Rodrigues now has points in seven of his eight games, and points in 11 of the last 13 games he has played. O’Regan’s two assists moved him into a tie for the team lead in points with 29.

The Catamounts peppered Maguire with shots in the final two minutes of the game, but Maguire and his defense kept the puck out of the back of the net. Senior defenseman Sean Escobedo made one of his four blocked shots in the game to save a goal during that barrage. Vermont outshot the Terriers 50-32 on the game, which is something that Parker wants his team to improve on for Saturday’s game.

“We gotta play harder in front of our net than they do,” Parker said. “We had too many times when they were banging away and we weren’t clearing them out, so we’ll take a look at that.”