By Tim Healey/DFP Staff
AMHERST — It was only a few minutes after the Boston University men’s hockey team tied the University of Massachusetts, 3-3, but Matt O’Connor had already moved on from the blown third-period lead and his 46 saves. He had mentally left the Mullins Center Friday night and was focusing squarely on Monday’s first round of the Beanpot Tournament.
O’Connor, who will start for the Terriers against No. 2 Boston College at TD Garden, mentioned Beantown’s annual four-team tourney four times in a four-minute span.
“I actually didn’t know what the plan is,” O’Connor said upon being notified he’d get the nod over classmate Sean Maguire, who has had the flu all week. “I’ve been trying to play well enough to earn the start.”
“I thought there was a lot to build on and I’m ready to win the Beanpot,” O’Connor added.
“Definitely a lot to build on there and carry into Monday night.
“When a goalie plays well you just say he’s in the zone. I’m looking forward to keeping that going at TD Garden.”
It’s only a one-game sample, but it’s safe to say O’Connor was in the zone against the Minutemen. He took advantage of his first game action in nearly three weeks by making a number of flashy glove saves and, until the final minute of regulation, helped BU’s lead stick despite UMass’ gaudy 49-22 shot advantage.
The Minutemen’s second goal came after what BU coach David Quinn insisted was a missed call when sophomore defenseman Ahti Oksanen had his stick slashed out of his hands. The game-tying tally was the result of a deflection, a play Quinn considered “undefendable.”
It was an important bounce-back game for O’Connor, who had been pulled in each of his last two games, rough outings against Harvard University on Jan. 4 and the University of Maine a week later.
“It really was only two periods, two bad periods in January,” said O’Connor, who gave up four goals in each game before getting benched. “Obviously I had a lot of time to dwell on those two periods, but I think it really just fueled my on-ice practicing, and I feel like I’ve been game-ready the last couple of weeks.”
It did not take long for him to prove that Friday. On one shot from UMass defenseman Colin Shea in the first period, O’Connor got across the crease just fast enough to make a slick glove stop that he called “one of my better saves this season.”
It was a perfect example of what O’Connor has worked on with goaltending coach Mike Geragosian in recent weeks. O’Connor explained that during those “two bad periods,” about five of the eight goals came through traffic. He took responsibility for not doing a good enough job to either find different lanes to see or moving the opposing player screening hm.
So he worked at his lateral movement — not hard with his long legs — and being more aggressive when it comes to intruders in his crease.
Early in the game Friday, it resulted in a roughing penalty. But overall O’Connor was happy with the improvements.
“I’m moving a little bit more agile, trying to find [the puck] and choosing a different lane and getting my hands out in front,” O’Connor said. “On a couple of plays tonight even, I caught pucks through traffic and I think that definitely helps.
“That team really likes to work the back-door options, so I felt like I was pretty aware of the cross-crease pass. I was really rotating well and getting good pushes tonight, and I was really aggressive, getting good extension and not giving up on the play.”
O’Connor’s sharp performance, parlayed with Maguire being under the weather, made picking a starter for Monday’s game an easy one.
“Yeah, O’Connor played great. He’s been good all year,” Quinn said, his tone indicating he was simply acknowledging the obvious. “We got great goaltending tonight.”
BU played BC close when the teams matched up at Conte Forum two weeks ago. Quinn made sure to note it was a one-goal game late, with the Terriers threatening to tie it when they pulled their goalie.
It’s not outlandish to expect a similar game on an even bigger stage Monday.
“If we get goaltending the way we did tonight,” Quinn said, “we give ourselves a chance. You never know what could happen, especially in the Beanpot.”