Pluses and Minuses: Second line, defensemen give BU life on offense

Brandon Hickey. PHOTO BY DANIEL GUAN/DAILY FREE PRESS STAFF
Brandon Hickey. PHOTO BY DANIEL GUAN/DAILY FREE PRESS STAFF

The No. 2/3 Boston University men’s hockey team just keeps on winning, and did so again in the form of a 6-3 victory over the University of New Hampshire on Friday night at Agganis Arena. The Terriers now own the longest winning streak in the nation at seven — its longest win streak since the end of the 2009 championship season.

There was plenty we liked and didn’t like from that game. Here’s a small sampling:

Pluses

Second line shines
The second line of junior forward Ahti Oksanen, sophomore forward Robbie Baillargeon and senior assistant captain Cason Hohmann has been clicking as of late, and accounted for seven total points on Friday against the Wildcats. Andrew has more on that in his sider.

Defensemen scoring
A pair of BU defensemen also found their way onto the score sheet against UNH: junior captain Matt Grzelcyk and freshman defenseman Brandon Hickey.

Neither is a stranger to offensive production: Grzelcyk has two goals and 17 assists on the year, adding to his goal total with his tie-breaking goal with 2:50 left in the second period. Hickey, with his powerful shot, was able to tally a goal and an assist, boosting his season total to five goals and nine assists.

BU head coach David Quinn had nothing but praise for Hickey’s production after the game.

“He works incredibly hard,” Quinn said. “Loves hockey, has got a passion for the game, he’s got enthusiasm that’s infectious. He’s got a bunch of physical skills: he skates well, he shoots it a ton. Does a great job getting a shot to the net, but it’s hard it’s low. He’s physical, he’s good defensively.

“He’s had a heck of a year, be hard-pressed to find many freshmen defensemen better.”

Fashion choices
The Boston Hockey Blog fully endorses Hickey’s postgame attire from Friday night, which included a white cap with a picture of Hohmann’s face taped to the front.

“We thought it would be pretty funny if someone walked in wearing the Hohmann hat,” Hickey said. “A double Hohmann interview.”

“I don’t know how that hat got made but it’s been around the locker room,” Hohmann said. “People have been wearing it around, so it’s pretty funny.”

Minuses

Defensive lapses
BU — a team that entered the game giving up an average of just 2.15 goals per game — allowed UNH to tie the game at three goals apiece, less than three minutes after the Terriers had taken a 3-1 lead.

“I just thought were, in particular in the first two periods, irresponsible with the puck and really weren’t committed to playing defense,” Quinn said. “It became a little bit of a track meet, exchanging chances, and that’s certainly not how we want to play. I thought we did a much better job in the third period of being responsible.”

How did they make that adjustment? Simplicity.

“You just try to simplify everything,” Hickey said. “Bear down the D zone, make sure you’re clearing guys out in front of the net. We’re just trying to get back to simple hockey. Just relax and go out and play our game because we know if we play our game and shut everyone down, we have our opportunities to capitalize as well.”

Streak comes to an end
It’s pretty hard to criticize a guy who just got 27 points in 11 games, but it was still a bit disappointing to see senior assistant captain Evan Rodrigues’ point streak end on Friday. He had four shots on goal against UNH, but none could cross the goal line. All good things must come to an end, I suppose.

Pluses and minuses: No. 2/3 Terriers escape with draw at No. 18 Merrimack

Freshman defenseman Brandon Hickey tallied his seventh assist of the season against No. 18 Merrimack College
Freshman defenseman Brandon Hickey tallied his seventh assist of the season against No. 18 Merrimack College

NORTH ANDOVER — For the second time this season, the No. 2/3 Boston University men’s hockey team skated to tie, this time with Merrimack College, 1-1, Friday night at Lawler Arena.

A sluggish beginning and a sloppy second period slowed the Terriers (9-3-2, 6-1-2 Hockey East) until junior forward Matt Lane lit the lamp early in the third. They forced overtime, but the Terriers could not get the game-winning tally despite a power-play opportunity in the final minute of sudden death.

As always, things went both right and wrong for the Terriers. Below is a detailed look at Friday night’s contest at Merrimack (10-4-2, 4-3-1 Hockey East):

Pluses

Life in the fast Lane

Lane finds himself toward the middle of BU’s statistics page, although his play this season has been better than a middle-of-the-pack point-getter.

His net-front presence has been crucial for the Terriers this season, especially in third periods. Two of his three goals before Friday night’s game came in situations to either tie or win a game. And at 1:37 in the third stanza tonight, Lane added to this total.

Standing at the right place at the right time, the Rochester, New York native tapped in loose puck past goaltender Collin Delia to knot up the score.

“He’s had a great year. He’s played very well,” said BU coach David Quinn. “He’s skating, he’s being more physical, he’s going to the net more. Maybe that was his third or fourth, and I think if you combine the length that all his goals have traveled it would equal two feet, so that says something for going to the net.”

The killers

If you looked toward the penalty box Friday night, chances are you saw a BU player sitting in it. The Terriers had a combined penalty-minute time that totaled more than a third of regulation.

That tally was skewed by a 10-minute misconduct from freshman defenseman John MacLeod, but the number of penalties the Terriers took was staggering. But as bad as the infractions were, the penalty kill was just as good.

The four-man unit stuck bodies in front that stood in shooting lanes. When it came down to it, junior goaltender Matt O’Connor made the saves, and his defensemen chipped pucks out of the zone at opportune moments.

Hickey continues to move it along

Along with freshman forward Jack Eichel, his classmate in defenseman Brandon Hickey has time and again proven the strength of BU’s rookie class. The blueliner’s play on the penalty kill can’t be understated, but it’s been his ability to move the puck that has stood out the most.

Hickey found open forwards in tight windows and pinched down low for chances when he had the opportunity. When he threw the puck toward the net a little over 1:30 in the third period, he set up Lane for the tying goal. The helper was Hickey’s seventh of the year, good for fourth in assists on the team.

Everybody clap your hands

The Merrimack sound crew provided quite the array of songs for this game, and for that, they make the cut with a plus. It was a good selection of hits spanning multiple generations. The players even got into the fun, as Hickey was spotted clapping along to the “Cha-Cha Slide” from the bench.

The only minus? They played Sail by AWOLNATION twice.

Minuses

Man down … over and over again

The Terriers played with four skaters. A lot. BU was called for six penalties in the second period, including successive penalties to freshman forward Chase Phelps. The referees called the game tight to the vest, and the Terriers ended up on the wrong side of most calls.

For more on the penalty issues, check out Judy’s sider.

The ice shrinks and so do the shot totals

Lawler Arena is a smaller venue, both in capacity and in ice size. For a team like the Terriers that rely on speed to create open looks at the net, the rink proved to be an issue.

Eichel, who’s consistently stickhandled his way into open areas, could not really use his usual tricks on this night. BU’s vaunted first line really had nothing going for most of the contest aside from a few chances.

The Terriers had trouble getting pucks toward the net as whole, putting 22 on goal for the game, a season-low.

“There’s not a lot of room out there and we that’s why you need to move the puck quicker, to not allow them to smother you, which they’re very good at, and I mean that in a complimentary way,” Quinn said. “We don’t shoot the puck enough either. I mean we had some chances to shoot the puck and 22 shots is just not acceptable.

“I mean we’re definitely a little bit snake-bitten, but we’re not shooting enough. You become snake bitten when you get 22 pucks on net. You’d be a lot less snake bitten if you got 35.”

Second period misses

In what proved to be a poor period, the Terriers did have two golden opportunities to score twice. But they shot themselves in the foot both times.

Senior assistant captain Cason Hohmann got a partial breakaway and walked right in on doorstep. Instead of deking to get Delia out of position, Hohmann shot it right at his glove.

Hohmann’s fellow senior assistant captain, Evan Rodrigues, charged up the ice on a 2-on-1 with junior forward Ahti Oksanen. Instead of taking an open shot, Rodrigues attempted a saucer pass to the junior. Merrimack’s defense poked away the pass, and BU was left shaking its head again.

“We had a 2-on-1, clear as day we should shoot the puck, and we don’t,” Quinn said. “We’ve gotta bear down more, we gotta get more pucks to the net, and we’re getting too cute, we’re getting too cute, and we drive people wide, throw pucks to the net.”

Pluses and Minuses: No. 5 BU topples No. 3 Boston College with third-period surge

CHESTNUT HILL — The No. 5 Boston University men’s hockey team left Conte Forum Friday evening with a 5-3 comeback win over No. 3 Boston College. Junior forward Mike Moran, freshman forward Jack Eichel, senior assistant captain Evan Rodrigues and freshman forward Nikolas Olsson all notched third-period goals for the Terriers (5-1-0, 3-1-0 Hockey East).

As with any win or loss, though, there are several positive and negative takeaways from Friday’s result. Here’s some of what went right and what went wrong for BU against the Eagles (4-4-0, 1-3-0 Hockey East):

Pluses:

Rodrigues shines
Rodrigues only had five goals all of last season, but BU head coach David Quinn doesn’t think that speaks to the season Rodrigues had in 2013-14. Quinn noted in his postgame press conference that “people just look statistically” at Rodrigues’ junior season, without taking into account the impact he had on the team in other areas.

Senior assistant captain Evan Rodrigues had two goals in BU's victory over Boston College on Friday. (PHOTO BY MAYA DEVEREAUX/DAILY FREE PRESS STAFF)
Senior assistant captain Evan Rodrigues had two goals in BU’s victory over Boston College on Friday. (PHOTO BY MAYA DEVEREAUX/DAILY FREE PRESS STAFF)

In 2014-15, Rodrigues is starting to take charge statistically as well.

Against BC on Friday, Rodrigues moved up to the first line after junior forward Ahti Oksanen left following a collision in the first period. Rodrigues handled the task marvelously, notching two goals to boost his season total to three.

“This kid’s a great player. This kid does everything. He competes, he’s a great penalty killer, he’s a great power-play player,” Quinn said. “He’s a very good hockey player and he’s underrated. He’s a great teammate and I’m lucky to have him, I’ll tell you that. There’s nothing he can’t do out here at this level. He plays defense at times in practice and takes 1-on-1s as well as anybody.

“He’s a heck of a hockey player and I’m happy for him he’s getting rewarded.”

Composure
Quinn talked about the resilience and maturity of his team to battle back from deficits three times, and pointed to the team’s resolve in the third period.

He said he was particularly proud of freshman defenseman Brandon Hickey, who gave up a crucial turnover en route to a BC shorthanded goal to give the Eagles a 3-2 lead just more than six minutes into the third period. However, Hickey was able to maintain composure, and he even provided assists on the next two BU goals.

“I couldn’t be happier for Brandon Hickey, tough turnover there on the shorthanded goal — really could have deflated us — but I thought our team responded well,” Quinn said.

BU’s ability to keep the score close despite some adversity also played a factor, according to Quinn.

“The fact that we never got down two allowed us to continue to stay in the game and feel good about ourselves,” he said.

“We lose Oksanen at the end of the first period, so we’re kind of shuffling lines and going with three lines,” he continued. “It’s not easy with that team [BC] to go with three lines, and again, great leadership — the way we stuck together. … It could have gone either way. It could have gone either way.”

Third-period comeback
How many times have we said it this season? The Terriers had yet another offense-heavy third period, boosting their third-period scoring to a 14-1 margin through six games this season.

Andrew has more on BU’s stellar final frame in his sidebar.

Minuses:

Slow start
Also in the “stop us if you’ve heard this before” category, BU suffered yet another slow start. In Friday’s game, BU got just seven shots on goal to start the frame.

BU has been outscored 3-2 in the first period this season. Friday night was the second consecutive game in which the Terriers could only muster a single-digit shot total, as BU only tallied five shots in the first period against Providence College last Saturday.

“For them, coming off their loss on Wednesday [against the University of Connecticut, 1-0], you knew they were going to come out flying,” Rodrigues said. “I think they took it to us a little bit in the first period and it’s a big game, a lot of young guys on our team and with that crowd, you’re not going to play the way you usually play, and sometimes you have some jitters, some emotions.

“It just took us to the first intermission to really get in the room to tell guys to kind of calm down, have some fun, but just play our game and get back to what BU does, and I think we did that in the second, and especially the third.”

Shorthanded goal
BU got a tad sloppy at the 6:05 mark of the third period, when it gave up a shorthanded goal to BC forward Ryan Fitzgerald for his second goal of the game. The goal came on the aforementioned turnover from Hickey. It was BU’s first shorthanded goal allowed this season.

It proved irrelevant later, though, as BU stormed back with three more goals to tie and take an eventual two-goal lead.

Ahti exits
We didn’t see the collision itself from our vantage point — which was an understandably very crowded Conte Forum press box — but Oksanen missed the majority of the game after crashing into a BC defender. Quinn said it was “too early to tell” Oksanen’s status.

Pluses and Minuses: Late comeback not enough for Terriers against Providence

You can’t win them all, or at least it’s very difficult to, and the No. 6 Boston University men’s hockey team was a prime example of that old adage Saturday night at Agganis Arena.

Junior captain Matt Grzelcyk recorded an assist in BU's 2-1 loss to Providence.  PHOTO BY ALEXANDRA WIMLEY/DAILY FREE PRESS STAFF
Junior captain Matt Grzelcyk recorded an assist in BU’s 2-1 loss to Providence.
PHOTO BY ALEXANDRA WIMLEY/DAILY FREE PRESS STAFF

The Terriers (4-1, 2-1 Hockey East) started off with four straight wins to start the 2014-15 season, but finally took one in the loss column against No. 8/9 Providence College. A late push in the third period was not enough to best the Friars (2-3-1, 1-1 Hockey East).

Here’s a closer look into what went right and wrong this evening:

Minuses:

First-Period Slog

After Friday night’s 4-1 win at Schneider Arena, BU coach David Quinn said he believed Saturday’s game would be the toughest game of the Terriers’ early schedule. He expected Providence to come out and play with intensity, which the Friars did.

The problem?

BU was just about as sluggish as you could get in that same period. Providence outshot the Terriers 17-5 and held a 1-0 lead.

“I knew that they were going to amp up their game, and I was hoping we were going to match our effort last night and maybe even turn it up a notch, but we didn’t until maybe 10 minutes into the second period,” Quinn said.

For more on the opening frame woes, read Conor’s side bar.

Penalties Extravaganza

The Terrier penalty kill looked on the upswing during the first game of the home-and-home series, killing all four PC power-play chances. But a successful penalty unit got into trouble from the outset Saturday.

Freshman defenseman Brandon Hickey and his classmate, forward Nikolas Olsson, were each called for two-minute minors in the first period. The Terriers killed off the first infraction, but junior goaltender Matt O’Connor could only do so much on the second score. Forward Matt Jankowski netted in a shot to put the Friars up, 1-0.

BU killed off the rest of the penalties for the rest of the game, but the special teams unit spent a total of 16 minutes on the ice — four of which came in the crucial final period.

Turnovers Galore

Unlike in basketball or football where there are official stats for turnovers and steals, there is not such a stat kept in hockey. Just watching this game though, the Terriers had some costly defensive zone turnovers.

The one that sticks out the most was on Providence’s second goal. Hickey battled for the puck along the left-wing boards and tried to fire a cross-ice D zone pass. Instead of finding a scarlet and white skater, he all but assisted Shane Luke’s shot that beat O’Connor glove side.

As BU mounted its comeback in the third period, another defensive turnover almost put the game out of reach. Forward Ross Mauermann stole the puck in the slot and got it by O’Connor. The shot, luckily for the Terriers, bounced off the crossbar and out of harm’s way.

“I thought our goalie was great early, I thought their goalie was great late, Quinn said. “We just had a couple of costly turnovers that end up in the back of our net and we couldn’t get the second one by [goaltender Jon] Gillies.”

Pluses

Third Period Turnaround

This year’s Terrier squad has made a habit of playing well in the third period. Coming into the game, BU had a combined nine goals for and none allowed in the final period of the game. Even in a loss, the Terriers’ best 20 minutes came at the end.

From the first draw of the stanza, BU’s forecheck was aggressive and pounded Gillies with shots. An abysmal attack to start the contest finished with a flourish.

The effort paid off at the 4:38 mark when after multiple chances in scrum in the crease, junior forward Danny O’Regan stuffed in a rebound after junior defenseman Matt Grzelcyk’s first few chances were denied.

BU pressured Gillies for the remainder of the game, but he was in position for the remainder of the shots, including chances on a last-minute BU power play.

“I like how we pulled it together and I liked how not only made a game of it, I really felt like at one point we were going to tie it. But too little, too late,” Quinn said.

Matt O’Connor

One of the only reasons the Terriers stayed in the game so long was the play of the junior netminder. O’Connor carried in a three-game winning streak, and played his best Saturday to get a fourth.

He overcame 27 shots through two periods — many of which were chances in high-scoring areas. The junior kept the rebounds to a minimum and stopped all but two shots. It was a tough-luck loss for O’Connor in this one.