Pluses and Minuses: Oksanen helps spur No. 2 BU’s comeback in draw against Wisconsin

Brandon Fortunato PHOTO BY MAYA DEVEREAUX/DAILY FREE PRESS STAFF
Brandon Fortunato PHOTO BY MAYA DEVEREAUX/DAILY FREE PRESS STAFF

MADISON, Wisconsin — It seemed as if the No. 2 Boston University men’s hockey team’s 1,100-mile journey to the Midwest was pegged for a disheartening start.

With 58 minutes already expired on the clock Friday night, the Terriers (11-3-4, 7-1-2 Hockey East) stared at a two-goal deficit against the University of Wisconsin — a squad that had slumped its way to a 2-11-1 mark over the first 14 games of the 2014-15 campaign.

Thankfully for the Terriers, the final two minutes of play helped paint a different story.

Junior forward Ahti Oksanen found the back of the net twice in the closing minutes of the third period to rally the Terriers to a 3-3 draw against the Badgers in Madison, Wisconsin.

Here’s a quick look at what went right (and wrong) for David Quinn’s squad at the Kohl Center.

Pluses 

Ahti To The Rescue

 For most of Friday’s game, it was a performance to forget for Ahti Oksanen. A number of turnovers and poor play even led to Quinn slotting the Finnish forward down to the second line during portions of the final stanza.

The slow start served as a microcosm of the junior’s struggles as of late. After notching 11 points (eight goals, three assists) over his first 10 games of the season, the winger had failed to light the lamp — while only posting two assists — in the following six games leading into the Terriers’ match against Wisconsin.

All things aside, Oksanen ended up picking a good time to break out of his slump.

With BU tasked with eliminating a 3-1 Badgers lead in the final minutes of play, Oksanen struck first with 1:52 left in the third.

After collecting the puck, senior assistant captain Cason Hohmann sent the puck to a lurking Oksanen camped out in the right slot. The Kirkkonummi, Finland, native promptly tipped the puck past Wisconsin netminder Joel Rumpel to make it a 3-2 game.

With the clock dwindling down to three seconds, BU netted its equalizer — once again off of the stick of Oksanen.

In wake of a flurry of shots levied against Rumpel, the Terriers attempted one last frenzied strike from the blue line, with junior captain Matt Grzelcyk firing a rocket of a shot toward the tangled mass of skaters entrenched near the Badgers’ crease.

Fighting through a hodgepodge of hockey sticks and bodies, Oksanen managed to redirect the puck past Rumpel to force the game into overtime.

For Oksanen, his first tally ended up being the difference maker — giving the Terriers the added push that they needed to fight for a draw.

“We played terribly, so we needed people to step up, we could tie the game,” he said. “So we decided to give all we got and see what happens and today we got the two goals.”

Fortunato finds his mark

Lost in the midst of Oksanen’s late-game heroics was the offensive performance of freshman defenseman Brandon Fortunato, who helped BU get on the boardwith his first collegiate goal.

With the Terriers in the midst of a power-play opportunity, Fortunato gathered the puck at the blue line and sent a searing wrister into the Badgers’ netting at 7:53 in the first to push BU out to an early advantage.

“[Fortunato] was good, [Fortunato] obviously needs to shoot the puck more, he doesn’t have many shots on net,” Quinn said. “But, he got the puck and just got rid of it. And it was a great play on the power play.

“We tried to attack them down low and the puck came out high, they were converging down low and just one-timed it. Good to see that, good to see him get rewarded and get a goal. He’s going to be a great player for us.”

Minuses 

A goaltending gaffe

From looking at the box score, it looked like BU goaltender Matt O’Connor put his team in a good position to come away with a win.

The Toronto native turned aside all 16 shots sent against him over the opening 20 minutes of play, and steeled himself against multiple Badger breakaway opportunities.

However, a costly play outside of the crease almost proved to be the deciding factor in Friday’s game.

As the Terriers’ labored to cut into the Badger’s one-goal lead in the third period, forward Matt Ustanski managed to clear the puck out towards O’Connor.

The goaltender ventured out from between the pipes to play the puck, but his pass bounced off of freshman defenseman Brien Diffley and slowly coast into BU’s cage to give Wisconsin the easy insurance score.

“I didn’t even see what happened. I just saw that they dumped the puck in and I was grabbing a water bottle, and somehow suddenly everyone started celebrating,” Oksanen said. “I didn’t know what was going on. So of course it felt pretty bad to see on the screen what actually happened. That just happens and we just had to keep going on — not care about that.”

Shorthanded struggles

For the second straight game, the Terriers were forced to watch their opponent find the back of net while skating with a man down. After relinquishing a shorthanded goal to Union College on Jan. 3, BU was once again stung while on the man advantage Friday night.

Just 41 seconds into the second period, Wisconsin captain Brad Navin gathered the puck and skated into the Terriers’ zone. Navin maneuvered the puck towards trailing blueliner Kevin Schulze, who beat O’Connor by way of a backhand attempt to even the score at 1-1.

Fortunato’s extra-man tally might have been an encouraging sign to a BU power play that compiled a nine percent success rate (2-for-22) over its six games prior to Friday night, but surrendering two shorthanded goals in two games is an issue that will need to be addressed for the scarlet and white.

“60 minutes”

BU’s two-goal rally against Wisconsin might have ushered in shades of the Terriers’ miraculous comeback in the 2009 National Championship game, but for Quinn, the biggest takeaway was not his team’s play in the final two minutes. Rather, he was more concerned with the preceding 58 minutes.

“We need to play 60 minutes like we got the goalie pulled all the time,” Quinn said. “And that’s going to be our challenge tomorrow night.”

Live blog: No. 2 BU vs. Wisconsin

Time/Location: 8 p.m. ET/Kohl Center

Game Preview

BU Lines: 
Ahti Oksanen – Jack Eichel – Danny O’Regan
Evan Rodrigues – Robbie Baillargeon – Cason Hohmann
A.J. Greer – Matt Lane – Nikolas Olsson
Chase Phelps – Mike Moran – Nick Roberto

Matt Grzelcyk – John MacLeod
Brandon Hickey – Brandon Fortunato
Doyle Somerby – Brien Diffley

Matt O’Connor
Connor LaCouvee
Anthony Moccia

Wisconsin Lines: 
Joseph Labate – Adam Rockwood – Grant Besse
Morgan Zulinick – Cameron Hughes – Jedd Soleway
Matt Ustaski – Ryan Wagner – Brad Navin
Aidan Cavallini – Matt Paape – Corbin McGuire

Eddie Wittchow – Jack Dougherty
Kevin Schulze – Jake Linhart
Tim Davison – Chase Drake

Joel Rumpel
Landon Peterson

Officials: 
Stephen McInchek
Colin Kronforst
Dan Carey
Ed Moberg

Live Blog No. 2 BU vs. Wisconsin
 

VIDEO: Day 2 of U.S. World Junior Camp at Walter Brown Arena

Here are a few video clips following the second day of the U.S. World Junior Camp at Walter Brown Arena. Boston University is set to face off against the U.S. National Junior Team Friday night at Walter Brown Arena.

U.S. National Junior Team coach Mark Osiecki (Part 1)

(My phone’s camera shorted out halfway through this interview, so it’s presented in two separate parts. Sorry for the inconvenience.)

U.S. National Junior Team coach Mark Osiecki (Part 2)

Boston College defenseman Noah Hanifin

University of Michigan forward Dylan Larkin

Boston College forward Alex Tuch

Pluses and Minuses: Grzelcyk impresses in No. 1 BU’s comeback win over No. 9 Colgate

Looking to bounce back after seeing its five-game unbeaten streak snapped against No. 18 Harvard Tuesday night, the No. 1 Boston University men’s hockey team once again manufactured another third-period comeback en route to a 5-2 win over No. 9 Colgate University Saturday evening at Agganis Arena.

Here’s a look at what went right and wrong for the Terriers:

Pluses

Grzelcyk makes his mark

He may not have found the back of the net Saturday night against the Raiders, but junior captain Matt Grzelcyk perhaps had the biggest impact for the Terriers in their tilt with their ECAC foe.

The Charlestown native registered a career-high three assists while also finishing the night with a plus-3 rating. Throughout the game, Grzelcyk threw pucks on net, allowing his teammates to capitalize on multiple rebound opportunities, including Danny O’Regan’s quick wrister score at 18:33 to give BU some breathing room.

Paired alongside freshman Brien Diffley on the first D-pair, Grzelcyk also helped quell a Colgate offense that mustered just 17 shots over the final 40 minutes of play.

“Matt had a phenomenal game,” said BU coach David Quinn after the game. “I thought that was his best game of the year. I thought he was immense. Three assists are a reflection of not just his skill level, but his grit and determination.”

Finishing strong … again

Another win, another third-period run by the Terriers. Nothing new to see here.

Facing a 2-1 deficit coming out of second intermission, BU tallied four unanswered goals in the final stanza to earn their ninth win of the year — just one fewer than the team had all of last season.

Freshman forward Jack Eichel got the scoring started just 16 seconds into the period with a wrister that sailed past Colgate netminder Charlie Finn to knot the game at 2-2.

BU would eventually put the game away with two goals from senior assistant captain Evan Rodrigues and junior forward Danny O’Regan, giving the Terriers some momentum going into its game Sunday evening against Dartmouth College.

“I wish I could tell you that we had some secret formula, that we made some masterful adjustments, but that certainly wasn’t the case,” Quinn said when asked about his team’s adjustments in Saturday’s game. “I just thought we got more determined, we got more physical. We were a little bit more abrasive, which we haven’t been.

“It seems like the more … ‘success’ we’ve had, we’ve gotten away from being combative and making people angry. I don’t mean by swearing at them or slashing them. I mean by playing hard, we’re aggravating people and we haven’t done that enough lately. I thought as the game went on, we did a better job of it, but we still have a long ways to go.”

Getting Physical

Throughout this season, Quinn has remarked that the Terriers have struggled with being too “cute” out on the ice and relying too much on talent and trailing away from a physical style of play.

BU went back to basics against the Raiders, and the results showed.

BU crashed the net on multiple instances Saturday night, cashing in on rebound chances generated from players such as Grzelcyk and freshman defenseman Brandon Hickey who recorded six shots on the night.

“I thought we did a much better job getting to the net, there were actually times where we saw that had guys at the net,” Quinn said. “We were wreaking havoc a little bit. The fourth goal, Danny O’Regan standing there. … Danny O’Regan had a great, great night. I know he only had one point, but he was solely responsible for the third and four goal just by standing at the net and taking a beating.

“We need to incorporate that a lot more into our game. I think as this year has gone on, we’ve been a little too cute, a little too fine and we’ve lost that grit factor in our game.”

Minuses

A troubling trend

Fitting alongside the third-period comeback that has served as a prevailing narrative throughout the 2014-15 campaign for the Terriers, BU once again labored over the first 20 minutes of play, compiling just six shots while constantly being battered into the boards by an aggressive Colgate forecheck.

Through 12 games this season, the Terriers have compiled only four first-period goals.

“If we had the answer to that, we’d change that. we don’t know,” Rodrigues said. “We’ve been trying some different things before the game. It’s just a theme that obviously you want to kick, but at the same time, we’re still winning games, so you don’t want to change too much. But obviously it’s something we need to fix by the time February, March and April come.”

Somerby Slumps

While he has made impressive strides from his freshman campaign, sophomore defenseman Doyle Somerby had a night to forget Saturday against Colgate — finishing the game as the only Terrier with a minus rating (minus-1).

The New York Islanders pick was burned on Colgate’s first notch on the scoreboard, as forward Tyson Sprink undressed the Terrier blueliner with a set of dangles before besting BU goaltender Matt O’Connor with a backhand shot at 4:20 in the first to give Colgate a 1-0 lead.

Pluses and Minuses: No. 3 BU rallies from early deficit to defeat Maine

Freshman forward Jack Eichel registered two points Friday night against Maine. PHOTO BY MAYA DEVEREAUX/DAILY FREE PRESS STAFF
Freshman forward Jack Eichel registered two points Friday night against Maine. PHOTO BY MAYA DEVEREAUX/DAILY FREE PRESS STAFF

ORONO, Maine — Almost exactly a year ago to the day, the Boston University men’s hockey team was manhandled by the University of Maine in Alfond Arena, dropping a 7-0 decision to the Black Bears on Nov. 15, 2013.

No. 3 BU (6-1-1, 4-1-1 Hockey East) avenged its previous drubbing Friday night, as the Terriers bested the Black Bears (3-7-1, 2-3 Hockey East) by a score of 3-1 in front of a packed rink in Orono, Maine.

After entering the first intermission facing a 1-0 deficit, the Terriers would net three goals over the game’s final 40 minutes to improve their record to 4-0 when playing away from the friendly confines of Agganis Arena.

Here’s a closer look at what went right and wrong for the Terriers Friday night up in “The Pine Tree State:”

Pluses

Terriers succeed shorthanded

Special teams play was a key component to the Terriers’ success Friday night, with the team’s penalty kill unit in particular making its presence felt against the Black Bears.

The Terriers, who entered the match ranked 27th nationally in penalty-kill percentage (.853), thwarted all three of Maine’s chances on the man advantage due to a combination of strong play from goaltender Matt O’Connor and a stout net-front presence.

“I thought they kind of exploited us down on the goal line on their power play,” Quinn said. “I thought they did a good job taking the puck to the net, that guy to the left of our goalie in particular. But I thought we recovered well, and I thought we did a much better job defending the net front.”

The Terriers penalty kill also paid dividends on the box score, as BU manufactured a shorthanded tally in the final minute of the second period.

Freshman forward Jack Eichel recovered the puck in BU’s zone and sailed by three Maine skaters before sending the biscuit across the crease of the Black Bears’ net to junior forward Danny O’Regan, who beat goalie Sean Romeo to give BU a 2-1 lead at 19:46.

The return of the OREO line

After crumbling last weekend due to an injury to junior forward Ahti Oksanen, BU’s “OREO” line returned once again and — in what has been a recurring trend this season — dominated the competition.

Oksanen, O’Regan and Eichel scored all three of BU’s goals on the night, with Oksanen getting the Terriers on the board at 8:48 in the second with a power-play tally.

“It was huge, it was huge because our power play hasn’t been great,” Quinn said of Oksanen’s goal. “We haven’t had a lot of them, but our power play hasn’t been great. And I thought that we really did a much better job getting pucks to the net.

“We had six shots on the four power plays. Going into the year, we had 24 shots on all of our power plays combined. So we had 18 power plays coming into the game and 24 shots, that’s just not going to cut it. At least we did a much better job getting pucks to the net and being ready to shoot on the power play.”

Minuses

Weathering the storm

Quinn acknowledged after the game that skating at Alfond Arena as an opposing player can be intimidating enough for any individual.

Adding in the fact that the boisterous Maine crowd was further buoyed by a pregame ceremony honoring the Black Bears’ 1999 NCAA Championship team, the Terriers were forced to hold their own against an energized Maine squad over the opening minutes of Friday’s game.

“Anytime you come up here you really need to weather the storm because sometimes I feel like we’re the New York Yankees — people love to hate us,” Quinn said. “And certainly they hate us up here, I know that because of the long rivalry and the history we’ve had with them.”

The Terriers were pushed back on their heels for most of the first five minutes of game thanks to an effective Maine forecheck, giving the Black Bears a chance to draw first blood in the game.

At just 1:13 in the first period, Maine winger Connor Leen glided into the BU defensive zone, firing a wrist shot towards O’Connor near the right circle. While the BU netminder turned the initial attempt aside, Leen potted in the resulting rebound into the BU net to dig the Terriers an early hole.

Time for a change?

While Maine did not add to its scoring column in the second period, there were chances aplenty.

Multiple times throughout the 20 minutes of play, the Black Bears were given potential gift-wrapped goals as a result of poor BU line changes. Thankfully for the Terriers, key saves from O’Connor allowed the Terriers to claw back into Friday’s contest.

“What killed us in the second period in particular early was our changes,” Quinn said. “We had two horrific changes. And they get a breakaway and they get a 3-on-1. And we have four freshmen defensemen. … changing is a skill. And they don’t realize that yet. You got to learn to lay tired. And that’s something we need to address because it’s cost us in particular in the second period. We gave up a goal to BC because of a bad change and that’s got to stop.”

Pluses and Minuses: BU second line keys Terriers to 8-1 victory over Minutemen

Senior forward Cason Hohmann registered two points Friday night against UMass Amherst. PHOTO BY MAYA DEVEREAUX/DAILY FREE PRESS STAFF
Senior forward Cason Hohmann registered two points Friday night against UMass Amherst. PHOTO BY MAYA DEVEREAUX/DAILY FREE PRESS STAFF

AMHERST – Despite what the final box score read, the Boston University men’s hockey team’s first regular-season game of the 2014-15 campaign against University of Massachusetts-Amherst was a tight contest.

At least for the first two periods.

BU’s offense arrived in the closing stanza, erupting for six goals in the third period en route to an 8-1 victory over the University of Massachusetts-Amherst.

Here’s a look at what went right and wrong for the Terriers Friday night against the Minutemen:

Pluses

Second line shines

While the Terriers’ third-period outburst was mostly fueled by BU’s first line unit of freshman forward Jack Eichel and junior forwards Danny O’Regan and Ahti Oksanen, BU’s second line unit of sophomore Robbie Baillargeon and senior forwards Evan Rodrigues and Cason Hohmann drew the most praise from BU head coach David Quinn after the game.

“That line was dangerous,” Quinn said. “They could have had three goals in the first period. I thought Rodrigues had a great night, I thought Baillargeon had a great night. We’ve got some depth up front, and those guys are really going to capitalize on their opportunities and they’re going to generate chances.”

The second line made its presence felt throughout the game. Baillargeon opened BU’s scoring at 12:22 in the first period, while Hohmann added a score of his own at 12:39 in the third. Rodrigues finished the night with three assists.

Quinn praised Hohmann’s performance in particular, as the Arlington, Texas, native finished the night with two points while also making plays on the penalty kill, frequently intercepting passes and disrupting UMass’ scoring opportunities.

“I thought it was his best game since I’ve been here. … I thought Cason Hohmann played outstanding tonight,” Quinn said.

LaCouvee impresses in net

Despite only finding out that he was making his first collegiate start early Friday, freshman goaltender Conor LaCouvee put forward a great performance in net against the Minutemen.

Starting in place of junior netminder Matt O’Connor, LaCouvee recorded 33 saves while only allowing one goal en route to his first career win with the Terriers.

Eichel, O’Regan make their mark

Despite its high-powered potential on offense, BU’s first line did not add much on the box score over the first two periods of play. However, the third period was a different story.

Eichel, playing in his first regular-season game with the Terriers, accrued four points in the period, including two goals and an assist in a little over four minutes of play. O’Regan chipped in with two goals of his own – capping BU’s scoring surge with a score at 19:55 in the third. Oksanen led the team in shots with six while assisting on O’Regan’s final goal.

“They’re all good players,” Quinn said of his first line. “They had chances in the first two, but I didn’t think that line was playing great. Then boom, all of a sudden, it was almost like they took the game into their own hands, all of a sudden it’s 4-1. All three of those guys were great, and they all do something very, very well.”

Minutemen’s man advantage snuffed out

UMass was held to just one goal against the Terriers, and it failed to generate many chances during its three power plays – a testament to the performance of BU’s penalty-kill unit. UMass finished 0-for-3 on the man advantage.

“Early on, I thought we might have over-coached the penalty kill a little bit, it looked a little bit sloppy, and then I thought the last two were better. … I thought we got sticks on pucks a lot of time,” Quinn said.

“A lot of times, where you thought, ‘Oh my god, here’s their chance’ and we got a stick on it. Our penalty kill was pretty good and it’s something that we’re going to work on and it will continue to get better.”

Minuses

MacLeod struggles with discipline

While freshman defenseman John MacLeod handles his own for most of Friday’s game, recording the first assist of his collegiate career on A.J. Greer’s third period score at 17:56, the USNTDP U-18 product also took three penalties, giving UMass its only three power-play opportunities of the game.

After the game, Quinn made note of the disparity between the Terriers and Minutemen in terms of chances on the man advantage. BU did not earn a single power-play chance Friday night.

“ I still can’t believe that they had three power plays and we had zero in the amount of time that we had the puck tonight,” Quinn said. “Sometimes that happens in a hockey game.”

Cruise control

Even though the Terriers netted three goals over the final 10 minutes of play, Quinn acknowledged that his team let their foot off the gas pedal for most of the closing minutes of the game, allowing UMass to build up sustained pressure and scoring opportunities in the BU zone.

Even though the Terriers netted six goals in the final stanza, the Minutemen still had their chances, as both teams recorded 13 shots in the third.

“I think once it got 5-1, we got a little sloppy, and all of a sudden they’re getting some chances, and we’re making cross-ice passes, and getting a little irresponsible and [LaCouvee] bailed us out.”

The perils of I-90

The Boston Hockey Blog crew is also getting a minus for the night, as the treacherous traffic on I-90 stalled us for over 3 and half hours on the way to Mullins Center. Sorry to everyone for our lack of live coverage over the first two periods of play and thanks for your patience.