By JUSTIN LORING, SPORTS EDITOR
A four-goal lead after two periods is generally enough for a team to be comfortable with, but when you play the No. 2 team in the nation, no lead is safe. With two goals from captain Matt Grzelyck 14 seconds apart and another from Danny O’Regan, the Boston University Terriers almost completed an epic comeback, but fell short by a score of 4-3 against UNH on Saturday night. The ‘Cats earned another series split, the third series in a row in which they’ve traded wins with an opponent, having lost 6-3 on Friday night at Agganis Arena in Boston.
“Great effort by our guys in the third period, but I’d like to congratulate UNH,” BU head coach David Quinn said. “I thought they played well tonight and on the weekend. Like I said last night, their record [of 11-17-2] is very deceiving.”
“It was a great win for our team … because this season has been frustrating,” UNH head coach Dick Umile said. “We haven’t been able to finish [games] and for two periods we played as well as we’ve played. And we’re talking about, in my opinion, playing against the No. 1 team in the country.”
“Jay Camper was our MVP,” Umile said. “With Grayson [Downing] going down [last week], we decided to make the decision to make him a center … ‘next guy up’ mentality on this team and it’s nice to see that.”
The Wildcats came out of the gate on fire, when Shane Eiserman scored just 2:06 into the game. Jay Camper set him up nicely in front of the net on a loose puck along the endboards, and all Eiserman had to do was hammer the puck in from right in front of the net to give the ‘Cats a 1-0 lead right off the bat.
The second goal of the night came off a deflection from Jamie Hill late in the first period. The fourth line of Hill, Michael McNicholas and Jason Salvaggio created a lot of energy for the team, keeping the puck in the BU zone with an aggressive forecheck. Defenseman Cameron Marks wound up and fired a slap shot that was tipped by Hill for his second goal of the year.
The scoring didn’t stop there, as UNH continued to pressure into the second period. On a powerplay opportunity halfway through the second, all five UNH skaters touched the puck just 8 seconds into the possession and Matt Willows fired a shot off goaltender Matt O’Connor’s leg pad. The puck skirted out to the right faceoff circle where freshman Warren Foegele was waiting for it and buried the puck for his fifth goal of the season.
Less than two minutes later, senior Jay Camper extended the lead to 4-0 with his first goal of the season. Quinn opted to take a timeout following the Foegele score and changed his goaltender, but it didn’t stop UNH from capitalizing. Foegele forced a turnover in the neutral zone and carried the puck down the left boards. Once he cut to the net, Foegele fed Camper in the slot who put a one-timer over the shoulder of new goalie Connor Lacouvee.
“[It was] just momentum,” Quinn said of the decision to pull O’Connor. “It had nothing to do with his play, he’s played a lot of hockey [this year]. I thought, ‘What the heck, they’re not listening to me up to this point, so maybe if I pull the goalie they might get a little rattled and pay attention.’ Then [UNH] scored a minute later, so that didn’t really work.”
The Terriers showed no signs of giving up, however, generating a chance right at the end of the second period as Jack Eichel deflected a puck that beat UNH goalie Danny Tirone, but rang off the post just as the buzzer sounded. Coming out in the third, it was their captain Grzelcyk who sparked the comeback. Grzelcyk didn’t score a single goal for the Terriers in their first 23 games of the season, but has four goals in his past five games. The first BU goal at the 5:27 mark, as Eichel carried the puck into the UNH zone and put on the brakes to feed Grzelcyk at the point. Grzelcyk fired a slap shot that beat Tirone as traffic in front impeded his vision. The referees reviewed the play looking for potential interference, but confirmed the goal.
Just 14 seconds later, Grzelcyk struck again, this time on a wrist shot coming in the slot. BU won the puck off the faceoff and Evan Rodrigues drew the UNH defense toward him. With space vacated in front of Tirone, Grzelcyk got the puck, toe dragged and put a shot top-shelf past the UNH netminder to cut the deficit to 4-2.
The Terriers struck again with 7:45 to go, this time from second-leading scorer Evan Rodrigues. As the Terriers cycled the puck around the UNH zone, defenseman John MacLeod fired a slap-pass to Rodrigues who was positioned right at the bottom of the face off circle, and fired a shot into the top of the net past a lunging Tirone.
BU ramped up the aggressiveness at the end of the game, pulling its goalie with about 1:30 left. Matt Willows missed two empty-net chances, but the UNH defense was able to thwart the attack of BU and hang on to win by a final score of 4-3. While Eichel managed four points on the weekend (1g, 3a), he looked out of sorts on Saturday and really only had the once scoring chance that hit the pipe.
“I haven’t criticized our top line much [this season], but [UNH] didn’t have to do too much to defend that line,” Quinn said. “They defended themselves with their soft play.”
Despite the criticism, Quinn still kept the mood light when asked what went into his team’s third period comeback. “I can’t tell you that,” he joked. “There is a secret formula that we continue to use that we bottled up and can’t reveal.”
“I have no idea. I wish I could tell you, but I have no idea.”
All weekend, Tirone made a change in his style of playing, being much more aggressive and opting for flashy, sprawling saves to try and eliminate BU’s scoring chances. It seemed to work, too, as BU scored two early goals in Friday’s game with Tirone looking off-guard and tentative, but couldn’t capitalize on breakaways and two-on-one chances. From that point on, however, his aggressive style challenged the talented BU shooters and forced them to shoot earlier than they wanted to. Tirone made a number of saves by coming all the way out of the crease and going low to keep the puck out of the net.
“He was outside the net a little bit, sometimes too much,” Umile said with a laugh, “He’s out there reading the play and that’s a positive for a goaltender anticipating the play … he did get caught out there a few times, but better [to be] aggressive than to sit there in your net.”
“We feel like they are the best team in the country … so it’s not only huge to get that win over the No. 2 team, but trying to move up in the standings to get home ice in the first round [of the Hockey East tournament].”
“We’re just trying to focus on getting a stretch of wins,” Camper said. “In the playoffs, that all it is … hopefully [the win] is a turning point, but right now we’re moving on to UConn.”
The Wildcats have their final home game of the season on Feb. 20 with a home-and-home series against UConn at the XL Center, in Hartford, Conn, and then return home the following night. The ‘Cats are currently tenth in Hockey East with 13 points, sitting right behind Connecticut and Maine with 16. They can jump the Huskies by winning both games or with just a win and a tie.