The Boston University Terriers took to the ice at the SSE Arena in Belfast in the Hockey East division semi-final game against the University of Connecticut Huskies to determine who would meet the Union College Dutchmen in the Friendship Four championship game.
For one particular individual associated with the Belfast Giants, who offered up their home arena for the fourth annual Friendship Four tournament, it was no secret that he was hoping that the Terriers would advance.
“I can’t believe that we actually have BU on the ice in Belfast. I’m very proud of them. My fondest memories of playing hockey really were my time at BU winning a national championship [in 1995]. So, not only having BU here but having my coach Jack Parker, you know coming, as part of the trip and seeing all the BU jerseys in the stands, it’s kind of a surreal experience, to be honest with you. It brings back a lot of good memories,” said Steve Thornton, Head of Hockey Operations for the Belfast Giants.
As the play got underway, the teams were both playing solid hockey, albeit a bit penalty riddled. A total of five penalties was called during the opening twenty minutes—three on Boston University and two on the University of Connecticut. This could have been a recipe for disaster, given that the Huskies capitalized on their first power play opportunity off a rebound given up by BU. Karl El-Mir got his Huskies on the board first 51 seconds into their first man advantage when Chad Krys was whistled for a tripping at 4:29. Krys must have missed the penalty box, because he would end up right back in it at 7:43, this time for a hooking call. Fortunately, the Terriers made the kill, as they would on their third penalty when Ryan Cloonan was called for a roughing at 15:08.
For the Terriers, they would manage to get the equalizer while on their second power play of the period. The Huskies had managed to keep them off the board during the hooking call on Jachym Kondelik at 11:24, but 1:17 into the goaltender interference call on Benjamin Freeman, BU’s Patrick Curry notched his fourth goal of the season.
The Huskies were determined not to go away, and with two minutes left in the opening period, Konderlik got an even strength goal to put UConn up 2-1 where they would remain going into the first intermission.
When the puck dropped on the second period, it was clear that the Terriers were not happy with the way things were left in the first. They showed up playing harder and made sure not to offer the Huskies any gaps in coverage in which they could have scored. And as penalty ridden as the first period was, the second period so no man advantages for either team. That didn’t stop the determined Terriers from getting their second equalizer of the night. This time it came from Logan Cockerill at 8:15 of the period.
“Yeah, they scored two rebound goals and we needed to tighten up a little bit and I thought that we did a really good job. I think we outplayed them in the first period, but it didn’t show. And if we just stick to what we’re doing and not trying to play too risky or take chances or what not, just stay playing the right way and have all four of our lines going like they were tonight, we’re going to end up scoring goals. And that’s what happened,” shared BU’s goaltender Jake Oettinger about their change of play in the second.
The game continued to be tight, as the teams were now tied again half way through the second period and the game. As the buzzer signaled the end of the middle frame, the shots on goal for the period were representative of how closely the two teams were, as each had tallied 13 shots on the opposing goaltender.
The third period would be one of many shots on net—predominantly Oettinger’s. However, it would be Boston University who would get the go-ahead goal 2:39 into the final period, from Ty Amonte.
The Huskies weren’t going anywhere though, and they continued to do their best to pummel Oettinger with pucks. Once again, a slip in discipline for BU would afford UConn two power players – including an extended 1:07 of five-on-three for the Huskies. It began when Matthew Quercia was sent off for a roughing call at 12:53. While the Huskies were controlling the play in the offensive end on the man advantage, Bobo Carpenter slashed one of the University of Connecticut players before the penalty was even half over at 13:50.
“I think you just have to weather the storm at that point and Kotsy [Kasper Kotkansalo] made a huge block. You know, in situations like that, that’s the difference between winning and losing, in a tight game, is guys blocking shots and, you know, when we need them to, and guys were stepping up big time so, just the little things like that are going to help us down the stretch. And guys get a feel for what it’s like to play in a playoff hockey game,” Oettinger expressed postgame.
The Terriers’ ability to make that crucial five-on-three kill and then go on to kill the remainder of Carpenter’s penalty were probably the deciding factors in the game.
“Yeah, well, the goalie was pretty good during the special teams,” chuckled BU’s head coach Albie O’Connell. “We had a couple key blocks and our players were okay. When you’re down five on three, you’re just hoping to survive it and get through it and hopefully get a couple key blocks and clear or win the faceoff. But they managed it well. We skated hard and I know some of the D were gassed at the end. They played a lot of minutes.”
As the clock ticked under the two-minute mark, the Huskies pulled their goaltender, Adam Huska, with 1:41 remaining. They stepped up their onslaught on the Terriers who continued to weather the storm—a storm of 16 shots in the period—only to run out of time before they could get things tied up. In the end the Huskies outshot the Terriers 41-30 and Oettinger denied 39 of those shots, basically shutting the door after the first period.
“I thought we played pretty well throughout the game. You know, they ended up with a couple of goals in the first. They had two rebounds kind of high in there and we didn’t have good coverage. And I thought the three goals we scored were scrappy. You know, we were at the net. I thought we did a good job throughout the second and third of playing a little more simple, getting some offensive zone time, creating chances. The simpler we play, the better. Then there were stretches in the third where we played some pond hockey. We took a dumb penalty. And then we put ourselves five on three by chopping a guy. So that wasn’t very intelligent, but we survived it and our goalie was huge in the third,” head coach O’Connell said of his Terriers after the game.
While the 39 saves that Oettinger had were not a career high for him as a Terrier—that was 56 in a game against North Dakota on March 24, 2017—it was still much higher than an average game. It is clear why he was drafted by the Dallas Stars in the first round (number 26 overall) of the 2017 NHL Entry Draft.
“Yeah, I thought [our defense] did great. Obviously, it’s hard playing on a big sheet like that, but I thought we adjusted well and especially down the stretch there, we were a couple men short and, yeah, tons of guys stepped up and were blocking shots to make my life easy,” the modest Oettinger said after the game.
For the Boston University Terriers, they will want to get back to playing a disciplined, simple game as they take on the Union College Dutchmen in the championship game to see who gets to ring the bell.
The University of Connecticut Huskies will play in the matinee game on Saturday against the Yale University Bulldogs. And neither of those teams wants to lose that game either.