BOSTON — Nick Pryor scored the game-winning goal at 6 minutes of the second period, and Matt Mangene added one into an empty net with five second left in regulation, lifting Maine to a 3-1 win over Boston University Saturday night. The victory completed a two-game weekend sweep of BU for the Black Bears — their first in Boston since 1992.
Sophomore goaltender Dan Sullivan continued his steady play in goal with 38 saves, including 12 in the third period. For the weekend, Sullivan stopped 66 of 69 shots, lifting his season save percentage to a respectable .903.
The losses were BU’s first since a New Year’s Eve defeat at Notre Dame. Still, the Terriers leave the weekend in good position both in conference and on the national stage.
What I Saw
- Maine continued its smart play through the neutral zone. On Friday, Maine’s 1-2-2 gave BU fits whenever the Terriers looked to break the puck up ice. The same held true on Saturday, as BU rarely generated offense when forced to go the length of the ice. As usual BU created frequent scoring chances when they managed to break through Maine’s formation or worked an odd-man rush. Preventing the Terriers from doing this consistently helped Maine take four points over the weekend. The absences of BU defensemen Alexx Privitera and Max Nicastro made it more difficult for BU to move the puck up ice. Both players were injured in Friday’s game.
- Garrett Noonan continued his ascent toward becoming one of the league’s most dominant players. As a defenseman, Noonan’s offensive contributions are secondary to his role shutting down some of Hockey East’s best forwards. But the versatility the sophomore shows offensively has driven BU to its current position — even with the losses, BU is one of the five best teams in the country. As a point man on the power play, Noonan quarterbacks the BU man advantage as well as anyone, distributing the puck and moving well to create looks for himself between the blue line and low circle. Saturday, he scored his ninth goal of the season — second nationally for defenseman behind Wisconsin’s Justin Schultz (12) — deflecting a shot from Adam Clendening past Sullivan. Defensemen scoring on the power play is nothing new. However, the manner in which Noonan scored on Saturday was representative of his hockey sense more than his skill. Getting to the front of the net, creating traffic and astutely angling a shot home. Not many defensemen in the country can do what Noonan can to contribute offensively.
- Another game, more depth scoring for Maine. The Black Bears’ top line of Spencer Abbott, Brian Flynn and Joey Diamond managed just one point on Saturday, with Diamond getting an assist on Pryor’s goal. That may have spelt doom for Maine earlier this season, but its second, third and fourth lines, along with its defensemen, have contributed substantially in the last 14 games for Maine. Freshman John Parker scored his second goal of the weekend with six seconds left in the first period, and Pryor’s game-winner was the first goal of his career. Asked how he hoped to sustain the production from his entire roster, Whitehead pointed to the fact that the Black Bears have already done just that. The consistent scoring from all 18 skaters began two months ago and shows no signs of slowing.
What I Thought
- BU was visibly affected by decisions from the officials. Aside from BU coach Jack Parker receiving a game misconduct in the final seconds of the game, the Terriers’ dissatisfaction with the game’s officiating was evident throughout the third period. There were certainly a few questionable calls from the officials, including a dive levied against Noonan after a crosscheck from Ryan Hegarty, in the third period. Regardless, those issues are going to arise for BU, as it moves on this season. The last month showed everyone BU can be a team that challenges for a national championship. Letting a few questionable calls affect it as they did on Saturday will deter it from progressing as far as it can.
- Even when he doesn’t record a point, Abbott can dominate a game. The attention BU’s defensemen paid Abbott throughout the game took it out of position a few times when the senior was looking to create space for teammates. Moving the puck from the circle to the blue line, forced defenders to react, opening lanes to the net for Flynn and Diamond. Abbott’s presence on the scoresheet was minimal this weekend. He assisted on a goal on Friday and added an empty-net goal later that evening. But his presence was felt throughout the game.
- Maine proved that its recent success was not a fluke with its sweep over BC last weekend. These wins over BU prove that the club is a realistic contender for a conference championship, but next weekend’s games are equally important for Maine. A visit from Alambama-Huntsville should mean two wins for Maine. But, as Minnesota-Duluth is currently seeing, taking any team lightly can be devastating this late in the season. Maine is winning right now, because it’s receiving full efforts from all 18 skaters in uniform and Sullivan in goal. Any letdown could send the Black Bears on a tailspan that negates what they’ve achieved in the last two months.
What They Said
“I’m really proud of Nick. He had to fight through a lot. He’s had some pretty serious injuries. His last year in junior, he had a broken ankle. His first year with us, he had hip surgery and missed the second half of the year. Last year, he had a concussion and missed the second half of the year. As he said, we’ve had a really strong corps the last two years, so it was tough to get in the lineup. But, also, hes been healthy this year. He trained extremely well over the summer, and we talked about his opportunity in the spring. I believe in him, that’s why we recruited him. We knew there was more in the tank, and he’s earned it. He’s really trained hard. It hasn’t come easy, but he’s getting it done. It’s not an accident. I’m confident that he’ll just keep getting better.” — Maine coach Tim Whitehead
Nick Pryor’s first two seasons in Orono were anything but easy. The junior suffered serious injuries that cost him time. Beyond that, the Maine defensive unit was deep enough to keep an underclassman out of the lineup even when he was healthy. As Whitehead said, Pryor has worked himself back into the lineup and become one of the club’s most reliable defensemen.
What They Didn’t Say
BU coach Jack Parker avoided any comments on the officiating after Saturday’s game, but his game misconduct was evidence enough of his dissatisfaction.
What Else You Should Know
- BU is back in action next Friday at Merrimack. The Terriers have just one game next weekend, as they prepare for the Semifinal Round of the Beanpot on Feb. 6 against Harvard.
- Maine hosts Alabama-Huntsville for two games. The Chargers have played Providence, UMass Lowell and New Hampshire this season, losing the four games by a combined score of 19-3.
- Sweeping BU lifted Maine into third place in Hockey East, one point back of the Terriers and BC, which jumped into a first-place tie with the Terriers after sweeping UNH. Maine has also secured a spot within the top 15 of the PairWise, ranking 11th.
- Parker said after the game that Privitera has a broken wrist and will likely be out for four weeks. Given BU’s position in the standings, they likely won’t rush the freshmen back, but a return around the time that the Hockey East Tournament begins is likely. Nicastro suffered a shoulder injury and is day to day.
- With both Nicastro and Privitera out, Parker dressed 13 forwards for the game, with junior Ben Rosen, listed for the game as the left-side defenseman on the third pairing, centering the fourth line. Yasin Cisse dressed for the game, listed as the fourth line right wing, but did not see the ice, essentially in the lineup in case any forwards went down. Cisse’s return to the ice has been an interesting story for BU this season. While the winger looks like the type of player that will blossom into an impact player in Hockey East, his return has been a little slow after missing the better part of two years with an ankle injury. For the most part, his slow start has been a product of a lack of comfort on the ice and regaining his confidence after so much time on the shelf. He may not reach his full potential this season, but Cisse is going to be a dominant force in Hockey East — just give him some time.