The Takeaway: BU completes sweep of hapless UMass

Posted by: Michael King

AMHERST, Mass. — Boston University overcame a slew of penalties and a penalty shot converted by Massachusetts to defeat the Minutemen 3-2 at the Mullins Center Saturday night. The Terriers dug out of a 2-0 hole and scored the game-winner with 1:22 remaining in the third. Sean Escobedo scored the game-winning goal on a 3-on-2 rush after UMass turned the puck over near center ice.

The victory marks a sweep of the weekend home-and-home series for BU. Meanwhile, UMass is left with blowing leads on its home ice against top Hockey East opponents in consecutive weekends. The Minutemen held a 3-0 lead over Boston College before bowing 5-4 last Friday.

What I Saw

Though there is again little positive for UMass, the team did take advantage of some success with the man advantage. The Minutemen scored a power-play goal in the first period, but failed to convert on the other five chances.

The UMass penalty shot conversion was the first since the 2000 season, when Jeff Turner scored on the opportunity against UMass Lowell. T.J. Syner had an opportunity last season against Bentley, but could not convert. Rocco Carzo earned the attempt after creating a breakaway opportunity shorthanded with Patrick Kiley in the box. He was pulled down by BU defenseman Garrett Noonan while in on net alone. On the penalty shot, the senior captain put the puck carefully through the legs of Matt O’Connor, causing the 7,357 in attendance to erupt in celebration.

In a penalty-filled first period, both sides struggled to generate consistent scoring chances on the power play. BU’s extra-man units appeared to boast the most creativity. However, the Minutemen converted one of their four chances for a 1-0 lead after the first 20 minutes.

What I Thought

A key part of the UMass offense is wingers Conor Sheary and Michael Pereira. The challenge for UMass coach John Micheletto this season has been finding the correct line combinations and pivots to complement their offensive skill. Friday night, Kevin Czepiel centered the pair on the first line. But the line failed to click and finished the game minus one.

Saturday, the coach split the wingers, allowing centers Braden Gracel and Stephen Guzzo to work with the talented juniors. The question for every hockey coach is whether to stack the high-end talent on one line, or spread throughout the line-up. The pair made a strong case for the same line when they combined well to set-up Walsh in the first period. Ultimately, the team needs greater productivity from these individuals

BU showed grit and determination through the first two periods by responding twice to UMass goals. Though the Terriers are an overall young team, their ability to play well from behind is a strong indicator of their mental composition. As the younger members of the squad mature and gain experience, their play should only further improve.

BU faces an even greater test next weekend with a trip out west to face nationally-ranked North Dakota. The pair of games at Ralph Engelstad Arena in Grand Forks marks the biggest out-of-conference challenge and will be a preview of the intensity of Hockey East play down the stretch. Success in that hostile environment could suggest good things to come for the Terriers later this year.

This game had a similar feel to a contest last season between the two schools; same arena, same part of the season, different result. Last October, UMass took a 2-0 lead against the Terriers before demonstrating a lack of ability to play with the lead against one of the league’s best.

What They Said

“It was a great weekend of college hockey for both teams,” BU associate head coach Mike Bavis said. “Even when we went down as we did, we felt like we were playing pretty good hockey. We weathered the storm in the third period. This is a strong statement for what we can be as a hockey team.”

“Matt’s performance speaks for itself,” Bavis said about O’Connor’s play in net. “Matt is showing a lot of confidence and poise. Considering Sean Maguire’s [BU’s other freshman goalie] performance in New Hampshire — he was nervous and had a tough game. We wanted to give him a few games off and decompress a bit.”

“I thought the first period was pretty even and they took it to us in the second,” Micheletto said. “We were able to bring the game back to our liking in the third. The guys are not getting the reward that they should. When they play well, we are a very good team. But we have a very small margin for error.”

“After we scored the two goals, I think guys started to pull up a bit. Then that’s when they took it to us,” Carzo said. “It’s all mental at this point. We’re all in shape and skilled — it’s just the mental part at this point.”

What They Didn’t Say

Though no commitment has been made from the BU coaching staff, as mentioned above, O’Connor seems to be well-positioned to earn the majority of the starts in net if he stays consistent. He was again the story of the game for BU with his strong play. The massive freshman from Toronto moves well laterally for an individual with his size. He demonstrated these tools throughout the game, making several spectacular saves on Minuteman scoring chances.

The logical Hockey East modern era comparable is probably Ben Bishop, the former Maine goalie who possessed similar size and athletic ability. Bishop led the Black Bears to the Frozen Four in 2007, posing a constant problem for opposition offenses with his physical tools.

What Else You Should Know

UMass continues its difficult start to the season, as it hosts New Hampshire next Friday at the Mullins Center. The Minutemen close the weekend with a Sunday matinee contest in Chestnut Hill against Boston College.

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