BOSTON — The last time Michael Ayers played at Walter Brown Arena, he surrendered three third-period goals and ended up slamming his stick against the wall in frustration outside the University of New Hampshire locker room.
Since then, it’s been nothing doing for Boston University against the Wildcats, as Ayers notched his fourth consecutive shutout against the Terriers, making 34 saves to blank them 4-0 in front of a sellout crowd of 3,806. Ayers has now piled up a string of 254 minutes and 24 seconds of scoreless netminding against BU.
“Needless to say, we’re thrilled with the way the guys responded.” Wildcats coach Dick Umile said. “It’s always a difficult place to play at Walter Brown. It always a big challenge to play Boston University, and I was really excited about the way the guys played. Michael Ayers is obviously important for us in net, so when we made a mistake, he could cover it up.”
The shutout streak has been especially satisfying for the Hingham, Mass. native, who grew up watching the Terriers.
“I’ve told everybody that I grew up watching these guys, and I never had the opportunity to play here, so it just gave me motivation to play well,” Ayers said. “I’ve been fortunate to get lucky at times and to have good teammates.”
Terrier Coach Jack Parker didn’t like the result but actually felt his team played significantly better than they had in last weekend’s 2-1 loss at Maine. Still, four shutouts in a row to a Hockey East opponent is cause for concern.
“So this trend is getting worse instead of better: one-nothing; three-nothing; four-nothing the last three,” Parker said. “Other than not scoring goals, I think we played a pretty good game. I didn’t like a couple of goals we gave up: We made a really bad read on a power-play situation; let a guy walk out of the corner and he scored. They get another power-play goal when they just throw it on the net and get a tip.
“But our problem was not so much what they were doing to us in our zone; our problem was that they were doing to us in their zone. Michael Ayers is not doing that by himself. We had a lot of grade A shots in the first and third periods, and Ayers made some big saves, but there wasn’t that next opportunity.”
Ayers agreed with Parker.
“It all comes down to the team,” Ayers said. “Defensively, the guys have been able to stop a lot of quality chances from happening, and the ones that do get through them, I’ve been able to get a piece of them at least, but it was an all-around team effort out there.”
The Terriers threatened frequently in the early going, as Frantisek Skladany, Dave Klema and Bryan Miller all had great scoring chances in the first seven minutes. Curiously, though, most of the grade ‘A’ opportunities came at even strength rather than on the power plays. They were 0-for-9 with the man advantage tonight.
“We were anemic on the power play,” said Parker. “We’re moving the puck well and getting opportunities, but we don’t trigger it by the guy. It’s not just this guy; we’ve got two power-play goals all year. Other than that, I don’t think UNH ever gets enough credit for how hard they play defensively.”
Meanwhile, UNH took a 1-0 lead on a power-play goal by Preston Callander at 9:19. Defenseman Brian Yandle flipped the puck toward the net from the right point, and Callander tipped it with his back to the goal. The blind tip made the puck skip up and over Sean Fields’ arm to give the Wildcats the lead.
Wildcat forward Sean Collins made a great move at 11:10 to beat a defenseman, but Fields stopped him that time. The Terriers had the better of the chances for the rest of the period, but nothing came of it.
Shots were even in the second period, but the Wildcats had a decided advantage in opportunities as well as another goal on the scoreboard. In a scramble at 2:30, Terrier forward David Klema saved a goal by clearing a loose puck right off the goal line, then Sean Collins had a great bid four minutes later, only to shoot it right at Fields.
But the real gem of the game was Ayers’ save on Matt Radoslovich off of a two-on-one rush with Mark Mullen at the 11-minute mark. After Mullen’s last ditch pass with Radoslovich crashing the net, Ayers sprawled and threw his legs up high to make the incredible save.
“I knew the guy was on the back door,” Ayers said of Radoslovich. “I had a feeling [Mullen] was going to pass it, so I was kind of leaning that way anyway. He passed it over, and I did everything I could to get my body on it, and luckily I just got the tip of my toe on it.”
“The two-pad save he made down there was absolutely spectacular,” Umile said. “But you know something? I’m not surprised; I’ve seen something like that before out of him. That’s what he does, he makes good shots look easy, and when he has to make a spectacular save, that’s what he can do. That’s why he’s an All-American.”
Less than three minutes later, the Wildcats missed another goal by a couple of inches when freshman phenom Jacob McFlickier pinged a shot off the inside of the post off another two-on-one.
Finally, the Wildcats scored again in the last minute of the period on another power-play goal. On this one, two Wildcats doubled up on BU freshman defenseman Kevin Schaeffer along the left-wing boards. UNH winger Steve Saviano grabbed the puck and went right at Fields with little opposition before tucking a backhander between the goalie’s skates.
The Terriers played harder in the third period but couldn’t snap the shutout streak. Meanwhile, Tyler Scott scored his first goal of the season at 6:07 off of a second rebound when Fields couldn’t smother the puck. Scott corralled the rebound behind the goal line and caromed the puck in off of Schaeffer to make it 3-0.
Ed Caron closed out the scoring five minutes later when Tyson Teplitsky flipped the puck to him from the neutral zone for a breakaway, giving Caron his first goal of the year as well.
The teams were chippy the rest of the way, but there was no further scoring. BU (2-2-1, 1-2-0 Hockey East) is off until next weekend, when it plays Merrimack in a home-and-home series. Meanwhile, No. 3 UNH (5-1-0, 2-0-0) hosts No. 1 Maine on Saturday night, and a win would give the Wildcats a good chance to challenge North Dakota for the No. 1 spot in this week’s poll.