BOSTON — When you calculate the difference between Boston University and Northeastern in Monday’s Beanpot semifinal, you come up with a net gain for the Terriers.
In a game in which two teams “competed pretty evenly,” according to Husky coach Bruce Crowder, both coaches agreed that goaltending differentiated the two breeds of dog tonight.
Sean Fields stopped 35 of 37 shots to lead BU to a 5-2 win in front of 17,565 at the FleetCenter, advancing to the Beanpot championship for the tenth year in a row and for an amazing 20 times in 21 years. Fields’ counterpart, Keni Gibson, stopped 26 of 31 shots and yielded a couple of soft ones.
“I thought the big difference in the game was the goaltending,” BU coach Jack Parker said. “I don’t mean to disparage Keni, but our goalie played great. He made a couple of saves in the third period that could have really gotten them going. We played great in the second period, but we came out in the third and they came at us pretty good. There was a couple of really big saves.”
Given that the Terriers have often struggled to score this season, they also enjoyed some production from unlikely sources. Jekabs Redlihs’ game-winning goal was just the second of his star-crossed season, and Brad Zancanaro had a goal and an assist after scoring only nine points in 23 previous games this season. But the most eye-popping sight was seeing Terrier senior fourth-liner Steve Greeley score his first goal of the season.
At 1:11, junior blueliner Donny Grover took a shot from the left point, and the puck caromed off of Sean Fields pad and out to Eric Ortlip in the right-wing faceoff circle. No one picked him up, and he took a long look before cruising over and burying a high shot on Fields’ stick side to make it 1-0.
Before the Husky faithful could finish celebrating, the Terriers tied it up. Forty-five seconds after the NU goal, BU defenseman Ryan Whitney stickhandled into the Husky zone, waiting until the defenders double-teamed him before dishing to fourth-liner Steve Greeley, who was uncovered on his left wing. The senior picked an opportune time for his first goal of the year, beating Gibson from 15 feet out.
“I thought it was a huge goal for a lot of reasons,” Parker said. “The fact that they jumped out 1-0, the fact that Steve Greeley gets a goal in his senior-year Beanpot, is absolutely fabulous for me personally and for him, obviously.”
“I’ve been in and out of the lineup this year, but everyone wants to play in the Beanpot,” Greeley said. “My senior year, I’m trying to help out the team as much as I can and to get a goal is a great feeling.”
Less than three minutes later, BU took the lead off of strong play in the corner. Frantisek Skladany dug the puck out and dished it to Terrier captain Mark Mullen, who flipped a backhander toward the net. Brad Zancanaro was between Mullen and the goalie; he managed to redirect it for the goal.
“Mark Mullen and Frantisek Skladany play real well down low,” Zancanaro said. “It’s just a pleasure to play with them. They create a lot of space, so I think we played well off each other tonight.”
“There’s a couple I should have had,” acknowledged Gibson. “Zancanaro’s first goal I gave him too much, almost anticipating the pass across and was just cheating a little bit.”
Northeastern missed a chance to tie the game at 8:33. Skilled playmaker Jason Guerriero got the puck in the left-wing faceoff circle and made a terrific pass to Mike Morris at the far post. Somehow Fields managed to throw out a pad for a terrific save.
Just after a strong Husky power play expired with less than three minutes left in the period, NU kept the puck in the BU zone and made the Terriers pay for it. The goal was reminiscent of the Huskies’ first lamplighter, as this time it was Chuck Tomes taking the shot from the left point and Yale Lewis who banged home another fat rebound off Fields’ pad.
The high-scoring pace continued in the opening minute of the second period. Terrier D-man Redlihs carried the puck behind the Northeastern net, and his wraparound bid went off of Jared Mudryk’s stick and skipped in on the short side of Gibson, who, for some reason, had pulled off the post.
NU threatened to tie it with another strong power play halfway through the period. At one point, Fields was caught out of the net, and a pass from behind the goal line came off the side of the net and caromed off Brian Swiniarski’s stick on the slot with most of the net open.
At 13:40, Keni Gibson made a terrific save in the Husky goal, pinwheeling his legs to thwart Zancanaro after Mullen set him up for a point-blank opportunity.
On a power-play opportunity at 18:26, BU gave itself a two-goal cushion. Bryan Miller set up shop behind the Husky net and waited as Bryan McConnell inched himself into position on the netminder’s stick side. Miller’s pass hit the tape, and McConnell’s shot found the miniscule gap between Gibson and the near post.
In the third, Northeastern got the lion’s share of the shots, outshooting BU 13-4. Fields made a nice save on Mudryk on his own rebound at 3:50. Later on, he got some help from his defense.
“[Terrier freshman defenseman] Sean Sullivan made a big save with about a minute and a half to go,” Parker said. “That would have made things a little squiggly if they score to make it 4-3.
Ryan Whitney rounded out the scoring with an empty-net goal in the last minute.
“I thought Ryan Whitney had one of the best games he’s ever had in a BU uniform tonight,” Parker said. “He was absolutely fabulous both defensively and offensively. The puck was on his stick quite a bit. He’s just getting better and better as the year goes on.”
Beyond continuing their impressive run of Beanpot success, Parker found his team’s performance hopeful in getting an inconsistent Terrier team on track for the rest of the campaign.
“We were fortunate in those situations, but the good aspect of the game is not just that it’s another Beanpot final; the great aspect is that we looked like a hockey team as far as making plays,” said Parker. “We lost our poise in the third period but then we regained our poise and played very well after that. Sean Fields has put together some pretty good games, and this was his best in a while.”
“It’s definitely a boost come Beanpot time,” Fields said. “BU is always jacked up to play, and historically we have done very well in this tournament. We do have that added confidence of past history, but games aren’t played on paper, so we knew we had to go out and play hard.”
Besides the goaltending, it just wasn’t the Huskies’ night.
“We just didn’t have it tonight in a lot of ways,” Crowder said. “We had some good opportunities, good scoring chances, good power plays. I just think that we weren’t crisp in our passing and our execution.”
The Terriers (8-10-6) host Providence on Friday night before they try for their ninth Beanpot in ten years and their third in a row Monday. The Huskies (7-13-4) host UMass-Lowell on Friday before heading to the Beanpot consolation for the fourth time in the last five years.