BOSTON — “This is refreshingly different.”
So said Boston University head coach Jack Parker following a 6-1 BU victory over No. 14 Massachusetts that saw one Terrier — Brian McConnell — get his first career hat trick, while three teammates lit the lamp in addition.
A previously anemic power play came up with four goals, a game high this season, and BU goaltender Sean Fields stopped 26 of 27 shots.
The game was a welcome change for a BU team that finds new ways to lose seemingly every night: when the goaltending is good the offense can’t get going; when the offense scores a few goals, the defense falls through; when the skaters work hard the netminding is absent.
“Everyone feels like we’re playing pretty well,” said McConnell. “But when you play hard and don’t get a reward, like goals or wins, it’s hard to stay positive.”
“Psychologically, this is a huge boost,” said Parker. “These guys are getting depressed. It’s nice to get the individual effort — the hat trick — but it’s important to get the ‘W’ and the two points.”
On the other side of the coin, UMass head coach Don “Toot” Cahoon was disappointed by what he saw on the ice.
“We’ve been getting away from what makes us tick,” said Cahoon. “It’s not time to hit the panic button yet, but I’m not happy with the way we’re playing.”
The Minutemen have now dropped four games in a row, but Friday was the first real trouble sign. The first loss came in overtime at New Hampshire, then UMass dropped a pair in decisive fashion to consensus No. 1 Boston College — all understandable losses.
If there is a positive to take from a 6-1 loss, it was in the way the Minutemen played in the first few minutes of the game.
“Last week [against BC] we were just down and out,” Cahoon observed. “But in this game we were right in it at the start. We were all right for the first 10 minutes, but then circumstances conspired to take us out of the game.”
“Circumstances” in this case means “penalties.” Four of BU’s six goals came on the power play, with a fifth being scored just seconds after another penalty had expired. The game was called tightly, with 22 penalties, the majority on Massachusetts. BU was 4 for 9 on the power play, UMass 0 for 3.
The first half of the first period was dominated territorially by the Minutemen, who grabbed a 1-0 lead when Garrett Summerfield stole the puck and converted on the turnover.
“The first 10 minutes, we played as well as we could play,” said Cahoon. “We controlled the puck as well as the flow of the game.”
It looked like it might be another long night for the 3,190 Terrier fans in attendance, but Brian McConnell quickly answered with a goal to knot the game, as he knocked in a Bryan Miller pass for an easy score.
“That was a nice play by Miller to get the puck over for the easy tap-in,” said Cahoon. “It bounced just over a defenseman’s stick.”
After that, the game was dominated by penalties. A player from each team was already sitting in the box when UMass sent Thomas Pock to the sin bin for slashing. On the resulting 4-on-3, Ryan Whitney roofed a shot that put the Terriers ahead for good.
The second period saw McConnell finish his trick with two power-play tallies. The first, a redirection of a Kevin Schaffer shot from the point, and the second, off a rebound of Miller’s shot, gave McConnell eight goals for the season.
“That ties him for the team lead in goals,” Parker chuckled ruefully. “He’s a guy we expected to get goals for us. He’s not a 30-goal scorer, but we thought we’d have a few more from him. Earlier, he was snakebit, or sometimes the effort wasn’t there. But he came through tonight.”
The Terriers extended their lead when Gregg Johnson banged home a rebound, and Kenny Magowan converted on a pass from Frantisek Skladany. The sixth BU goal chased UMass starter Gabe Winer (22 saves) from the nets, to be replaced with Tim Warner (two saves).
“I thought he played well,” said Cahoon. “It could have been eight or ten goals, if not for him. It has nothing to do with his performance; we just needed a change.”
Parker was cautiously optimistic.
“We got rebound goals, we got tap-in goals,” he said. “This was our best win of the year. But the true test comes tomorrow [at UMass]. We’ll have our hands full. If it’s a full house, they’ll be drowning us out.
“If we can win that battle — and that’s a big if — that’ll be a big four league points for us.”
The Terriers (9-14-6, 5-12-2 Hockey East) will try to win back-to-back games for the first time this year. Massachusetts (16-9-5, 12-7-2) will try to halt its longest skid of the year at four. Despite the loss, UMass secured home ice in the first round of Hockey East playoffs when Providence lost to Maine elsewhere Friday night. It was the first time the Minutemen have ever finished in the top four of the conference standings.