BOSTON — Due to one stretch of seven minutes, the clock struck 12 on Boston University’s Cinderella run in the Hockey East playoffs.
Although the eighth-seeded Terriers got the kind of game they wanted through 40 minutes of scoreless, defensive-minded play, Maine finally gained the upper hand in the opening of the third period. They took it to the Terriers and their acrobatic goaltender, senior Sean Fields, and finally capitalized on a beautiful one-timer at 7:09. Sophomore Jon Jankus picked up the puck behind the Terrier goal line and fed a pass to freshman Mike Hamilton barreling through the right-wing faceoff circle. Hamilton’s one-timer finally beat Fields for the lone goal of this 1-0 game in front of a sellout crowd of 17,565 at this Hockey East semifinal.
“We’re thrilled to be in the championship game,” Maine coach Tim Whitehead said. “We had an opportunity two years ago, and UNH beat us. So we’re real excited to be back and have an opportunity to play for that trophy. We had to get our feet wet, but we settled down and continued to build momentum as the game went on.”
For Terrier coach Jack Parker, disappointment was mingled with pride in his team’s play for the majority of the game.
“I thought that the game was played the way we wanted it to be played until the start of the third period,” Parker said. “Then they picked it up a notch. Once they scored, we started back on track again, but they really took it to us in those first six or eight minutes. They didn’t score for a while, but even then it was the turning point of the game.
“Sean Fields had a hell of a run for us, and I was real happy with how hard our guys played down the stretch. This is a team that really struggled with identity throughout the year. One thing that came back to haunt us tonight as it had throughout the year was our inability to put the puck in the net.”
Black Bears sophomore Jimmy Howard made 21 saves for the shutout, while Fields stopped 31 of 32 shots to close out his record-setting career for the Terriers. It was just Hamilton’s fifth collegiate goal.
“We just put it in deep, and Jankus was down low, and he threw it out,” Hamilton said. “I just tried to get enough wood on it so I would hit the net, and it ended up going by him on the blocker side.”
As for Fields’ counterpart, Howard was not tested too severely but certainly was equal to whatever challenges he faced.
“In the first, they came out and controlled the game,” Howard said. “Then we got our legs underneath us. I had a real easy night thanks to my teammates. I got to see all the shots, and that makes it easy.”
“He’s a real technically sound goalie,” Parker said of Howard. “He plays with poise; he doesn’t make flashy saves or flash the glove; the puck just seems to hit him. In front of him, Maine does a great job. Their goals against average is a credit to two things: how hard they work defensively as well as how good the goaltending is.”
Perhaps due to their relative familiarity with the FleetCenter, the Terriers had the early edge, both territorially and in shots. At 3:30, BU winger Bryan Miller blocked a Prestin Ryan shot inside his own blue line and took off a quasi-breakaway, but Howard stopped his 12-foot shot from the right-wing side. Maine didn’t record a shot until Colin Shields managed one at 5:05 on the team’s first power play.
The Terriers continued to enjoy the edge in play until they failed to capitalize on a pair of slighly overlapping power plays that expired midway through the period. Subsequently, Maine gradually gained momentum. Black Bear sophomore defensemen Jeff Mushaluk and Steve Mullin took shots from the point; Fields scooped up the first in traffic and made a pad save on the second.
Maine’s best chances came on a minute-plus four-on-three advantage in the period’s last three minutes. At 17:55, freshman Mike Lundin took a shot from the point, and Greg Moore corralled the rebound and had a brief opening. He slipped it by Fields, but it dribbled just wide of the post. This set the stage for a pair of acrobatic saves by the senior netminder, stopping shots by Todd Jackson and Derek Damon from close quarters by whirling dramatically.
The two teams continued the defensive-minded struggle in the second stanza, mustering just one scoring opportunity apiece. The Terriers’ bid came at 2:22, when freshman Kenny Roche and sophomore John Laliberte came in two-on-one. Roche carried the puck and opted to shoot, then shot again on the rebound before Laliberte also had a rebound chance while being hooked by Mike Hamilton.
Otherwise the most momentous event over the next 15 minutes was when Maine’s Dustin Penner had an apparent breakaway, only to be thwarted by a questionable offside call. But when Steve Greeley was called for boarding Ben Murphy at 17:38, Maine almost scored on the ensuing power play. Cruising in from the point, Colin Shields had his initial shot stopped by Fields, then Greg Moore had two good whacks at the rebound from close range before being knocked over as the second rebound shot went wide.
That set the stage for those fateful minutes opening the third. In the opening minute, Black Bears centerman Derek Damon won an attacking-end faceoff back to Jeff Mushaluk at the right point. The big sophomore drove to the net, muscling his away around a defender before taking a shot that Fields blocked and then covered.
At 4:30, Todd Jackson dished a pass from behind the net to freshman Keith Johnson in the slot, but Fields flailed to make the save. Meanwhile, the Terriers finally got their first shot of the period at 6:30. Less than a minute later, Jankus set up Hamilton for the lone, decisive goal.
“He’s been a great addition,” Whitehead said of Hamilton. “It’s been an interesting season for him. He struggled early. We saw a lot of flashes, but he had trouble playing consistently and was out of the lineup for a while. In the spring, he’s come on very strong. He can shoot the puck, and he’s a strong guy. I don’t think he realizes how strong he is. He reminds me of a guy we used to have here: Lucas Lawson.”
It was the first goal that Fields had given up against Maine over a stretch of 112 minutes, 10 seconds, and it also was the latest first goal of a Hockey East semifinal game.
That turn of events finally jumpstarted the Terriers, and they had most of the territorial advantage and all of the scoring chances the rest of the way. Jekabs Redlihs had a great bid on a rebound at 15:35, as the defenseman crashed the net and drew a bead on Howard’s stick side before the sophomore made the save.
The Terriers’ last significant chance came at 17:50, when BU pressure culminated in the puck disappearing for several anxious moments amidst a scrum of players just a feet beyond the crease. Ultimately, a Maine defender fell on the puck to end the threat.
The loss ended the season for BU (12-17-9), while Maine (29-7-3) set its sights on the Hockey East Championship as well as the NCAA Tournament.
“We had a heck of a run,” Parker said. “We just want to make sure that we start next year the way we finished this year.”
Long after the final buzzer sounded, Fields stood in his crease, looking as if he didn’t want to leave the ice.
“I was just savoring the moment,” said Fields, who concludes his collegiate career with team records in saves, games, wins, and minutes played. “It’s the last time I’m going to be wearing the BU colors.”