BOSTON — Sure, Terrier goaltender John Curry played well against top-ranked Michigan in the season’s opening weekend. But so what? He did so in a relief role with BU down 7-0.
And yes, after playing all of five minutes during his freshman season, he won his first two career starts in his previous two games. Yet those wins came against Vermont and Providence — two teams not expected to be juggernauts this season.
Sunday afternoon Curry faced his biggest challenge to date, and he answered the call by stopping 25 of 26 shots against Maine, as the Terriers held off the seventh-ranked Black Bears by a 2-1 score in front of a sellout crowd of 3,806 at Walter Brown Arena.
Freshman Chris Bourque played well for the Terriers, piling up nine shots despite coming away with just one assist. Peter MacArthur added to his team-leading goal total for the Terriers, while senior captain Brian McConnell contributed his first tally of the season for the game-winner.
Maine goalie Jimmy Howard performed stoically in the Black Bear net, stopping 30 of 32 shots, including 15 in an exhilarating, fast-paced first period.
Maine coach Tim Whitehead was duly impressed with the Terriers but equally chagrined by his team’s lack of discipline. Penalties for slashing, spearing, and hitting from behind proved costly in his team’s loss.
“I thought it was a great win for BU,” Whitehead said. “I thought that they kept their composure and played hard. Their goaltender was in a tough situation where he hadn’t had a lot of experience, and he rose to the occasion. I thought that their team played really well, and we took too many penalties to win that game. That’s plain and simple.”
In contrast, Terrier coach Jack Parker was in chipper spirits about the Terriers’ performance.
“In the words of Manny Ramirez, ‘Bueno!’” Parker said, alluding to the newly crowned World Series MVP. “I thought we played real well tonight. I was real interested to see how we’d perform in certain areas: One, how Curry would perform against one of the better teams in the league, and he performed extremely well.
“I also wanted to see how our defense handled them down low. This was going to be a different test: Maine comes at you real hard-with a physical presence and a lot of speed. So I thought we did a good job down low; that was the best part of our game.”
Curry acknowledged that this game would be a true litmus test for those who questioned whether last season’s third-string goalie could hold his own against a college hockey powerhouse.
“Absolutely,” Curry said. “We had a couple of wins in a row, but everyone wants to see what you can do against the best teams.
“That’s the most exciting part. This was a test against one of the best teams in the nation, and we battled all night and came out on top.”
The Terriers came out flying in the game’s first 10 minutes, seriously testing Howard. “He gave us every opportunity to win the game-as did their guy,” Whitehead said. “The goalies were great.”
BU’s line of Bourque, MacArthur and Eric Thomassian threw an absolute flurry at Howard in the game’s eighth minute, and MacArthur ultimately buried the rebound to make it 1-0 at 7:18.
At 10:15, Parker was jawing at referee Tim Benedetto, annoyed that the Terriers were called for a high stick and a faceoff in their own end despite the fact that no Terrier touched the puck before the whistle was called. Parker’s temperature increased a few more degrees when one of the assistant referees prevented him from getting the last line change before the subsequent faceoff.
Sure enough, that faceoff led immediately to a goal. In the left-wing circle, Ben Murphy won the draw, slipping the puck to Black Bear captain John Ronan on his right. Ronan slipped a low shot that Curry appeared to get a piece of. The puck didn’t cross the goal line by much before it was cleared, but the game was tied, deflating the high-octane Terriers.
In the second period, Maine’s Jon Jankus looked good on a pair of shorthanded chances but couldn’t convert. Mike Hamilton also had a great bid as a power play expired, but Curry made a big save. “We didn’t make enough of our shorthanded opportunities, oddly enough,” Whitehead said.
The Terriers’ game-winner came on a power play. McConnell’s initial slapshot from the point went high, but David Van der Gulik collected the rebound and slipped it back to McConnell as the centerman cruised toward the net. His low shot beat Howard to make it 2-1.
Hamilton’s night ended at the end of the second period, when he speared Dan Spang and got called for a five-minute major and a game disqualification. Less than two minutes into that opportunity to break the game open, BU forward Kenny Roche received a bit of a makeup major — along with a game DQ of his own — when he hit Keith Johnson from behind.
Maine’s Greg Moore had a chance to tie it on a breakaway at 2:30. “I went out really far and challenged him,” Curry said. “From there you assume that he’s going to deke. And then I see him look up, and his eyes just lit up, looking at that left side. And I thought ‘Oh, no: Is there a lot open or something?’”
Curry managed to get a pad on the low shot for his biggest save of the night.
Even when Roche’s major was up, BU couldn’t relax: Thomassian, serving the penalty, was sitting on top of the penalty box door with 15 seconds remaining in the major, and then he jumped on the ice with a solid five seconds remaining on the penalty clock: too many men.
The Terriers survived that one, while the Black Bears responded by killing off a five-on-three for the home team. Thomassian atoned for his error with an excellent effort to set up Bourque for another near miss at 17:35.
“I can’t wait till he pops in a million goals, because it’s going to happen,” Curry said of Bourque’s performance. “He’s a very smart player, very smart in practice. I don’t like when he shoots on me, actually.”
For his part, Curry cemented his status as the number-one goaltender — at least through the next game the Terriers (3-2-0, 2-0-0) play, at New Hampshire on Friday.
“He certainly played great tonight,” Parker said. “I thought he had some tough chances. He was cool, calm. He made all the stops he had to make us for tonight, and he was always in position. He didn’t get rattled. If the question is, ‘Is he the goalie next week?’ The answer is ‘Absolutely.’”
Maine (5-4-0, 1-1-0) doesn’t have it any easier in the week to come, hosting Boston College on Friday and New Hampshire on Sunday.