BOSTON — It was a night filled with pomp and circumstance. Unfortunately, though, someone forgot to tell visiting Minnesota that in order for the script to play out perfectly, the Gophers were supposed to lose.
In the final game at historic Walter Brown Arena, the host Terriers were unable to overcome an early deficit to the nation’s number-one team, falling, 2-1, in front of a raucous sellout crowd of 3,806.
The game is the first of two between the 13th-ranked Terriers and the Gophers, as the two will square off again Monday evening to christen the newly-built Harry Agganis Arena, located two blocks away from Walter Brown.
“I’m glad as a coach I had a chance to come here,” said Minnesota head coach Don Lucia, who over his career had never previously played or coached at Walter Brown. Lucia, though, admitted that he was worried that the final ounce of Walter Brown luck would come into play as the closing seconds ticked away.
“I was worried there was going to be a little bit of divine intervention,” said Lucia after Danny Irmen, who scored the game-winning goal, missed an empty net by hitting the left post with 21 seconds remaining on a chance to seal the game.
BU raced back down ice and had several chances, including a Brian McConnell shot that sailed just wide with three seconds left, leaving every ounce of fight left in the Terriers on the ice as they bid adieu.
Minnesota controlled the first period both territorially and on the scoreboard. Outshooting BU, 14-5, the Gophers capitalized on two of their three power plays to take a 2-0 lead.
“I was worried about how legless we were in the first period,” said BU coach Jack Parker, who has memories of every team that played in Walter Brown as either a player or coach. “We had only played one [recent] game [against Nebraska-Omaha] and it was nowhere near the pace of this game.”
At 7:19, Minnesota’s Gino Guyer buried a loose puck at the right post for the 1-0 lead. Jerrid Reinholz partially fanned on a one-timer in the slot, and the puck bounced to Kris Chucko, who also fanned on his attempt. Guyer, though, was the beneficiary of the miscues as the loose puck finally floated to him. With BU goaltender John Curry (29 saves) caught off guard by the missed shots, it was an easy open-netter for Guyer to give the Gophers the early lead.
Though it appeared that BU might escape the first down only a goal, Irmen tallied with four seconds remaining to extend the Gopher lead to 2-0. Tyler Hirsch’s shot from the point was deflected on its way to Curry. Bouncing off the goaltender, the puck landed on Irmen’s stick at the left post, allowing the sophomore to roof a shot over Curry for his 13th goal of the season and a 2-0 lead.
“It was nice to get the lead early and take the crowd out of the game,” said Lucia. It was the 15th time this season the Gophers have scored first. They’re 13-2-0 in those games.
The second period, though more even territorially, still saw the Terriers struggle to find offense. The best chance of the frame came late when John Laliberte eluded a Minnesota defenseman in the corner and found himself alone in front of Minnesota goaltender Kellen Briggs (23 saves). Trying to pick his spot, though, Laliberte fired wide of the net to maintain the Gopher two-goal advantage heading into the third.
Early in the third, with BU on the power play, a second penalty was whistled against Minnesota’s P.J. Atherton, giving BU a 68-second 5-on-3 advantage. After calling timeout, the Terriers generated monstrous pressure and finally got on the board at 6:39.
Brad Zancanaro, camped at the left post, took a cross-crease feed from Laliberte. His one-timer was saved by a fantastic Briggs right-pad stop, but with Briggs unable to control the rebound, Zancanaro roofed the puck to send the anxious Walter Brown faithful into hysteria.
The goal came with five seconds remaining in the original penalty, meaning BU kept the second power play and, in turn, pressure on the Gophers. It appeared just minutes later that Laliberte might tie the game, but his snap shot clanged off the crossbar, maintaining the Gopher lead.
As seconds ticked away, the Terriers continued to apply pressure, but the Minnesota defense, and particularly Briggs, stood the test and sent the exuberant Walter Brown faithful home with one last loss.
The loss was only the 129th in history for BU at Walter Brown. The Terriers posted a 362-129-37 all-time record in the barn, an impressive .721 winning percentage.
After the game, a group of more than 200 players and coaches, past and present, assembled at center ice for a commemorative photo. It was a chance to share plenty of memories that will live long past the end of Walter Brown Arena, though Monday will be the chance to build an entirely new set of memories — ones BU fans hope will start with a win over the Gophers at Agganis Arena.