Given that Massachusetts-Lowell’s lineup features two sophomores, no freshmen, and only one player under 21 years of age, Boston University came into Saturday’s season opener with a little anxiety on the experience front.
With co-captain and 2004-05 leading scorer David Van der Gulik sidelined indefinitely due to injury — plus senior John Laliberte out after a questionable game disqualification in an exhibition last week — Terrier coach Jack Parker “hemmed and hawed” before settling on a first line that included freshmen Jason Lawrence and Chris Higgins.
When the ice chips settled, BU emerged with a 3-1 victory in front of a crowd of 6,058 at Agganis Arena, and Higgins notched the game-winning goal by potting a rebound of a shot by his freshman linemate.
Peter MacArthur scored two goals, while John Curry stopped 18 of 19 shots as the Terriers pulled off a surprisingly convincing performance, outshooting the River Hawks by a telling margin of 34-19. Ironically, Lowell’s one standout performer was the only under-21 player on the roster, goalie Peter Vetri.
“I was anxious to see how we were going to play because we were playing our first real game,” Parker said. “Lowell had already played two games and has got a lot of seniors and juniors, and we’re a little depleted with our senior forwards. It was going to be a real test for our team; I think Lowell’s going to be fighting for the top four all year long.
“Overall I was real pleased with our legs and how we were pretty physical. We got good goaltending, and the thing that really jumped out at me was how well the freshmen played — [Brandon] Yip, Higgins and Lawrence. They were at the top of their game. Lawrence was very sharp, and Higgins was very clever. And obviously MacArthur had a good night.”
For River Hawk coach Blaise MacDonald, the game proved to be an exercise in frustration. “It looked like a typical BU team — came at us with a lot of speed, grit, and determination — and it was painfully obvious that we couldn’t match their will,” MacDonald said. “Peter Vetri played very well for us, but he was on an island.
“It doesn’t surprise me that BU is ready because they’ve got a tremendous coaching staff that does a great job. I think they’ve got 11 freshmen and sophomores playing; we had 16 juniors and seniors, and you would’ve never known it based on tonight’s performance. They were everything we want to be.”
Initially it looked like it might be a tough night for the Terriers, especially when Ryan Monaghan was sent off for a five-minute major with a game misconduct on a legitimate hitting-from-behind penalty on his first shift of the season at 2:47. However, the Terriers did an excellent job of killing the lengthy power play.
The River Hawks almost got a fluke goal at 8:20 when a pass caromed off the leg of a Lowell forward and hit the post on Curry’s glove side. Then, halfway through the period, Lowell took the lead following a delayed penalty. The second line of Jason Tejchma, Bobby Robins, and Jeremy Hall raced in on the left-wing side, and Hall potted a rebound from the slot for the 1-0 lead.
The rest of the period was all BU despite no evidence of that on the scoreboard. Bryan “Boomer” Ewing undressed Tejchma with a great move at 14:40, and Lawrence followed with an excellent move to beat Cleve Kinley and draw a penalty, but Vetri kept the Terriers off the scoreboard through the first frame.
“I loved the way we responded in the first period,” Parker said. “Even though we came out losing one-nothing, I thought it was our best period as far as pace and getting on them and getting a lot of opportunities.”
BU’s offense came alive in the second stanza, as MacArthur’s first goal tied the game up at 5:49. The sophomore was only on the ice because Ken Roche had just broken a stick.
Said MacArthur, “I really got pretty lucky: Rochey broke his stick on a one-timer, and I hopped on the ice for him. Spanger hit me at the top of the blue line, and we had a bunch of guys in front of the net: Yipper did a great job of screening the goaltender. It wasn’t a great shot, but the goalie couldn’t see it. If he can’t see it, he can’t stop it.”
A great pass by Lawrence set up Higgins at 11:45, but Vetri stopped that one only to have Higgins get his revenge 30 seconds later. Kevin Kielt drove toward the net and took a shot, but Vetri stopped that one as well as Lawrence’s bid on the first rebound. Higgins got the second rebound and backhanded it home for the 2-1 lead.
Less than three minutes later, MacArthur got his second of the night.
“The second one — got another lucky break,” MacArthur said. “Hopped on the ice for a three-on-two break — great pass by McGuirk on the give-and-go, and I think Vetri was screened on that one also.”
Asked if he started thinking about gunning for a hat trick, the sophomore was adamant. “I’ve told you guys before: I’m not going to think about scoring goals because I did that last year, and I didn’t score one for about 20 games. We’re just focused on getting the win.”
With the exception of Elias Godoy getting called for the game’s second five-minute major for hitting from behind, the third period was relatively uneventful. The main story for those final 20 minutes was the Terriers’ penalty killing and the River Hawks’ inability to generate much offense with the man-advantage.
“It was a sour play,” MacDonald said of his team’s power play. “Clean entries, winning faceoffs on the power play, competing for loose pucks — that’s what makes for good power plays, and we had none of that.”
Terrier co-captain Brad Zancanaro had something to do with that. “I thought our best player tonight-and I don’t know if he got a point-was Zancanaro,” Parker said. “He was absolutely fabulous tonight: killing penalties, power play, got a lot of ice time and played with a lot of energy against Godoy’s line.
“That was a little hairy, too: Should I play two freshmen forwards against their best offensive line? But my best defensive center is Zanc, so. And they played very well.”
The Terriers (1-0-0; 1-0-0) host Rensselaer in a nonconference game on Friday night, while the River Hawks (1-2-0, 0-1-0) continue league play with a home-and-home series against Providence next weekend.