BOSTON — On a night when Vermont coach Kevin Sneddon missed the game because his wife was in labor, Boston University coach Jack Parker was the one ready to hand out cigars when the evening was over.
In an exciting battle in front of a boisterous sellout crowd of 6,138 at Agganis Arena, the No. 19 Terriers beat the previously undefeated and sixth-ranked Catamounts 4-2, as Peter MacArthur scored a pair of goals for the victors. John Curry stopped 19 of 21 shots, including several in the waning minutes as Vermont had temporary five-on-three, six-on-three, and six-on-four advantages to no avail.
Senior right wing Brady Leisenring notched a goal and an assist for the Catamounts, while Eric Thomassian and Brandon Yip each scored for the Terriers.
“It was almost a tale of three different games.” Parker said. “The first game was wide-open; it was like a track meet: just up and down, up and down with opportunities for both clubs. Not great opportunities shooting-wise, but a lot of territorial things that looked like they would develop into something because of the speed of the game.
“I thought the second period was all us: We played extremely well, only gave up two shots. Played pretty smart, killing off a penalty, looking pretty good. We got a lot better with the D-zone coverage speed-wise to the puck.
“The third period I thought we were very much in control until we started taking stupid penalties: a too many men penalty; a penalty when we just pushed a guy in the head, and you’re going to get a penalty on any kind of hit above the shoulders-we know that, and we took a penalty there. We had a five-on-three, six-on-three, six-on-four. And that’s when John Curry really stood tall.”
Assistant Coach Damian Digulian filled in for Sneddon. “Early on the first ten minutes I thought we came out and puck-watched quite a bit, let their momentum carry them and sat around watching,” Digulian said. “Then after that we got our feet under us a little bit. But overall tonight we got away from the things that have made us successful so far this year blocking shots, backchecking hard, playing hard along the boards, etcetera. I think we just got away from Catamount hockey for the evening, and they took advantage of it. They played very, very well tonight.”
An excellent Terrier forecheck produced the first BU goal. Jason Lawrence stole the puck in the left-wing end before centering to Thomassian in the slot. The junior centerman patiently picked a spot and beat Catamount goalie Joe Fallon with a wrister high on the glove side.
“I think he’s playing much better, and I think this was the best game he’s had,” Parker said of Thomassian. “Not just because he got a goal but because he’s much more poised with the puck, and he’s playing harder defensively. He’s not worried about his position and whether he’s going to stay in the lineup. I think that’s what was making him jumpy all the time, thinking ‘If I make a mistake, I’m not going to play.’”
“Coach Parker and Coach [Mike] Boyle challenged me last spring,” Thomassian said. “We had a pretty long conversation after the season ended about where I needed to go and where I was at. It helped me turn around pretty fast.”
Less than two minutes later, BU notched a power-play goal for a promising 2-0 lead. After good sustained pressure on the man advantage, Kevin Schaeffer and Danny Spang who were “absolutely fabulous all night” according to Parker worked the puck around from the left point to MacArthur in the right-wing faceoff circle.
“We just had a great power play: moved the puck around really well, their penalty killers never really had a chance to set up because we kept moving the puck really quick,” MacArthur said. “Schaeffer gave me a one-timer; I don’t think Fallon knew it was coming. It just squeaked by.”
Just when things were looking great for the home team, Vermont tied it when BU was caught off-guard on a 100-foot pass from Slavomir Tomko to Leisenring, setting up the breakaway and goal and 16:56. Then after a too many men bench minor Vermont struck again with just ten seconds left in the period, as Ryan Gunderson tipped in a shot by Jamie Sifers for his first goal of the season.
BU regained momentum early in the second, though, off an innocuous-looking play. “The second one was a broken play, first shift of the second period,” MacArthur said. “I was coming in late; Boomer was trying to make a move and got poke checked. I picked it up just inside the blue line, and there was traffic in front, so I let one go, and luckily it found the back of the net.”
“The goal he got is a typical Peter MacArthur goal,” Parker said. “It’s almost like the goalie’s saying ‘Hey, I didn’t know you were going to shoot it: Tell me when you’re going to shoot it next time, will you?’ He’s amazingly quick at getting his shot off, and he seems to disguise it. We’ve seen him get a number of goals from 40 feet because the goalie wasn’t quite ready for it.”
The crowd chanted for a penalty shot at 15:14 of the period when Tomko dove to knock down Yip on a breakaway. Referee Scott Hansen should have awarded one but instead just called a penalty.
At 18:51 of the period, John Laliberte got the puck behind the goal line and skated around to the right-wing side before teeing up a soft wrister by Brandon Yip to make it 4-2.
It stayed that way despite several foolish Terrier penalties in the last five minutes, forcing John Curry to come up big late in the game. Earlier, he stymied Leisenring on a partial breakaway after the winger stole the puck from Yip for a shorthanded bid. “He won it for us just like he did a lot last year,” MacArthur said. “It’s great to have that kind of confidence in your goaltender; it really changes the whole team when you know the guy between the pipes is going to make those three or big saves in a game.”
Parker also praised captain Brad Zancanaro, a fixture on the ice through the many lopsided man advantages late in the game, and Matt Gilroy, who had “a hell of a night.”
With the win, Jack Parker became the first coach to win 300 Hockey East games. “If I was going to try to rank this game on a scale of 1 to 10, it would be hard to,” Parker admitted. “At times we were absolutely terrific, and we’d be a 10 or 11. But there were a few times when I thought, ‘What are they thinking out there?’ We went brain-dead a few times, and we got away with it tonight.”
BU (2-2-0, 2-1-0) travels to Maine next for a Sunday afternoon game, while Vermont (7-1-0, 1-1-0) is off until Friday, when they’ll host Providence.