BOSTON — In the early going of tonight’s game, it certainly didn’t look like Boston University coach Jack Parker and company had cooked up a successful recipe for success.
BU started erstwhile third or fourth-liners John McCarthy, Brian McGuirk, and Ryan Monaghan against Maine’s top line of Michel Lveill, Josh Soares, and freshman phenom Teddy Purcell. That looked to be a terrible mismatch for the first 90 seconds of play, as the Black Bears dominated territorially before an overdue and brutal line change led directly to the first Maine goal.
Thanks to a first-rate power play, Maine made it 2-0 just 6:25 into the game. Somehow, though, the Terriers maintained their composure against the No. 1 team in the nation, battling back with a dominating second period to tie the game before an evenly-matched third period. The final result was a 2-2 tie in front of a sellout crowd of 6,224 at Agganis Arena.
Sophomore Ben Bishop stopped 29 of 31 shots for Maine, while Terrier senior John Curry thwarted the Black Bears on 22 of 24 shots — including two Billy Ryan breakaways, one of which came with just 12 seconds remaining in overtime.
“I thought it was hard-fought game with a real good crowd, good atmosphere,” Maine coach Tim Whitehead said. “We had the better of the play in the first; they had the better of the play in the second. I thought it was pretty even in the third. Both teams had chances to win it, and unfortunately we sent everybody home without anything to talk about, I guess. That’s the way it goes sometimes. Go to four-on-four [in overtime], and maybe we’ll get a winner.”
After some sluggish play over the previous few games for the Terriers, Parker was pleased with the resiliency of his squad tonight. “I was wondering in the first period what was going to happen to us after that first ten minutes,” Parker said. “But then from the ten-minute mark on we started to turn it on, and we had a good second half of the first period. Then we had a great second period, giving up three shots while we got 14. It’s been a while since we outshot a team. We just looked more like a BU hockey team than we have the last couple games. Maine certainly brought out the best in us tonight.”
Shortly after the surprising starting lineup was announced to the fans — junior Ryan Monaghan was playing just his second game of the season after playing relatively little last season — Maine came out and dominated that first shift. BU couldn’t buy a clear for the first 80 seconds, and when they finally pushed the puck out to the neutral zone, the forwards raced for the bench at that inopportune moment. The resulting mismatch in numbers directly led to the first goal, as Ryan set up Keenan Hopson for a 20-foot wrister that beat Curry nigh.
Maine enjoyed the first three power plays of the night and appeared to be in post-season form with the man advantage, controlling the puck almost at will. This ultimately culminated in a pretty goal at 6:25, when Wes Clark fired a pass from the left-wing faceoff circle to Josh Soares at the far post for the easy tap-in.
On an ensuing power play six minutes later, Maine continued to pepper BU with shots on goal and territorial dominance. On one power play, BU literally failed to clear the zone until there were less than ten seconds remaining in the man advantage. But Maine couldn’t score again.
The tide began to turn with a BU power play at 15:20 , which almost led to a goal a minute later when freshman Brian Strait made a long-distance pass to Kenny Roche for the breakaway, only to have the senior lose the handle.
If the first period was all Maine , the second was all BU. Bishop’s solid play kept BU off the board until a five-on-three Terrier advantage early in the period. Matt Gilroy drove in from the point, shot, and backhanded his own rebound home to make it 2-1 at 6:36 .
“They gave me a huge lane, and I took it and took the shot,” Gilroy said. “I saw an opening, but I guess it blocked. I got the rebound and was wide open, just banged it home. Thank God I didn’t miss.”
Almost eight minutes later, BU knotted the game with another power-play goal at 14:21 . Kevin Schaeffer’s shot from the left point slipped through Bishop’s five-hole, thanks to freshman Luke Popko screening the 6′, 7″ netminder.
“I was actually lifting my arms up to kind of get in his eyes because I’m not that tall,” Popko said.
Perhaps the most exciting moment of the game came at 15:37 . Shorthanded, John McCarthy had a rare opportunity to overlook his usual responsibility of shadowing Lveill, stealing the puck for a breakaway. He got hooked by Lveill, and Bishop raced about 30 feet out from his crease after the puck. McCarthy still ended up with the puck, but the hustle of d-man Mike Lundin saved the day.
“Bish came out and just slowed the guy down just enough so I could catch him,” Lundin said. “I got a piece of the puck, enough to make it go wide.”
The third period was played more tightly, but Bishop stopped Chris Higgins on a breakaway at 7:30 before Curry repaid the favor by stonewalling Ryan on another breakaway after a puck skipped over Sean Sullivan’s stick to send Ryan off to the races.
The final heart-in-the-throat moment came on another Ryan breakaway in the last 15 seconds of overtime.
“Brent Shepheard gave me a great pass in the neutral zone,” Ryan said. “I beat [a defender] wide and went in alone, and John Curry just made a great save. I thought I opened him up and was going to slip it five-hole, but he got his pad down just in time.”
BU (2-1-3, 2-1-2 Hockey East) next plays at New Hampshire on Friday night before traveling to Vermont the following Tuesday. Maine (7-0-1, 2-0-1) hosts Mass.-Lowell on Friday and then New Hampshire on the subsequent Sunday afternoon.
“It’s somewhat disappointing because we had that two-nothing lead,” Soares said. “But coming in on the road and playing a good team in this rink, coming out with a tie isn’t half-bad.”
After that rough beginning for tonight’s surprise first line, they stepped up and did a great job of containing Lveill and company. “We decided we were going to cover Lveill, Parker said. “He’s the best player in the league, and when you take him out the game, things change. I haven’t covered anybody since Ben Eaves was at BC, but we just said had John McCarthy cover him wherever he went and keep him from getting the puck.
“Without him making the plays that he can make through center ice going into the zone, that took away their first line with our fourth line, and that gave our top three lines a chance to play against their not-first line. So that helped tremendously, but you can do that when you’re the home team and you have last change.”