BOSTON — Five days after three Boston University players were brutally attacked in an off-ice incident, the major challenge for the Terrier coaches and players was to put the altercation and the focus in the same place — on ice.
Playing without captain Sean Sullivan and fellow senior defenseman Kevin Schaeffer, the Terriers played what was arguably their best period of the season, breaking open a 2-2 game with two third-period goals to beat Providence 4-2 before 5,360 at Agganis Arena.
Despite suffering a minor concussion in the incident early Sunday morning, goaltender John Curry was his usual unflappable self, stopping 32 of 34 shots, including a shorthanded breakaway by sniper Jon Rheault. Kenny Roche, Bryan “Boomer” Ewing, and Luke Popko all pitched in with a goal and an assist for the victors, while Pierce Norton and Colin McDonald scored for the Friars.
“We didn’t seem to be quite in synch early on,” Terrier coach Jack Parker said. “We were all right in the first period but dragged in the second period. We looked like we weren’t getting the opportunities that we liked.
“In the third period, I thought we were terrific. It was one of our best periods of the year. We dominated the play down low. Not only did we get the two goals, we had a lot of territorial time, a lot of grade ‘A’ chances. We were ready to play off the bat — and I was really concerned about how we’d react — and as the game progressed, we got better.
For Providence coach Tim Army, it was a disappointing end after a promising beginning.
“They outplayed us in the third period, and that was the difference in the game,” Army said. “We played good for 40 minutes — probably had the better of the play for 40 minutes. What’s plagued us all year is that when we have an opportunity to take control of the game, we haven’t done it. They outplayed us, and they deserved to win. They were better than we were in the third period.”
The Friars got off to a promising start with an early power play, ticking a post on one shot. BU countered with a two-on-one at 5:20 with freshman Zach Cohen — playing his best game to date as a Terrier — setting up fellow rookie Luke Popko for a chance.
On a power play of its own, BU took the lead at 7:56. Roche carried the puck out to the left point and then fired as shot-pass to Ewing at the top of the far side of the crease for the tap-in goal.
With Schaeffer and Sullivan out, Matt Gilroy was shifted back to defense from forward; Ryan Weston was promoted to the top line with Chris Higgins and Jason Lawrence. Weston hit the post at 15:15 for another bid.
Providence got the equalizer with just 12.2 seconds left in the period. Chase Watson got the puck near the Terrier bench and fired cross-ice to Chris Eppich, who carried the puck into the zone. He fumbled the puck a bit, and Cody Wild ended up taking the shot before Norton buried the rebound.
The Friars clamped down on BU in the second period, limiting them to six shots. With the exception of a shorthanded chance for Peter MacArthur in the first two minutes and a shot and rebound combination for Higgins and Lawrence in the last two minutes, there was a negligible number of chances for the Terriers.
Still, BU capitalized on an offensive-zone draw on the power play, as a right-point slapshot by junior Dan McGoff beat Tyler Sims for the second goal. It was McGoff’s first collegiate goal in 34 games played.
Providence knotted the score at 2-2 at 13:16, just 12 seconds into a power play. Rheault sailed a shot-pass from the left point to Colin McDonald at the far post for a pretty tap-in. It was the senior’s team-leading seventh goal.
Perhaps the turning point of the third period was the clear-cut breakaway for Rheault at 3:30 . He tried to go five-hole, but Curry came up big with the save. “That was like scoring a goal [for BU],” Army said.
A few minutes after BU superfan Brian “Sasquatch” Zive revved up the crowd by shedding his shirt to bare his hirsute torso, the Terriers got the game-winner at 12:03.
“I got the puck along the boards in our end, and Pete was there to support me,” Roche said. “I just chipped it off the boards, and then Boomer went up and made some great passes. I just tried to get myself to the net, and Boomer found me back-door all alone.”
“The third goal we got caught chasing the puck,” Army said. “They entered the zone, and we had four guys drift to the pick. It created a short-ice three-on-one. I don’t think Luddy [defenseman Trevor Ludwig] saw what was going on behind him, but we put him in a tough situation with the three-on-one.”
BU scored yet another back-door goal at 18:04 when Cohen passed practically from the goal line on the right-wing side to Popko at the far post for the tap in.
The unsung hero of the night was Matt Gilroy. In his first game back at defenseman after numerous games at forward due to injuries up front, Gilroy seemed to take the weight of his teammates’ absence squarely on his shoulders.
“I forgot to mention him in the dressing room, too,” Parker said. “He was unbelievable tonight. He was flying all over the place and was a one-man breakout two or three times, just beating two or three guys. He had a fabulous night.”
BU (6-3-5, 4-3-4 Hockey East) now has a few weeks off before heading up to Hanover, N.H., to face St. Lawrence and either North Dakota or Dartmouth in the Ledyard National Bank Tournament. Providence (4-11-1, 3-7-1 Hockey East) also has an extended break before heading to Wisconsin late in the month to play Lake Superior State and either Wisconsin or Clarkson in the Badger Hockey Showdown.