BOSTON, Mass. — Okay, Boston University fans, repeat after me: Its only October 11.
Terriers’ fans could be forgiven for being a little giddy after No. 9 BU beat No.11 Michigan State, 2-1, to claim the Icebreaker Invitational Championship in front of 4,207 at Agganis Arena. One night after a dominating effort over No. 5 North Dakota, the Terriers played another extremely strong game against a ranked opponent and are now 2-0 for the first time since the 2001-02 season. Better still, both freshman goalies looked poised this week, raising hopes that the team has resolved one of their biggest problems from last year.
Tonight’s game was only close because of the heroics of Spartans’ senior goaltender Jeff Lerg, who made 27 saves. Without him, it easily could have been 4-0 after two periods. Instead, Michigan State hung around, got a power-play goal in the third period, and made it more of a nailbiter than it probably should have been in the waning minutes.
Chris Higgins and Kevin Shattenkirk scored for BU, which outshot their CCHA opponents by an impressive 29-13 margin. Colin Wilson was named tournament MVP, mainly due to his great showing in Friday night’s opener. Jeff Petry scored the lone goal for the Spartans.
“That’s a pretty good goalie we faced,” Terriers’ coach Jack Parker said. “We had some real good chances; I like the way we moved the puck. They played very well in front of him, but I thought he played terrific tonight. My goaltender coach [Mike Geragosian] had him down for eight great saves. He’s something… I’ve seen him play a long time, and he’s a terrific player.
“Overall, it was a very good game,” Parker added. “It’s hard to pick out any one guy, although I thought Shattenkirk had a great game in all three zones. It was an unbelievable goal he got; he’s got so much poise. In general, they all played well, the defense especially.”
“I thought our team was overmatched terribly,” Michigan State Coach Rick Comley said. “We were okay for about the first half of the first period, and then we got three penalties that got them going. When they smelled blood, boy, they really cranked it up on us. It’s a learning experience, I hope, for our young kids. We’ll just take the positive out of it and go home and get back to work.”
With freshman goalie Grant Rollheiser making his debut between the pipes for BU, Parker couldn’t have been too pleased to see Jason Lawrence draw a slashing penalty just five seconds into the game. However, the rookie netminder was not tested too severely in the early going.
Meanwhile, BU freshman Kevin Gilroy, brother of Terriers’ co-captain Matt Gilroy and a fourth-line left wing, raised some eyebrows in his debut, very nearly scoring on his first shift off a Joe Pereira pass at 2:30 and then getting another good chance when Pereira fed him again at 8:53.
The Terriers came closest to scoring at 12:05 on their second power play. A Colin Wilson shot trickled through Lerg and inched toward the goal line, but a video replay review confirmed that the net was knocked off its moorings before another Terrier knocked it in.
In general, BU had the better of the period, but the question as to whether they could solve Lerg remained a mystery. Between periods, BU raised a banner honoring John Cullen as the program’s all-time leading scorer with 98 goals and 143 assists for 241 career points.
Although BU didn’t explode quite as quickly in the second period as they had in Friday’s opener, they dominated the middle frame just as much tonight, if not perhaps more. With the exception of a two-on-one Spartan chance culminating in a Dustin Gazely shot that Rollheiser saved, the scoring opportunities were all for the Terriers, about seven in total for the period including two or three redirects of slap shots from the point. Chris Higgins had a couple of the chances, while Pereira, Brian Strait, and Nick Bonino also had opportunities.
The Terriers finally scored while shorthanded at 6:44. Freshman defenseman David Warsofsky did all the heavy lifting, carrying the puck into the zone, losing it and getting it back. With two defenders on him, he couldn’t get a shot off, despite repeated efforts, but Chris Higgins finally snagged the puck and buried a 12-foot wrister for the overdue lead.
BU got some cushion at 14:57. Senior co-captain John McCarthy dug the puck out of the left-wing boards and fed it to Kevin Shattenkirk at the left point. The sophomore skated in, took a look, and fired a slap shot past Lerg for the 2-0 lead.
The younger Gilroy looked good again in the third, knocking down a waist-high shot and backhanding a shot on net before Spartan Andrew Conboy mugged him after the play for no apparent reason. The four officials missed it altogether, calling matching minors away from the play.
On the ensuing four-on-four, Chris Connolly narrowly missed his first collegiate goal from point blank range, thanks to a sprawling save by the agile Lerg. The netminder kept Michigan State in the game, and they finally broke up Rollheiser’s shutout bid on Jeff Petry’s shot from the point on a power play at 13:25. More importantly, it meant that BU had a slim one-goal margin despite dominating most of the game.
Things got really interesting with 4:35 remaining. Already shorthanded, BU drew a second penalty and had to kill 28 seconds worth of a five-on-three. They survived that and the ensuing man advantage. BU did a good job of preventing Michigan State from getting the extra attacker on the ice in the last minute, and the Spartans really didn’t threaten at all as time ran out.
“I think our team was a little shell-shocked coming to BU with 11 freshmen coming in and playing big roles on the team,” Lerg said. “I think we kind of sat back a little bit, and they’re a big, strong team that got some momentum going. It was good to see that once we got some momentum on our side, the last ten minutes of the game we got to play and show what we can do. We had chances to tie, which is all you can ask for.”
“Last night for 60 minutes and tonight for probably 52 minutes we played very solid,” Parker said. “I don’t think we played that well off the bat for the first half of the first period, but after that we played extremely well, and I was very pleased with everybody’s effort.
BU hosts Merrimack on Friday night, while Michigan State hosts Mass.-Lowell for a pair of non-conference games on Thursday and Friday.