BOSTON, Mass. — If you can only be in first place for one day of the whole season, you certainly want it to come on the last day of the schedule.
No. 1 Boston University did just that today, shutting out Providence College 3-0 to edge Northeastern by the margin of one point in the Hockey East standings to claim the regular-season championship. In front of a crowd of 4,797 at Agganis Arena, Terrier freshman Grant Rollheiser recorded his first collegiate shutout to lead BU. Luke Popko, Vinny Saponari, and Chris Higgins scored for the Terriers, who are now on a 13-0-3 run going into the postseason.
Friar freshman Alex Beaudry made 33 saves in a losing effort.
It took us an extra day in the season to catch [Northeastern], and we’ve only lost one game since November, said Terrier coach Jack Parker in praise of the Huskies excellent showing in league play throughout the year. In some ways, it would have been nice if we were co-champions because we both deserved it. Theyve had a heck of a season. Im hoping we get a chance to see them later on.
In general, that was really the type of game that I thought wed see tonight after Fridays game, Parker added, alluding to his teams 8-2 romp at Schneider Arena. Friday nights game was a little out of hand early on; Providence had a tough time with us after we go out. Since it was a close game tonight, they played hard, and I thought they played well in many aspects of the game–especially the penalty kill.
For Providence coach Tim Army, todays drive up to Boston seem to symbolize his teams season. We got a flat tire on the way on the Mass Pike coming in, about five miles from the rink here, and I actually had to laugh, Army said. Usually I wouldnt laugh, but it was just the way it was supposed to be, I guess. Its just been one of those years. Well grow from it, and well learn from it.
While Providence recovered from a flat tire, BU came out flat in the figurative sense of the word. For a team who controlled their own destiny for the regular-season title, Parker characterized them as half-asleep in the first period. There werent too many highlights either way in the early going. Nick Bonino and Brandon Yip peppered the net briefly for BU with a four-on-four at 4:00.
Even BUs first goal came on a pretty casual play. Zach Cohen nudged the puck along the left-wing boards, and Luke Popko picked it up and shot a perfectly-placed wrist shot into the corner on the glove side. Like I told Matt [Gilroy] when I walked up here, it was a snipe, Popko said jokingly. It was a great regroup”kind of a broken play at the blue line, just picked it up, shot, and it went in. I dont get too many; Im just another bee in the hive.
BU had a few careless turnovers in the first period that could have led to good opportunities, but Providence failed to do much with them. The only other grade A chance of the period came at 18:40, when Colin Wilson raced up the right-wing side and then dropped it back to Jason Lawrence in the slot for a strong shot and a save.
Early in the second period, Providence winger Austin Mayer handed the puck over to Nick Bonino, who teed up John McCarthy for what looked to be a probable goal, but Beaudry thwarted him.
At 6:04, the Terriers obtained some cushion. Chris Connolly got the puck behind the goal line in the corner and centered to Vinny Saponari in the slot. The freshman right wing wheeled, eyed the net patiently, then beat Beaudry with a high shot.
The third period featured the most action. Vinny Saponari had a shot that Beaudry stopped with a glove save at 1:17, and Chris Higgins had a good chance at 9:40, only to have Beaudry make the kick save.
There was a slight flurry around 11:20 when Corey Trivino threatened to score with a backhander, following by a Kevin Shattenkirk right-point slap shot that resoundingly clanged off the post.
Chris Higgins put the punctuation mark on the victory with 19.1 seconds remaining. Jason Lawrence raced in on the right wing and crossed to Chris Higgins, whose forehanded shot beat Beaudry low, stick side. The Friars never did manage to pull Beaudry for the extra attacker, and BU ended up hoisting the regular-season trophy.
Theyre very, very good, Tim Army said of BU. I said the other night that in my four years here, weve played some really good teams. Last year BC won the national championship. I think this is the best team Ive seen. Theyre deep at every position.
Meanwhile, Providences only real chance was fumbled at 3:55 when Kyle MacKinnon couldnt get the handle all alone just outside the crease. We battled, Army said. Its not an easy game for us to play after getting beat 8-2 the other night, and obviously were not playing for anything. But I thought our kids competed on Friday though the score was out of hand, and I thought they played hard tonight.
Although not thrilled in some ways with his teams play, Parker acknowledged that the Terriers yielded only one real grade A chance all night and also noted how unusual it was that his team did not have to kill a single penalty.
Providence (7-22-5, 4-18-5 Hockey East) did not qualify for the playoffs and must set their sights on the future. My philosophy is that weve got a lot of 18-year-old freshmen, and teams around the league have a lot of 21-year-old freshmen, Army said. [Leading scorer] Matt Bergland is three years younger than a lot of freshmen. I thought coming in that it might take six years to get a group of guys that were really comfortable with Were getting there. Its a process.
Meanwhile, BU (27-5-4, 18-5-4) claims the No. 1 seed for the Hockey East quarterfinals and will host Maine starting on Friday night at Agganis. Its nice, Terrier co-captain Matt Gilroy said about claiming the top spot in the league. We worked all year climbing up the league, and its nice to be up top. But it ends pretty quick, and the most important season starts next weekend.
All the regular-season stuff that wed like to accomplish, weve done that in spades. And now we start over again. Everybodys equal.