WASHINGTON, D.C. — Scoring goals in spurts has been a trait for the Boston University Terriers this season; who knew how much that would be a factor as the Terriers head to the national title game?
Trailing 4-3 in the third, BU responded with two goals in 1:13 to knock off East Regional champion Vermont, 5-4, in the second semifinal of the NCAA Frozen Four at the Verizon Center.
The Terriers will meet Miami, a 4-1 winner over Bemidji State, in the national title game on Saturday evening.
BU dominated the opening to take a 2-0 lead, allowed the Catamounts to rattle off three straight goals in the second to gain control, then netted a late power-play goal to send the game into the third tied at three.
It was in the third that the Terriers were forced to play their best hockey.
Vermont was headed for the upset after defenseman Drew MacKenzie scored a power-play goal with 10:20 remaining, his first of the season. However, the never-say-die Terriers got goals from Chris Higgins at 13:06 and Hobey “Hat Trick” finalist Colin Wilson at 14:19 to earn a dramatic victory.
“We know we can score goals,” said BU coach Jack Parker. “I thought the third period was really a great period for us. We had been tied with [Vermont] before, 3-3, and lost both games, 4-3.
“Sure enough, they score to make it 4-3 and I thought that’s where our team came up really big, not just because they scored the goals, but because of the way they played.”
That “way” was a dominant offensive style of hockey where the Terriers denied Vermont any chance to expand the lead.
It would’ve been easy for BU to roll over and die after Vermont killed a penalty with 7:11 remaining. Instead, the Terriers kept driving the net, a move that paid dividends just seconds later on the tying goal.
Higgins attempt to move the puck across the crease with both Jason Lawrence and Vermont’s MacKenzie headed for the net. The puck carried with it some puck luck as it bounced off of MacKenzie and into the net to draw BU square and send the BU portion of the 18,427 in attendance into pandemonium.
Before the celebration could end, the game took a complete 180.
With a draw in the offensive end, Wilson won the puck back to Higgins, who fired a low hard shot on Vermont netminder Rob Madore (23 saves). With Wilson driving the net, the puck landed right on his stick to give the Terriers the lead.
“I didn’t see where Chris [Higgins] went with the puck; I just went to the net,” said Wilson. “Sure enough, the rebound went right onto my tape.
“I didn’t have a thought. It was natural reaction [to shoot]. Afterwards it seeped in that I’d scored a big goal.”
From there, it was pure fundamentals as the Terriers never allowed another shot on netminder Kieran Millan (23 saves).
The Terriers dominated the game early, outshooting the Catamounts, 14-7, in the opening period. Vermont goaltender Madore was forced to be sharp, but he was unable to stonewall Wilson.
After Kevin Shattenkirk patiently pulled back at the offensive blue line on the rush, he floated a wrist shot that Wilson redirected at the center of the zone past Madore inside the right post for the 1-0 BU lead.
The Terriers extended their lead with 3:33 remaining in the first. Lawrence and Higgins worked a perfect give-and-go with Higgins feathering a feed across the crease that Lawrence roofed over Madore to give the Terriers a 2-0 advantage.
Early in the second, the Terriers appeared to increase their lead. Sniper Nick Bonino fired a shot from the right faceoff circle that beat Madore over the right shoulder. The on-ice official immediately signaled goal, but after looking at replay, it was clear the puck hit the left post, forcing the referee to reverse his original call.
With new life, the Catamounts took advantage. Wahsontiio Stacey fired home his eighth goal of the year, using two BU defenders as a screen to beat Millan and pull Vermont within a goal at 3:50.
The Catamounts continued to get their chances, including a point-blank bid by Justin Milo at 8:45 that forced Millan to make a sliding left pad save.
Millan robbed Viktor Stalberg at the 9:00 mark, but the rebound wound up on Milo’s stick again and this time he wouldn’t be denied. He sent a shot into a wide-open net at 9:04 to draw the game even at two.
Before the fans finished cheering Milo’s tally, defenseman Josh Burrows fired a shot that completely eluded Millan to give Vermont the lead, 3-2, at 9:49.
That marked the first time in this year’s NCAA tournament that the Terriers had trailed and led BU coach Jack Parker to call his timeout.
The Terriers responded with chances, most notably a Colby Cohen bid at 12:08. The shot, similar to Bonino’s earlier in the frame, beat Madore but rang off the crossbar.
A late power play for BU allowed the Terriers to pull even. After a near-clear by Vermont, Bonino picked up the puck and fed Vinny Saponari near the left post with 1:21 remaining to send the game to the third deadlocked at three.
“I thought that was the biggest goal of the game,” said Parker of the tying goal. “We didn’t want to go into the locker room losing, particularly after blowing the lead.”
When the Catamounts retook the lead on MacKenzie’s power-play goal, coach Kevin Sneddon said his club could “taste the victory.”
That wasn’t to be, not for any fault of the Catamounts, but for pure determination on the part of the Terriers that made the game an instant classic.
BU advances to the national title game for the 10th time overall and the first time since 1997. The Terriers are in search of their first title since 1995 and fifth overall.
For Vermont, their Cinderella run ends one game short of the ultimate goal. Still, Sneddon and his club take a lot of pride in the run they made to reach the Frozen Four.
“It’s tough to put into words the emotions that are going on in our locker room,” said Sneddon. “Unfortunately, it slipped through our hands, but a lot of that is credit to Boston University.”