BOSTON, Mass. — When the three stars of tonight’s game were announced, there were two uncustomary names announced for No. 3 Boston University.
Boston University forward Joe Pereira received No. 1 star honors for giving his team a 3-2 lead, while backup goaltender Adam Kraus earned the No. 3 star because he ensured that the slim margin stood up with two huge third-period saves.
So on a night when the Terriers raised the banners to celebrate last year’s many championships, the crowd of 5,403 also had a little bit more to enjoy tonight, as BU beat the US Under-18 team at Agganis Arena.
Nick Bonino and Chris Connolly scored the other two Terriers’ goals, while Brandon Saad celebrated his 17th birthday with a goal for the US team. Justin Faulk also scored for the Under-18 team squad, and goalie Jack Campbell, a Michigan recruit, looked great in goal for the talented teens as well.
“In general, I was very pleased with our effort in many parts of the game and for most of the game,” Terriers’ coach Jack Parker said. “We started off slow for the first six or eight minutes of the first period, but then I thought we played real well for the rest of the period.
“Then there were times during when I thought we were really sharp, and other times when I think we thought we were a little better than them. We were taking chances and making foolish choices, turning over the puck and giving them opportunities.”
The need to kill a five-on-three power play less than two minutes into the game contributed to BU’s sluggish start. The Under-18 team capitalized just 12 seconds after the second penalty was called. Jon Merrill passed the puck from the right point to Justin Faulk at the left point for a slap shot and a goal at 2:01.
BU tied it up at 12:07. Seconds after a near miss by Bonino, the junior scored on a highlight-reel wraparound. Picking up the puck behind the goal line on the netminder’s stick side, Bonino darted to the opposite side, falling to his knees as he tucked the puck in before Campbell could slide from post-to-post.
The Terriers had a two-man advantage of their own later in the period, and Campbell saved face with a face save, as Colby Cohen’s slapper caromed right off his mask at 16:25.
BU took their first lead with a power-play goal at 17:55. At the right point, David Warsofsky passed it to freshman Max Nicastro at the left point. Nicastro made a beautiful one-time pass to redirect the puck back over to Chris Connolly in the right-wing circle.
“Nicastro got the goalie out of position,” Connolly said. “I just wanted to put in on net; I wasn’t even looking. I was fortunate for it to go in.”
BU let up in the second period, and Brandon Saad and Chase Balisy had a few good chances around the five-minute mark for the US team. That foreshadowed the Saad power-play goal at 10:54, when the right wing got the puck low on Kieran Millan’s glove side and buried it.
The Terriers almost regained the lead within a minute when Vinny Saponari’s shot got through Campbell, only to have BU recruit Adam Clendening clear it from the crease. Likewise, BU dodged a bullet when a turnover led to a breakaway for Saad, but Millan made a save before swatting the rebound away with his blocker.
It looked the game might stay tied into the second intermission, but Pereira scored with just 8.9 seconds left in the period. Luke Popko scripted it before the defensive end faceoff.
“Right before the faceoff, he said, ‘We’re gonna go off the wall.’” Pereira said. “Popko said, ‘Just go up the middle and we’ll try to find you.’ Andy Glass made a great play off the boards, and I waited for the defense to commit to me and used him as a screen.”
From the left-wing side, Pereira beat Campbell to make it 3-2.
Kraus, who did not play a single minute in goal last season, stole the show in the third period with a pair of great saves to preserve the win. At 4:15, he stopped Bryan Rust all alone just outside of the crease. Then Saad threatened yet again with a breakaway at 13:30, but the junior goalie came up big again.
More than anything, the exhibition game gave Parker an opportunity to audition many of his younger players. He got his first look at freshman Ryan Santana as a center and came away impressed. Parker said that sophomore Ross Gaudet had basically won the fourth-line center job, only to suffer a dislocated shoulder two days ago. It’s not clear when he’ll be back, but it sounds as if Gaudet and Santana may be playing together on the fourth line when they do.
Tonight’s top line featured Nick Bonino centering Zach Cohen and Vinny Saponari, and that looks like a good bet to be the case on opening night. Corey Trivino is a lock to center the second line with Chris Connolly on his left wing; Alex Chiasson started on the right wing for tonight at least. The third-line unit of Popko, Pereira, and Glass looked very good at times tonight, so it seems probable that they will be together next weekend as well. If Chiasson is able to hold onto his spot on the second line, that leaves five healthy forwards in contention for the fourth line, with Santana and perhaps Kevin Gilroy holding an edge.
Freshman defenseman Sean Escobedo, Max Nicastro, and Ben Rosen also won points with the Terriers’ coach, with Nicastro earning the biggest raves tonight. Only two of the three are likely to play in the opener, and Nicastro seems like a sure bet.
The Terriers open their season out at UMass on Friday night.