BOSTON — Three days before Super Bowl Sunday, Boston University head coach Jack Parker had an early kickoff.
Just 15 minutes into Thursday’s practice, Parker grew fed up with his team’s lackadaisical effort and kicked the skaters off the ice. The goalies kept practicing because they were working hard.
It proved to be somewhat of a preview of tonight’s game.
BU’s skaters got off to a bit of a slow start, while goaltender Kieran Millan worked hard all night long. After BU and UMass Lowell struggled through a 0-0 tie for half of the game, BU finally got the next three goals en route to a 3-1 win over the River Hawks in front of a light crowd of 4,640 at Agganis Arena.
Millan stopped 30 shots, included a couple of shorthanded breakaways and a few unbelievably good chances. Terriers co-captain Joe Pereira and freshman Adam Clendening led the way with two points apiece, while David Vallorani scored the lone goal for the River Hawks.
That goal ruined Millan’s shutout streak, as he had gone 123:05 since surrendering a goal. The River Hawks finally exploited his weakness: defending against a 6-on-3 advantage, as Lowell pulled their goalie with two Terriers in the penalty box late in the game.
“Every year before the Beanpot starts, I’m always worried about the game before the Beanpot and the game in between,” Parker said. “I was more amped up this time because we were playing ‘the last place team in the league.’
“I just saw them play BC; I’ve got film of them beating Merrimack: That’s the best last place team we’ve had in the league for a long time. I was real worried about how we’d play against this club that way.”
Worried enough to take exception to a lackluster practice. “I had to kick them off the ice yesterday because the practice was so bad. But the captains got everybody’s attention and made sure they were ready to play. After we settled down in the second period, we played really well.”
“After the practice, we just put it behind us,” Pereira said. “I’ve been here for four years, and he’s never kicked us off the ice, so I was a little surprised. But he has a reason for everything, and it worked out well.”
For River Hawks head coach Blaise MacDonald, it’s just been one of those years.
“You’ve got to give BU and their players credit. These are difficult games to play before the Beanpot, and there was not a big house tonight. I thought we got off to a very good start. We hit a couple of posts one minute in. It was very clear to me that Millan just played phenomenal. He was spectacular tonight.”
The game started 30 minutes late because heavy traffic resulted in Lowell needing two hours and 40 minutes to make a trip that usually takes less than an hour. Regardless, it was BU that looked listless at times in the first. Colin Wright hit a post from a sharp angle at 1:20, and then Joseph Pendenza flipped one off the crossbar seconds later. BU had only one good chance all period, when Charlie Coyle set up Alex Chiasson crashing the net. Marc Boulanger made the pad save.
The Terriers settled down and played a strong second period, finally scoring at 10:52. From the left-wing side, Chris Connolly slipped the puck across to Max Nicastro, who one-timed a shot from the slot past Boulanger.
On a power play, BU scored again at 14:59. From the right-wing side, Corey Trivino threaded a beautiful back-door pass through traffic to Garrett Noonan crashing the far post for the goal.
In the third period, Millan was at his best. He absolutely robbed Chad Ruhwedel on a point-blank one-timer at 3:30. Four minutes later, Ryan Ruikka coughed up the puck on the power play, and Matt Ferreira raced in for the breakaway and another save for Milan.
Second later, BU got another power-play goal—a welcome sight given the team’s struggles in that area this season. Clendening’s shot from the right point appeared to carom off of Pereira’s back and go in.
It took a three-man advantage for Millan’s shutout streak to come to an end. David Vallorani ended up with a slam dunk of a shot after the River Hawks’ passing left him alone in front. ” It was a shame Kieran didn’t get a shutout because he played really well,” Parker said.
Four BU penalties in the last five minutes made it interesting, but it ended 3-1.
The Terriers (13-7-7 overall, 10-5-5 in Hockey East) now set their sights on a Monday night Beanpot Battle with their archrival, No. 1 Boston College, while the River Hawks (4-21-2, 3-17-0) don’t play again until Friday, when they are home against Northeastern.