BOSTON — It didn’t sound promising.
Massachusetts had to travel to face the No. 1 team in the nation Friday night, knowing that it hadn’t managed a road win since October 14 versus Bentley.
The Minutemen responded with a fantastic effort, frustrating No. 1 Boston University with great goaltending, consistent defensive pressure, and outstanding special teams and emerged with a gritty 3-2 win in front of 4,799 at Agganis Arena, buoyed by a 33-save effort by freshman goalie Kevin Boyle.
The Minutemen also received a goal and assist apiece by left wing Michael Pereira and defenseman Joel Hanley.
Kieran Millan was the definitive standout for BU, stopping 34 of 36 shots.
The win was especially sweet for UMass coach Don “Toot” Cahoon, as he was a member of the 1971-1972 Boston University national championship team, which was recognized between periods on its 40th anniversary. That team remains the only BU team to ever repeat as national champions.
“Obviously, it’s a real big win for us,” Cahoon said. “It took good goaltending, a very honest defensive effort and will on our guys’ part. It’s been especially difficult playing what we thought was pretty well recently and not getting results, so it was really gratifying to get it done tonight.”
BU coach Jack Parker was as impressed with the opposition as he was disappointed with his own squad’s play.
“I told my team before the game that UMass was the best eighth- or ninth-place team in any college hockey league ever,” said Parker. “They came in and showed who they really are tonight. They were completely ready to play and thorough as hell.
“I thought we played okay in the first period. We were just horrible in the second period and we got worse in the third. A lot of that had to do with their speed and quickness and determination.”
Perhaps an early omen for BU was an Alex Chiasson penalty at 3:53. Chiasson led the team in penalty minutes through December 31, but this was his first trip to the sin bin in the ten games played in 2012.
BU survived that power play but fell behind on the next one. At 7:14, Troy Power took a shot from the right-wing circle. Millan made the pad save, but the rebound caromed out to Branden Gracel, who buried a beautiful 15-foot backhander on Millan’s stick side for the goal.
BU tied it within three minutes. From behind the net, Chiasson tried to stuff it home. The puck ended up right behind Boyle’s skate in the crease and captain Chris Connolly swooped in for a goal from about four inches out.
Things gradually deteriorated for the Terriers in period two, culminating in another power-play goal at 12:47. Once again, Millan stopped an initial shot before surrendering a goal on the rebound. This time, Joel Hanley had most of the net to shoot at, and he didn’t miss.
BU had a fantastic chance to tie the game while shorthanded early in the third. Patrick MacGregor fired a long clear that bounced over a stick and sent Matt Nieto in on the breakaway, only to be denied by Boyle.
“[Boyle] played a great game,” UMass right wing Danny Hobbs said. “It’s nice to see him step up like that.”
BU pulled Millan late in the third, only to have Pereira (brother of former BU captain Joe Pereira) seal it with an empty-net goal with 55.8 seconds remaining.
The Terriers did manage to get their long-awaited second goal with all of 4.1 seconds left when Chiasson scored from short range. Both teams took timeouts before the ensuing faceoff, but it was much ado about little. BU won the draw and managed to get off a shot, but it was well wide, and the Minutemen had their overdue road win.
“On the road, we just kept throwing out duds, starting with the first game of the year,” Cahoon said. “Now that monkey’s off our back.”
Meanwhile, Parker was left to rue his team’s lack of focus.
“In general, I thought we got out-played by a team that was determined to come in here and give a great effort and we weren’t determined at all,” Parker said. “We had too many guys not show up tonight.”
BU (17-9-1, 13-7-1 Hockey East) now will focus on archrival Boston College in Monday night’s Beanpot championship game. UMass (10-12-5, 6-10-4) returns home to host Providence on Saturday night, aiming to move closer to the seventh-place Friars.