Big-Game Players, Big-Game Team

You’d want Larry Bird to take the big shot, Bobby Orr to make the key rush and Pedro Martinez to record the decisive strikeout.

And this season when it comes to winning big college hockey games, Boston University immediately comes to mind. Of the four tournaments the Terriers have played in this year, they have yet to lose once.

They opened the season by winning the Ice Breaker Tournament. BU tied Northern Michigan in the first round, but advanced via a shootout. The title game was no contest, a 5-1 win over Rensselaer.

Between Christmas and New Year, Boston University took on some legendary opponents in the Great Lakes Invitational. First, the Terriers dominated Michigan State, 6-1, and then edged Michigan, 5-4.

In February, they continued their dominance of the Beanpot, winning it for the seventh time in the last eight years. On the first Monday of the month, BU eliminated Harvard, 2-1. One week later, it ignored the three defeats Boston College had inflicted during regular season games and won another ‘Pot with a 3-2 victory.

Despite all the big wins, however, there’d been plenty of ups-and-downs in Hockey East games so BU finished as the No. 5 seed in the playoffs. The Terriers traveled to Providence where they would face an opponent that had posted a 2-0-1 record against them this year. BU would also be playing in Schneider Arena, a building where it had never won a quarterfinal series.

Not to worry. The opening night nailbiter went into overtime before the Terriers emerged with a 5-4 win. One day later, they blew out the Friars, 7-1.

“We faced some adversity early in the year when we thought we were going to be a pretty good hockey team, but we weren’t playing up to our capabilities,” said BU coach Jack Parker. “Guys were getting very frustrated because the puck wasn’t going into the net. We couldn’t figure out where we were supposed to be going as a team.

“Once we got through that and started playing better as a team, I thought we got more and more confidence. I think this team is very confident right now because of what happened to them earlier.

Oh, now I know who we are. Now I know what my role is. Now I know what we can do as a team.

In the Hockey East semifinal contest, BU took on archrival Boston College in a rematch of the Beanpot championship game, a matchup BC coach Jerry York referred to as FleetCenter II. One night earlier, Eagles Ben Eaves and J.D. Forrest had been named to the All-Hockey East Team while Andrew Alberts and Tony Voce were honorable mentions.

By contrast, BU could only claim Freddy Meyer on the team — Meyer would be out of the semifinal lineup due to a separated shoulder — along with honorable mention Sean Fields.

Parker told his team, “Hey, [BC] has a lot of individual stars with a lot of points. We have a team here. We feel that we [are] stronger as a team. We [have] to win as a team.”

The game see-sawed back and forth with neither club able to establish more than a single goal lead through the end of regulation. The goaltending of Fields was spotty, but still markedly better than his counterpart, Matti Kaltiainen, in the BC nets.

In the first overtime, however, Fields made up for all previous sins and then some while Boston College applied incredible pressure in a lopsided 20 minutes.

“Certainly, another big reason for our success in big games has been Sean Fields, who has played great for us all season,” said Parker. “Goaltending is awfully important in these games.

“It didn’t look like great goaltending the first half of the game for either club, but then Sean Fields played great in the third period and the overtime. I thought he was the difference in the game without question.”

Five minutes into the second overtime, Justin Maiser again proved to be a big-time player, completing a hat trick that also included the game-tying third period tally. Maiser had also scored against BC in the Beanpot championship game one year after winning MVP honors in the tourney.

“He has had the tendency to score in [big] games,” said Parker. “You have to give his linemates credit. [Brian] McConnell is a big-time type of player, too. He’s making some plays and creating some offense for his linemates and Marky Mullen has had a great year for us.”

All of which leaves New Hampshire, another big-game team and the defending champion, in the way of Boston University’s first Hockey East title since 1997.

The Wildcats, who were the tournament’s No. 1 seed as the regular season co-champion with Boston College, will be the favorite.

But it’ll be a big game, so don’t bet the rent check against the Terriers.