For one hundred ninety four minutes and 24 seconds, spanning the last three games, UNH goaltender Mike Ayers has blanked Boston University.
The reason that the Terriers have been held scoreless is no real mystery. Ayers, the Hockey East co-Player of the Year and NCAA Northeast Regional MVP, has been phenomenal all season long. But despite Ayers’s abilities, a number of teams have put pucks behind him. What has made BU so ineffective?
In a word (or maybe two): power plays. Against Ayers over the last three games BU has gone a combined 0-for-13 playing a man up. Part of that blanking is attributable to the UNH penalty kill, which exerted constant pressure on the Terriers.
“We play aggressive shorthanded, hopefully not giving them time and space,” UNH coach Dick Umile said.
A close look at the stat sheet confirmed Umile’s point: over the course of five power plays Saturday, the Terriers managed only five shots. Needless to say, UNH didn’t give up a lot of second chances opportunities when down a man.
“Their defense did a great job boxing out, and kept us from getting rebounds,” BU captain Freddy Meyer agreed.
But giving UNH’s defense or Ayers all of the credit is missing the over-arching point. BU’s major weakness this season, and especially in Saturday’s game, was its inability to convert on the power play.
It’s not a new occurrence. Over the course of the season the Terriers converted a mere 18 percent of their chances with the man-advantage. For a Top Ten team to struggle that mightily on the power play is surprising, but against UNH, with its aggressive defense and spectacular goaltending, the normally-just-impotent BU power play turned moribund.
“The biggest difference in the game was that they got a power-play goal and we didn’t,” Boston University coach Jack Parker said.
Although UNH finished the night 1-for-3, the Wildcats were perfect with their first opportunity of the night.
With the game’s first power play at 12:18 of the first, UNH set up in the BU zone. Winger Jim Abbott passed from along the low boards to Preston Callander along the left circle. Callander fired a shot on BU goaltender Sean Fields, but temporary linemate Josh Prudden deflected the puck mid-flight, and Fields was unable to track the new course, giving the Hockey East champions a 1-0 lead.
Though UNH had the game’s first power play, BU would have a steady stream of chances with a Wildcat in the box over the last five minutes of the first and the first five of the second. Given four power plays in a span of just over 10 minutes, the Terriers came up empty on all four.
“We didn’t score on any power-play chances, so it wasn’t any one sequence [that was the turning point],” Parker said.
That might be true.
For most college hockey teams the failure to score a single goal with that many consecutive opportunities would be considered a turning point in the game. For the Terriers, it was simply the story of their season.