It took just one shot, from the stick of Maine’s Mike Hamilton, to turn Cinderella’s carriage into a pumpkin.
The carriage ride that carried eighth-seeded Boston University came to a halt on Friday thanks to 1-0 loss to second-seeded Maine in the Hockey East semifinals.
The fact of the matter, though, was that the carriage itself nearly turned into a freight train. After upsetting top-seeded Boston College in last weekend’s quarterfinals, two games to one, BU came full-steam into Friday’s semis against the Black Bears. In a game where they controlled the play early, the Terriers played what coach Jack Parker called “exactly the type of game” he had hoped for.
That was pure fact. BU limited top-notch opportunities for the potent Maine offense and relied on goaltender Sean Fields — himself likely more than half the reason that the Terriers season was still alive — to stand tall at times when they didn’t. Hoping for that low-scoring game where a fluke bounce could’ve made BU the first number eight seed to ever reach the Hockey East final, the Terriers and Black Bears entered the third period scoreless.
But then, on a perfect shot to the top left corner, Hamilton, a somewhat unlikely hero in his own right, beat the unbeatable Fields with less than 13 minutes remaining — a goal sufficient for the Black Bears to advance thanks to Maine’s Jimmy Howard doing his own Sean Fields impersonation in the other net.
Still, even heading home or to the closest warm climate to break out the golf clubs, this is a time for the BU players, coaches and fans to hold their heads high.
This team two weeks ago needed an overtime goal just to make the playoffs, then Friday nearly headed to the 20th anniversary title tilt in Hockey East. That’s something that gives Parker positive reflection.
“I was really happy with the way our team played down the stretch as well,” said Parker. “It was a team that really struggled throughout the year with consistency.”
In the end, BU may never have really ever found that consistency. It put together back-to-back wins just once and that didn’t happen until after game one of the quarterfinals. And tonight it was the club’s Achilles’ heel that ended their run.
“It was the same thing that hurt us tonight that hurt us throughout the season and that’s our failure to put the puck in the net,” Parker said.
That fact aside, Parker and his players realize that the ending could partially make up for a lot of bad nights.
“It was very inspiring,” said captain Mark Mullen of the past three weekends. “This was a tough season. This season had to be one of the toughest I’ve ever had. To see the way everybody hung in there together — the players, the coaches — it’s just a great feeling.”
“There certainly was redemption,” said Parker. “There was redemption in the fact that we finally got together and played with some intensity down the stretch.
“I’m really proud of this team. We were excited about the fact that they earned their way into the playoffs and then they realized they wanted to ‘do’ something.
“They certainly did something last weekend and they almost did something tonight. So it was nice to see them finish off this way, we just couldn’t get that done early.”
Endings associated with the loss of course go beyond just a season. For six seniors — Mullen, Fields, Frantisek Skladany, Kenny Magowan, Steve Greeley and Gregg Johnson — it’s also the ending of a Terrier career.
“I wanted to savor the moment,” said Fields, who stayed in his crease an extra minute after the game ended, gazing around the FleetCenter ice where he’s earned two Beanpot and one Hockey East tournament MVP awards. “It’s the last time that I’m going to wear the BU colors. So I took a look around and looked at the team to try to remember this.”
For those returning, including the entire defensive corps that dressed on Friday night, there should be a lot to look forward to next season. The key, though, will be to start fast, maintain and then add another exciting finish.
“This wasn’t the type of year we’re typically used to,” said Parker. “So we want to make sure that next year we start the season well and finish it this strong.”
And believe it that more than likely next year the role of Cinderella will not be played by BU.