After his freshman netminder Kieran Millan gave up six goals last Saturday night, Terrier coach Jack Parker said he learned at last that his goaltender is human.
Since then, Millan may have made him wonder if he should retract that statement.
Millan was the difference this weekend at the Boston Garden, earning Most Valuable Player honors for the tournament. While his teammates looked surprisingly uninspired for long stretches in the semifinal and championship game, he consistently played at top form throughout two nailbiters that were in doubt up to till the final buzzer.
“Saturday wasn’t a very good game,” Millan said. “Those games happen. Fortunately for us, it didn’t cost us anything. It was a wake-up call — made me refocus. During the playoffs, you really can’t dwell on things that have happened in the past.”
On Friday night, the spotlight was thrust on the Edmonton, Alberta native just 91 seconds into the action when Brandon Yip was called for a five-minute major. Outcome? He denied Boston College on four grade-‘A’ chances. First, it was a Tim Kunes shot through traffic, followed by a close call in a goalmouth scramble. Next it was a Brian Gibbons slapper followed by a Kyle Kucharski bid in tight. So much for the major penalty.
The Eagles threatened up till the end, but Millan never looked anything other than poised.
Tonight was more of the same. The River Hawks were frankly the better team through the first 40 minutes, and there were enough flurries to foreshadow a blizzard of goals. It never happened. Millan denied Jonathan Maiff on a great backhander at 7:30 of the first, then stopped Michael Budd on the rebound. Seconds later, Nick Monroe had another strong backhand bid, followed by two River Hawks taking whacks at the rebound of a Steve Capraro shot a minute later.
The shots may have favored BU 14-12 in the first period, but I had the scoring opportunities as 5-2 Lowell. Yet the Terriers emerged with the 1-0 lead, and it stood up all night.
Not easily, though. Kory Falite had two good power-play chances in the second period, and then Lowell had a five-on-three briefly in the third. BU played better, finally, over the last 20 minutes but couldn’t put away the pesky River Hawks. It came down to the last several ticks, and it looked entirely possible that Lowell might pull off their third extra-attacker tie in the last four games when leading scorer Scott Campbell had a great bid with four seconds left. Nothing doing.
“It gets you a little nervous,” Millan said. “At the same time, you just have to keep your focus. You know everyone on the ice is going for the same thing — keeping the puck out of the net. You just have to stay calm. Things got a little crazy at the end of this game, but at the same time I thought we stayed composed and played well defensively.”
All of this is not altogether surprising by now. Millan has only had the one truly off game all season — that game two against Maine last weekend — and even including that one you probably could count the number of soft goals he’s given up all season on one hand at most. He certainly didn’t show any nerves in the biggest game of his college career tonight.
“Part of the heritage of being a BU hockey player is playing in big games from the very beginning,” said River Hawk coach Blaise MacDonald, a former associate coach of the Terriers. “When you bring in Michigan State and North Dakota early in the year [in the Ice Breaker Tournament] and you bring in Michigan, he’s played in a lot of big games. … He looks like Cool Hand Luke in there; nothing seems to faze him or rattle him.
“The puck jumps to our best player’s stick with four seconds left, and he got a lot of composite on that. That was a big save, and he looked really cool doing it. That’s what good goalies do.”
His teammates are certainly true believers. “He’s a freshman, but it’s hard to think of him as a freshman anymore because he’s played in so many high-pressure games and situations,” Terrier co-captain John McCarthy said. “He just plays it cool all the time; he plays like a veteran.”
Parker has marveled at the rookie’s composure all season. But a short ride from the rink to Bay State Road — where Parker has a residence as well as where the freshman live in a dorm — gave Parker insight into his goalie’s mentality. The team had just wrapped up a road trip. “Kieran and two other guys jumped in the car, and we were talking on the way home about the game. [BU freshman goalie Grant] Rollheiser had played the game, and I said, â€˜He looked cool, calm, and collected.’ I said to Kieran, â€˜He looked jumpy earlier in the season, but I think he’s over that now.’
“And Kieran said, â€˜Yeah, he told me he felt a little jumpy earlier in the year.’ And then he said to me, â€˜I don’t understand that. You’re just playing goal; you’re just having fun. I don’t understand getting nervous.’ And you might think he’s saying that just so the coach will keep him in the lineup, but that’s exactly the way he plays. He doesn’t get rattled, and he’s absolutely fabulous in traffic in front of the net. And you saw that tonight: Even when he’s on his derriere, he’s somehow strong enough to keep the puck from going in the net.
Millan now owns a stellar 25-2-3 record along with a critical role in helping BU collect more hardware than a True Value Store this season. No doubt Terrier fans remember that the last time BU went all the way in 1995, Tom Noble was between the pipes — another freshman.
Could it happen again? If so, BU fans would love to imagine this low-key freshman getting up in front of the media once again after another shutout. You can imagine him saying, “It was nothing.”