Defense Mechanism: Terriers Live and Die with Blue Line Corps

For the Boston University defensemen, it was the best of games and worst of games.

Actually, it was a game that epitomized the Terriers’ season in many ways. BU has a talented defensive corps, and the Terriers’ 7-3 run to start 2010 reflects how much the sextet has stepped up their game after an erratic first half. Colby Cohen earned honors as Hockey East Player of the Month for January, scoring an impressive six goals and four assists in just seven games played.

In judging the evidence tonight, the verdict had to be a narrow decision against the defense. As was the case often during the abysmal fall semester, there were a few really bad reads, and a little bad luck, by the defensemen that proved costly against the potent Boston College offense. That ultimately overshadowed the fact that the BU defensemen also scored all three goals for the defending national champions.

In the first period, Boston College freshman Philip Samuelson passed from behind his net but put it right on the stick of Boston University captain Kevin Shattenkirk. It was such a great setup that Samuelson could’ve been given an assist on the resulting goal.

After that, though, the BU defensemen gaveth just a bit more than they had taketh away.

Early in the second, Terriers freshman Sean Escobedo reached out his stick in an attempt to block a power-play shot. That redirected an otherwise routine shot, and the puck ended up hitting the shaft of Escobedo’s stick and popping unluckily up and over goalie Kieran Millan.

On the next goal, the BU defensemen had the puck on their sticks in their own end, but wound up with a bit of a Chinese fire drill in attempting to clear it. BC finally won a battle on the boards, and the puck pinballed around before Carl Sneep buried it.

Then, it was Terriers freshman Max Nicastro who got completely undressed by freshman phenom Chris Kreider, as the Eagles left wing put it right through Nicastro’s skates to go in all alone on Millan to make it 3-1. The goal reflected positively on Kreider even more than it cast Nicastro in a bad light.

“It was a big-time play by the freshman forward and a not-so-great play by the freshman defenseman,” Parker acknowledged. “He pivoted the wrong way and got walked. [Kreider’s] got a lot of speed and some deception. I thought that the play he made on the goalie was even better than the one on the defenseman. It was a terrific individual effort.”

“That could’ve happened to any of us on the ice,” Shattenkirk said. “When it happens to a freshman, it’s tough because it can really shatter their confidence. I think they rebounded really well. It hasn’t happened to them much this year, so I think it will be a little easier for them to move on.”

That’s a valid point. When BU was struggling on defense early in the season, the main culprits usually were the veterans. Escobedo and Nicastro have been very solid defensively all year and, if anything, have looked even better in 2010.

“I don’t think you have to worry about it,” said Parker. “They’ve played great all year for us. They made mistakes, and they feel bad. We could’ve had a few more goals; we had some great chances. [Nicastro] felt embarrassed about it, and I said to him, ‘Park it, it’s over.’ And he went out and played well after that. Shatty’s right: it could happen to a senior, getting beaten one-on-one like that. Max Nicastro has had a fabulous year, and he’s going to be a star in this league.”

For good measure on the debit side of the ledger, Shattenkirk received some payback when his failed attempt to pinch in the BC zone directly led to a two-on-one break for the Eagles and the fourth BC goal.

“As a whole, we played pretty well,” Shattenkirk said. “We blocked a lot of shots in front; we took away a lot of their second chances. We had a couple of bad breaks, and my pinch was just a bad read. I think if you take those out, we played pretty well.”

Another factor was the officiating. Parker was obviously livid about several calls and a few non-calls on BC, and he started the press conference by informing all present that no questions should be asked about the officiating, as he had instructed his players not to comment on it. Still, Shattenkirk touched on it indirectly.

“We kind of got caught up in what happened out there with some of the refereeing,” he said. “That’s our fault as players not to move on from that. It’s just a matter of controlling your emotions.”

On a brighter note for the vanquished Terriers, David Warsofsky and Colby Cohen earned a little redemption for the defensive corps as BU rallied to make it 4-3 in the third. Warsofsky showed why he is one of the top skaters and stickhandlers in college hockey as he raced in short-handed before flipping a slick backhanded shot up and over Muse. Cohen overcame a hip injury that threatened to keep him out of the lineup altogether tonight, and he looked fantastic on the power play as usual. His extra-attacker goal to pull BU within one was his team-leading 11th goal of the season.

That said, it’s hard to dig such a deep hole against a team tied for fifth in the PairWise Rankings and come all the way back.

“It’s a game of mistakes,” Parker said. “We made a couple, and they made a couple. When it got to be 4-1 in the third, I thought my team showed a lot of stick-to-it-iveness, a lot of desire, determination, and great will. I was really happy with that.”

Don’t count the Terriers out of a good run in the home stretch just yet. And if they end up digging themselves out of the early-season hole to earn a spot in the national tournament once again, you can bet it will be because their defense mechanism is firing on all cylinders when it counts most.


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