BOSTON — Anyone who has been a fan for many years understands that this isn’t your father’s college hockey season.
Long gone are the days when teams began in November and ended in March.
This year the Division I men’s season begins in September for the first time, and while early season games often equal early season rust, No. 2 Boston University and No. 16 Union produced a September contest featuring late-season intensity on Saturday.
Ultimately, a perfectly-threaded pass across the zone on the power play by BU’s Patrick Harper that Dante Fabbro fired high blocker side with 7:49 remaining was the difference between these two powers.
Harper added an empty-net tally, his second goal and third point of the night, with 1:14 remaining, and rookie Shane Bowers converted a 2-foot putt into the empty net a 4-1 final.
For Harper, the game was a perfect follow-on to a freshman year where he potted 13 goals and 24 assists. On night one, there certainly weren’t any signs of a slow down. And, if anything, his playmaking skills were in the spotlight on the game-winner.
Playing on the right-wing side, Harper gathered a puck along the half wall. Despite three Union defenders’ sticks in his path, he threaded the seam and hit Fabbro for the one-timer that found the net.
“There aren’t many players at this level who can do that,” BU coach David Quinn said of Harper’s pass. “Fabbro’s got a great one-timer and he doesn’t waste any time getting rid of it. When you can cross that seam, you’re going to shoot it.
“When you can make a pass from one side to the other, talk to any goalie, that’s the hardest save to make.”
While the result for the Terriers was pretty, the game for both sides simply wasn’t.
Lost pucks on two-on-ones. Missed back doors on power plays. Breakaways that turned into pucks that barely rolled onto the goaltender. And that’s not to mention the struggles both teams had on the penalty kill.
Still, play was up-and-down and, more often than not physical. Neither team shied away from after-the-whistles scrums and players like BU’s highly-touted rookie Brady Tkachuk (team-high-tying seven shots) looked like a bulldozer on skates.
“Brady’s a presence out there; you notice him all the time,” said Quinn. “The pace didn’t bother him and I thought he was a menace around the net.”
The offense in the game came courtesy of special teams. Union drew first with the man advantage when Brett Supinski beat BU goaltender Jake Oettinger (31 saves) from the slot at 11:24 of the first.
But the Terriers’ power play answered just 2:16 later with Harper cleaning up a second rebound off the pads of Jake Kupsky (39 saves) to knot the game at 1.
And while tic-tac-toe passes and well-timed one-timers often lacked, goaltending didn’t. Both Oettinger and Kupsky looked beyond midseason form.
For Kupsky, that was beyond impressive. After backing up Alex Sakellaropoulos for two seasons with average numbers, the junior looked seasoned and, at times, stellar.
“[Kupsky] was our best player,” said Union coach Rick Bennett. “Hands down, it wasn’t even close.
“We were kind of hoping some of our other guys were going to play like him. But, hey, sometimes that’s going to happen.”
Both of these teams have high expectations, each with recent NCAA tournament success under their belt. Thus, come March, it wouldn’t be absurd for each coach to look back to Saturday night’s game as a potential difference-maker.
That, though, seems light years away.
“I don’t have a good enough memory to think back to Sept. 30 in March,” laughed Quinn. “When your season ends, every win you look back on and you know how important it is. But we’re certainly going to enjoy this tonight.”
Around the NCAA
Colgate 5, Niagara 1
Colgate’s Bobby McMann broke a 1-1 tie at 12:37 of the second period, leading the host Raiders over Niagara in the opening game of the 2017-18 season.
Less than two minutes after McMann’s tally, Jared Cockrill added to the lead, his first of two goals in the game. McMann added an assist to finish the game with two points.
Colton Point earned the win with 31 saves, while Niagara’s Brian Wilson stopped 28 in defeat.
The game marked the first as a Division I head coach for Niagara’s Jason Lammers.