WORCESTER, Mass. — It might not be too wise to refer to Boston University as Cinderella, even if it seems like the glass slipper fits.
A highly talented Terriers club that has needed to win to avoid the clock striking midnight on its season captured the Hockey East tournament title last weekend to advance to the NCAA tournament and on Saturday upset top-seeded Cornell 3-1 to open the NCAA Northeast Regional.
A team on the brink two weeks ago is now a game away from the Frozen Four.
“This is playoff hockey at its finest,” said Terriers coach David Quinn. “There wasn’t a lot of room out there. [Cornell] is as big and strong a team as you’re going to see in college hockey and they played fast. It took everything we had to beat them.”
BU earned the victory with a similar blueprint to how it has won this postseason. One-goal wins (or one-goal plus an empty-netter, as was the case on Saturday) have become the norm. And more importantly, finding a way to win despite circumstances that aren’t always perfect.
Saturday, BU and Cornell were tied at 1 through 40 minutes and the Terriers struggled to muster offense in the third. They had just four shots on goal in the period, but two of them found the back of the net.
The game-winning goal at 4:39 came off a breakdown by the Big Red. Forced behind the net with a center and right-wing handling the puck, it seemed like forever that Cornell waited to make the initial pass.
Freshman phenom Brady Tkachuk sat layered in a forecheck ready to pounce. As soon as Cornell had any trouble, the 6-foot-3 rookie used his long wingspan to steal the puck and circled the zone.
Working a give-and-go behind the net, Tkachuk then fed the point, where David Farrance wristed a puck through traffic into the top corner of the net.
“I didn’t even look,” said Farrance, who scored just his second goal of the season a week ago in the Hockey East tournament, of Saturday’s game winner. “I just tried to get the puck past the first [defender] coming out at me. I didn’t really see the net at all.”
For Cornell, which played a near-lockdown third period defensively, it was a critical mistake at the wrong moment.
“I remember watching the games last night on TV and [ESPN’s] Barry Melrose saying, ‘You don’t want your centerman behind the net holding onto the puck,'” said Cornell coach Mike Schafer. “That’s what happened to us tonight. We just had a miscommunication, we turn it over and they capitalize.”
From that moment, the Terriers played strong defense of their own, something not lost on Quinn. He said that it wasn’t a perfect game in any stretch of the imagination, but that his team’s commitment to defense against a strong offense like Cornell was critical.
“I didn’t think our puck management was great tonight; give [Cornell] a lot of credit for that,” said Quinn. “But I thought we competed.
“I’ve said this a lot. You have to have a lot of characteristics to win. You can’t just have talent. You have to have heart, desire, resiliency, mental toughness. I thought we had all of that today.”
Quinn also had a goaltender in Jake Oettinger who has been lights-out strong over the last month. A player who struggled at times early in the season, Oettinger has a .958 save percentage, a 1.35 GAA and a 6-0-1 record in his last seven games.
His 30 saves on Saturday included a number of highly composed-looking stops that highlighted the poise his current game possesses.
“He’s a great goalie and we know that,” Quinn said of Oettinger. “What I like about our game is that we’re working in sync with him. Our D-zone coverage is working well with him. We’re not giving up a lot of second chances with him.”
After a scoreless first period, the tenor of the game changed quickly nearing the midway point in the second. Off an offensive zone draw, Cornell’s Cam Donaldson found senior Trevor Yates, who sniped a shot high to Oettinger’s glove side at 7:27 to give the Big Red the lead.
The Terriers, though, responded quickly as Brandon Hickey and Shane Bowers made the best of a bad situation. Pressing the Cornell net, the puck cycled back to Hickey, who fanned on a shot. Recovering, somewhat, he twirled and threw the puck toward the net, where Bowers picked the pick from midair with a baseball-like swing past Matthew Galajda (21 saves) to knot the game at 1.
Chances then, particularly those from the grade A area, became difficult to find, setting the stage for Farrance to play hero. Freshman Logan Cockerill added the empty netter with 16.4 seconds left to seal the victory and keep this quasi-Cinderella dancing.