Monday, March 30, 2015

Going Home, A Look Back at the Weekend

Usually when a team is "sent home" in a tournament, it is a bad thing. Not quite for the 2015 BU hockey team, who advanced to the Frozen Four in Boston after claiming the Northeast Regional Championship Saturday afternoon.

To say that was one of the most exciting (and/or stressful, whatever way you want to look at it) weekends in my time of watching BU hockey would be a complete understatement. Obviously, the 2009 Frozen Four is up there, but I can't remember two games that were more compelling and with that much at stake that top this past weekend.

Looking past the memorable plays, the O'Regan goal Friday and Rodrigues' unreal curl and shoot goal Saturday, there is a lot that needs to be cleaned up if the Terriers are to get past North Dakota next Thursday.

Too many times this weekend the Terriers were hemmed into their own end for long stretches of time. That's two fold, though. Minnesota Duluth played a great possession game for the first half and didn't really even score in their best chances. Lets be honest, O'Connor should have stopped their second goal and he was completely lost on their first. After getting out shot 13-6 in the second, BU, like they have all year, turned their game around in the third and flipped the script, outshooting the Bulldogs 13-5.

If there's one thing that BU really needs to improve on, it's getting pucks out of their own zone. I'll say it again, Duluth, and to some extent Yale, trapped the Terriers in the defensive zone for long stretches of that game Saturday. Simple chips off the glass instead of cross ice and homerun passes will be a must against the Sioux.

UMD and and Yale didn't have the most potent offenses in the world, nor did they have a standout goal-scorer. North Dakota does and they also have a wall in their own net in Zane McIntyre. Goals may come at a premium against the Sioux.

Anyway, more on that as the game approaches in the coming days.

How The Field Was Narrowed
If you don't know who won these games already, you live under a rock, but here ya go anyway:

Friday: In the West Regional in Fargo, North Dakota topped Quinnipiac 4-1... St. Cloud State came back and in heartbreaking fashion, eliminated Michigan Tech 3-2 in overtime... In the only other game to go to OT, BU dropped Yale 3-2 in Manchester... Lastly, Minnesota Duluth rolled past in-state rival Minnesota 4-1.

Saturday: Down in Providence, Denver knocked out Boston College with a 5-2 win... Later that night at the 'Dunk, Providence upset Miami 7-5 in the tournament's craziest game thus far... Moving to the Midwest Regional in South Bend, where Nebraska Omaha bounced Harvard with a 4-1 victory... In the upset of year, RIT took out number-one overall seed Minnesota Mankato 2-1... North Dakota punched their ticket to the Frozen Four with a decisive 4-1 win over NCHC foe St. Cloud... Finally, BU survived a 3-2 decision over Minnesota Duluth to head to the Frozen Four.

Sunday: Two more tickets needed punching to Boston and in the first game, Providence skated past Denver 4-1... Rounding out the Frozen Four, Nebraska Omaha advanced after blanking RIT 4-0.

So it's Omaha vs Providence at 5:00 and BU vs North Dakota at 8:30 on April 9th at the Garden.

Hey Wait A Second...
That date sound familiar to anyone?

Oh that's right... BU beat Vermont 5-4 on that same date six years ago in the Frozen Four in Washington DC. And yes, this year's National Championship game falls on the sixth anniversary of BU's 5th National Title, the 4-3 overtime win against Miami.

Much more to come on the North Dakota game... 10 days away.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Back To The Garden

Late Rodrigues goal sends BU to Frozen Four

From the outset this game was a war. There was never a dull moment, regardless of who you were rooting for. This game had everything from big hits, timely saves and clutch goals.

Minnesota Duluth killed off an early BU penalty, only one of two power plays in the entire game, despite being a very chippy contest. Matt Grzelcyk and Jack Eichel both got into scrums with UMD's Dominic Toninato. After the second little altercation, Eichel and Toninato were both given two minutes for roughing and that pretty much ended that, even though both were still jawing at each other from inside the box.

BU broke the scoreless tie on one of the strangest goals of the year. Brandon Fortunato and Evan Rodrigues where the only two Terriers left in the attacking zone as the Bulldogs looked to breakout. Fortunato made a play on the puck near the blue line to keep it in and the puck popped into the high slot. From the Rodrigues turned around an swatted at the puck and made great contact, enough to send it through UMD goalie Kasimir Kaskisuo leg's and into the back of the net. It was the first of two huge goals for Rodgigues on the afternoon.

BU hung on to that 1-0 lead and took it to the dressing room headed to the second period.

It took just 37 seconds for Duluth to tie things up in period number two. Willie Raskob fired home a shot from the point into essentially an empty net, as Matt O'Connor (27 saves) was stuck on the far post. It looked like he had no idea where the puck was and just never made a move over to get in front of the Raskob shot.

Less than three minutes later, BU regained the lead. Chase Phelps won a battle along the near wall allowing J.J. Piccinich to pick up the puck in the corner. Piccinich then took it behind the net and made a slick centering pass to Matt Lane who was stationed at the top of the crease. Lane corralled the puck and in a diving motion across the crease was able to tuck the puck in past a sprawling Kaskisuo. Lane just snuck the puck past the post and Kaskisuo's leg to make it 2-1.

Following the goal, Duluth took advantage of some sloppy play by the Terriers and hemmed them into their own zone for long portions of the period. Breakouts were tough and UMD did a great job of slowing down the Terries. BU was also very sloppy at times in their own end that lead to Bulldog chances.

The Bulldogs struck even again at the 7:31 marker. Kyle Osterberg raced in on the far side an let go an uncontested wrister from about the top of the circle. O'Connor got his glove on it, but didn't catch it and the puck went up over his shoulder and in slow motion rolled over the goal line to tie the game. It was Osterberg's seventh goal of the year, unassisted.

O'Connor bounced back from his two soft goals and stood tall on all of the grade-A Duluth scoring chances. Minnesota Duluth would not score again.

Momentum was certainly in UMD's favor in the second period, despite the tie score. Doyle Somberby helped change that trend with a massive open ice hit on Tony Cameranesi. It was a brutal check, but it was clean.

The Terries seemed to gain their legs in the third period, a common occurrence this year, but thats not to say Duluth didn't have chances. One shot actually corralled off O'Connor and landed on top of the net where Matt Grzelcyk froze the play. That send everyone in the stands into a nervous wreck, which was pretty much the case throughout the game.

At the 15:37 mark of the third, Evan Rodrigues drew a holding call behind the Duluth net as he was basically form tackled to the ice.

After a couple strong setups, Jack Eichel and Danny O'Regan fought for the puck along the near boards. Eventually, O'Regan came away with it, made a quick pass to Grzelcyk, who then found Rodrigues in the slot. From the top of the circle, he was pressured by Kyle Osterberg who attempted to block with a sprawling dive. Rodrigues pulled off his classic curl, drag and shoot, avoiding Osterberg's sliding body and stick. Rodrigues' shot ripped past Kaskisuo and Ahti Oksanen who was a screen in front and clanged off the center bar inside the goal. It was Rodrigues' 21st goal of the year, coming with just 2:24 left.

BU survived that last 2:24 in very large part to a huge save by O'Connor with just
37 seconds left. BU finally cleared after both teams took timeouts in the dying seconds with a face-off deep in the BU end.

With the win, BU advanced to their first Frozen Four since 2009. There, they will face the number two overall seed, North Dakota at 8:30pm on April 9th at Boston Garden.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

O'Regan Sends BU To Finals

The game went exactly the way Yale wanted it to, but it still wasn't enough, as the nations's best offense topped the nation's best defense in the Northeast Regional's opening round.

After being stymied on 1:50 of power play time to start overtime, BU continued to control play in the extra session. Even Rodrigues helped get the puck up to the blue line next to the BU bench. From there, Jack Eichel let a drive go that Yale goalie Alex Lyon got his right pad on to make the initial save. The rebound went right to Danny O'Regan who was basically all alone on the far side low. He was staring at an empty net and the junior forward did not miss, as he netted his fourth game winning goal of the year and propelled the Terriers into the second round.

Well before the O'Regan goal, there was plenty of other drama.

Yale took a 1-0 lead at 13:19 of the second period on the power play. Nate Repensky got his point shot through and it beat Matt O'Connor high glove side. The shot may have been redirected on it's way towards goal, it was hard to tell.

Yale took that 1-0 lead into the third period and prior to this game, they had not lost a game when leading after two periods.

BU finally got on the board after a mad scramble in front of Lyon and the Yale net. A.J. Greer and Cason Hohmann were jamming away at a loose puck before it got to Ahti Oksanen, who went up stairs on Lyon to tie things up. The goal was reviewed for goalie interference, but the call on the ice stood after a lengthy review.

The Terriers took the lead less than three minutes later. Rodrigues carried the puck in over the Yale blue line and after gaining the zone he pulled up to create more space for himself. From the low circle  on the near side, he let go a low shot that somehow got through some traffic in front and past Lyon between the legs.

Not long after, Yale tied it back up. Matt O'Connor made a sloppy clear to the near side boards where BU could not win a battle. The puck came loose and Frankie DiChiara jumped on it, took two strides and ripped home a wrister top shelf, high glove on O'Connor.

BU nearly won the game in the dying seconds of the game on the power play. Rodrigues threw a shot high on Lyon and hit him in the shoulder. The goalie shrugged it off and the puck clanged off the crossbar but not in and the game headed to overtime.

Looking at Duluth
With the win over Yale, BU will face Minnesota Duluth in the regional final at 5:30 tomorrow night. Duluth topped in-state rival Minnesota 4-1 in the late game this evening.

Duluth looked a lot faster than Minnesota and won a lot of battles against the Gophers. They finished plays and finished hits all over the ice. Two goals came on lethal tips in the slot on shots from the point.

The one thing I did notice (even though no goals were scored this way) was that UMD goalie Kasimir Kaskisuo has a weak glove. He allowed several rebounds on shots to the glove and just didn't seem to have confidence to that side. Of course I could be totally wrong here, as thats the only game I have seen Duluth play all year. Just something I noticed tonight.

The Last Time They Met...
was November 8/9, 1991. BU swept the two game series at Walter Brown Arena by scores of 4-3 and 6-3.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Yale Preview

We're back?

Yeah. We're back. I've had nothing better to do with myself in the last week, so all I've really done is read and listen to various podcasts about the upcoming NCAA tournament and I figured I'd share my two cents on the BU aspect of the whole thing.

The third overall seeded Terriers play tomorrow afternoon at 2:00pm against 13th seeded Yale in the 1 vs 4 matchup of the Northeast Regional in Manchester. On the other side of the bracket in Manchester, (10) Minnesota and (6) Minnesota Duluth faceoff at 5:30pm.

Looking at Yale
The Bulldogs don't exactly come into the tournament on a red hot streak, but will still be a very tough out for BU (or any team that plays them). They lost two out of three at home in the ECAC Quarterfinals to eventual champion, Harvard. The Crimson won Game 3 on a double-overtime goal by Jimmy Vesey. Vesey is probably Eichel's biggest competition for the Hobey, but that is another story for another day.

What makes Yale such a tough opponent is their defense, specifically goalie Alex Lyon. Lyon leads the nation in all the major statistical goaltending categories: 1.58 Goals Against Average and a .939 Save Percentage. Oh, and his SEVEN shutouts, the most recent coming in Game 2 of the ECAC Quarterfinals, a 2-0 win for Yale. Lyon has 17 of Yale's 18 wins this season.

Offensively, Yale is lead by sophomore Frankie DiChiara, who posted 8 goals, 13 assists for 21 points in 32 games played. Rob O'Gara has tallied 21 points on the season with 6 goals and 15 assists. Yale's scoring is quite spread out and a quick look at their stat sheet shows it. Four players, Cody Learned, John Hayden (member of the 2015 USA JWC team) Carson Cooper and Ryan Hitchcock are within 6 points of O'Gara and DiChiara for the team lead in points. Hayden is the player that scares the me the most on this Yale team (outside of Lyon, of course)

What makes this matchup so intriguing is that BU has the best statistical offense in the country at 3.89 goals per game and Yale has the best defense in the nation, allowing just 1.59 goals per game.

BU will win if the game becomes a shootout, Yale just doesn't have the firepower. But if they can keep close, get a bounce here or there, Lyon could steal the game. Something to take into consideration is this: Jack Eichel, Danny O'Regan, Even Rodregues and Ahti Oksanen have combined to score 86 goals this season... Yale, as a team, has scored only 84.
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- The last time these two schools played was November 25, 2006. BU won 2-1 on an overtime goal by Matt Gilroy just seven seconds into the extra session. Overall, the all-time series is tied dead even a 30-30-3 (Yale won the first 20 meetings). BU and Yale will meet next year in New Haven.

- This marks the first time since 2003 that BU will face an ECAC school in the NCAA tournament. That year they saw Harvard in the opening round in Worcester at the DCU Center. Freshman Brad Zancanaro scored a huge goal late in the second, before Bryan Miller notched the eventual game winner on the power play just over two minutes into the third. Brian McConnell added two assists in the 6-4 BU win. The Terriers were denied from the Frozen Four in Buffalo the following night with a 3-0 loss to New Hampshire. UNH lost to Minnesota 5-1 in the National Title Game

- BU won the 2009 North East Regional in Manchester with wins over Ohio State (8-3) and UNH (2-1) and to my knowledge, they have never lost in the Verizon Wireless Arena. Interestingly though, the Terriers are winless in the state of New Hampshire this year, losing 2-0 at Dartmouth and 4-3 at UNH.

Of course none of the past has any relevance on tomorrow's game, but its always fun to look back.