By: David Souza
BOSTON — Locked in a scoreless deadlock with the No. 9 Providence College Friars and their season hanging in the balance, the No. 18 Boston University Terriers roared out of the second intermission with their first line hemming the Friars in their own zone once again.
With Jordan Greenway and Brady Tkachuk battling a pair of Friars in the near corner, a third Providence defenseman slid down low to try and grab the puck. Instead, Greenway shoveled a no-look backhand pass to Drew Melanson, who stood alone in the left face-off circle after the defenseman’s pinch down low. In one motion, Melanson wristed a shot past PC’s Hayden Hawkey for the game-winning strike 56 seconds into the third.
The tally delivered the Terriers their ninth Hockey East Title in their illustrious history – and propelled BU to the NCAA Tournament with the automatic bid – as Boston University edged Providence, 2-0, in the Hockey East Championship. The conference title is BU’s first since 2015.
“This is the first time that we’ve had to win this to get into the national tournament,” said head coach Dave Quinn, who was apart of the first ever BU team to win the Hockey East title in 1986. “I think that makes this one a little more sweeter than the others.”
After a first period where the Friars doubled up the Terriers in shots, 18-9, BU responded with two periods of offensive zone pressure, and a defensive effort that kept Providence skaters to the outside.
“I think it was more of our transition game,” senior captain Brandon Hickey said of his team’s change between the first and the second. “We were pretty sloppy with the puck, like when we could have carried it in we were dumping it in, and giving them the puck. But in the second period we started using our legs and driving them wide, and kind of getting more offensive time so, I think that translates to them getting less shots as the game went on.”
That scheme limited the Friars’ scoring chances; and when they did get good looks on the BU cage, Providence ran into Jake Oettinger (30 saves), who continued his stellar run in the second half of the season. Oettinger earned tournament MVP honors for his performance through BU’s four contests – he made 138 saves over the course of the tournament, including 66 during championship weekend.
“Don’t underestimate Jake Oettinger,” Quinn said. “He’s an unbelievable kid, I don’t know if I’ve seen a goalie as well liked as him. And I’m so excited that he was MVP of this tournament.”
Oettinger was also named to the Hockey East Tournament Team, as was Greenway, who tallied an assist on the game-winning goal.
The top line of Greenway, Tkachuk and Melanson all played apart in the deciding goal for BU. The strike was a just reward as the trio has been playing some of their best hockey down the stretch – especially for Melanson, who has now recorded four goals in his last six games.
“I play with two great players so that definitely helps out, puts me in a lot of spots where I can score,” Melanson said. “Obviously this game is all about confidence, and I’m starting to build some at the right time, right now.”
The Terriers added their only other goal of the contest on Bobo Carpenter’s empty netter. The junior collected a loose puck off an errant Friar pass in the Providence zone and rifled it home to seal the victory for BU.
Providence head coach Nate Leaman noted his team looked slower than usual in the third period. The Friars played well into the early morning of Saturday, after their semifinal contest with Northeastern went into overtime following a delayed start due to BU’s overtime win over Boston College.
“It’s a factor it’s not an excuse,” Leaman said. “They took advantage of that by getting pucks deep […] and by getting their big guys to wear us down. We got some extended shifts in the D-zone where we bent, but we didn’t break. I mean is it a factor? Yes. It is an excuse? No. You can’t let the circumstances matter, you have to function and get the job done.
With the Friars missing out on their first conference championship since 1996, Leaman detailed that the hunger of BU led the way for the newly crowned champs.
“You have to give a lot of credit to them, they’re a desperate, hungry animal right now,” Leaman said of the Terriers. “They were playing for their lives to play next week, and I thought the executed their game very well.”
The Terriers will now square off with the Cornell Big Red in the first round of the Northeast Regional. No. 2 Cornell beat BU earlier this season, 4-3, at Madison Square Garden in Red Hot Hockey.