By: Jarett Leonard
WORCESTER, Mass. – An improbable late-season run to a Hockey East Championship and into the NCAA Tournament came to an abrupt end for No. 13 Boston University on Sunday night, as No. 10 Michigan advanced to its 25th Frozen Four with a 6-3 win over the Terriers at the DCU Center.
“This is the worst part of the season, certainly the worst part of my job,” BU head coach David Quinn said. “We had such a great run and such a great group of kids. It’s just a tough night.”
It appeared as though fourth-seeded BU was on the verge of yet another postseason comeback, as the Terriers came from two down to knot the score at 3-3 early in the third period, with Drew Melanson continuing his playoff hot streak. But a costly mistake spelled the end for BU, as Michigan’s Jake Slaker took full advantage of a turnover by Brandon Hickey to net the eventual game-winning goal that deflected off Cam Crotty’s leg and in.
“We were riding a little bit of a wave there,” Hickey said. “We wanted to play fast and push the pace going up ice. I just made a bad play and fanned on it. A good team like that, they’re going to capitalize on it.”
BU still had chances to get back within one, but their aggressiveness backfired when David Farrance was caught pinching down the wall and the Wolverines broke in two-on-one, as defenseman Nicholas Boka slipped the puck past Oettinger for his first tally of the season. Though Michigan had only 22 shots on goal in the contest, they capitalized on the opportunities they were presented with, a quality that head coach Mel Pearson stressed with his team.
“Nick Boka hasn’t had a goal all year and I don’t know what the hell he’s doing in a one goal hockey game jumping up in the play,” Pearson said jokingly. “He saw a chance, he saw an opening and one thing we like to do at Michigan is let our players play. We bring guys in to play, and talk about an opportunistic time to jump up and then the move he makes at the net, that was a great move. Things went in for us tonight.”
Michigan would add an empty-netter from Nick Pastujov to cap the 6-3 win, a deflating way to end the third period for BU.
“You make it 3-3 and you can just feel the momentum and energy on the bench,” Quinn said. “That was tough, we weren’t able to ride the wave of tying it. They played a great last 10 minutes. They did a great job just getting pucks out and living another day. Give them a lot of credit, they played a really good hockey game.”
It was a slow start to the game for the Terriers, who seemed to struggle adapting to the pace that Michigan dictated. But going down 3-1 early in the second on an unfortunate bounce was a turning point for BU, as they slowly gained their footing and eventually earned a power play chance when Boka was whistled for cross-checking.
Although they didn’t convert on the man-advantage, and Oettinger had to bail out a BU turnover from point-blank range, the Terriers started to set up shop in the Michigan end. Hank Crone started things by keeping the puck alive at the line and Patrick Curry finished it off when he buried a wraparound to give BU life heading to the final frame.
With some wind in their sails, the Terriers again put the pressure on early in the third and got the tying goal past Michigan goaltender Hayden Lavigne. Jordan Greenway knocked the puck off the stick of Joseph Cecconi, leaving Melanson all alone in front, and he patiently waited for Lavigne to bite before backhanding it past his outstretched glove. The goal was Melanson’s fourth of the postseason and fifth in his last eight games after the senior entered the final weekend of the regular season with just one tally.
It was 3-3 with the momentum in BU’s favor, but that didn’t faze the Wolverines, who answered quickly and never looked back.
“We got a really tight group so I think we were still really confident,” Hughes said of the team’s mentality after allowing the tying goal. “We just got to play our game. Going into the third, if we just play the way we played, we have a really good chance of pulling out a W.”
Michigan opened the scoring under six minutes into the game as Michael Pastujov won a battle below the goal line and fed Quinn Hughes in the high slot, who made no mistake in ripping a wrist shot past Oettinger on his blocker side.
“I thought we looked nervous,” Quinn said of BU’s start to the game. “They played with a little bit of a pace and little more free-flowing than we did.”
But as they did against Cornell the day before, the Terriers responded just over seven minutes later, and it was BU’s trusty top line that converted again. Greenway forced a turnover at the Michigan line, raced down the left wing and placed a wrist shot perfectly over the right shoulder of Lavigne, who made 24 saves in the win.
The Wolverines grabbed the lead right back three minutes later, though, when Nikolas Olsson was called for interference, and Tony Calderone fired a wrister past Oettinger (16 saves) from the slot to give Michigan a 2-1 advantage.
Early in the second period, the Wolverines used a little puck luck to take a two-goal lead. Josh Norris’s shot from the blue line caromed hard off the end boards, bounced off the left leg of Oettinger and settled in the crease, where Brendan Warren was there to clean up the loose puck.
“I’m sure a lot of teams that lose at this point of the season can point to those types of things,” Quinn said of the bounces that went against his team. “Bottom line is, you’ve got to win a hockey game. You’ve got to overcome that stuff and if we had played better early on we wouldn’t have been in that position.”
While it was the end of BU’s unlikely run to the national tournament, Michigan’s win was guided by a similar underdog mentality, which for the Wolverines dated all the way back to the preseason. They were picked to finish sixth out of seven teams in the Big Ten, and like BU, did not get off to an ideal start to the year.
Even after a strong second half, Michigan still flew under the radar, overshadowed in the Northeast region by two Massachusetts teams and a Cornell squad with five losses on the season. But being the underdog played right into the hands of Mel Pearson and his team.
“We knew we had some things within the team and we had a chance if we could just get everything together,” Pearson said. “Here we are playing Northeastern in Mass. and BU in Mass. It fight right into our manner and how we wanted to play. I thank the committee for putting us here.”
The loss marked the end of the careers of six BU seniors, including captain Brandon Hickey and alternate captain Nikolas Olsson. The class qualified for the NCAA Tournament all four years and captured two Hockey East Tournament titles and a Beanpot.
“It’s been amazing, the best four years of my life,” an emotional Hickey said after the game. “It’s really hard to see it end but I’m super proud of all the guys in that room. Our senior class was a really tight group we had there. We did a lot together and I consider everyone in there my brothers. It’s definitely tough to see it go.”
The season continues for Michigan in the Frozen Four on April 5, as the Wolverines take on conference-foe No. 2 Notre Dame in the late game at Xcel Energy Center in Saint Paul, Minn. The other semifinal will feature No. 5 Ohio State and No. 11 Minnesota-Duluth, with the winners meeting in the National Championship game two days later.