Wilson sends Terriers to the title game

By Ken McKenna

Where it first seemed that an unlikely hero might lead his club to an upset victory over perhaps the top team in the country, it was a late goal from one of the top college players in the country that decided who would move on to the NCAA‘s Frozen Four finale on Saturday.

In a see-saw battle between two Hockey East rivals, the Boston University Terriers defeated the Vermont Catamounts, 5-4 Thursday evening at the Verizon Center in Washington, D.C. The victory means the Terriers will face the University of Miami-Ohio for college hockey’s top prize.

Vermont entered the game with some confidence against BU as they had won the season series between the two clubs, 2 games to 1. That confidence seemed to help the Cats at the start of the game.

Vermont had the edge in play early, with BU playing somewhat tentatively in their own end. But the BU defensemen did a good job of keeping the Vermont forwards away from the slot to negate any prime scoring chances by the Vermont forwards.

The Terriers shook off their early jitters and, near the midpoint of the first period, began to take the play to Vermont. Then, shortly after Vermont goaltender Bob Madore stopped Chris Higgins on a great scoring chance, Colin Wilson deflected in a shot by defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk, giving the Terriers a 1-0 lead. Higgins also assisted on the goal, which came at the 11:19 mark of the first period.

BU continued to press, but Vermont missed on a great opportunity in close when the puck hopped over the stick of Jack Downing after a nice feed from Peter Lenes. The Catamounts were denied on another great scoring chance later in the period, with Vermont forward Brian Roloff skating past BU defenseman Matt Gilroy for a shot on the doorstep, only to be denied by BU goaltender Kieran Millan.

After those missed Vermont scoring chances, BU made the score 2-0 on a goal by forward Jason Lawrence. Vermont defenseman Patrick Cullity lost the puck near his own blueline, with Chris Higgins then feeding Lawrence cross-ice from the right face-off circle for the second marker. The time of the goal was 16:27.

Millan held Vermont at bay for the remainder of the period, allowing the Terriers to go to the locker room with their two-goal lead. BU outshot Vermont 14-7 in the first.

Vermont head coach Kevin Sneddon knew his team could not continue playing the way they had in the first 20 minutes.

We didn’t play well in the first period” said Sneddon. “Our defensemen didn’t move the puck very well. We had a lot of turnovers at the offensive blue line and they were a much stronger team out of the gate. We had to take some chances and open things up a little bit.” 

While the play in the first period was at times more cautious , the second period of this semi-final was a more free-wheeling affair.

BU continued to have the edge in play, with Madore making two key saves on BU forward Nick Bonino. Shortly after Bonino’s second chance, Vermont finally got on the board on a goal by forward Wahsontiio Stacey. Stacey fired in a shot from the top of the left face-off circle at the 3:50 mark of the second, with an assist going to Cullity.

After breaking the ice, Vermont went on the attack, with the Terriers aiding the Cats’ cause with a parade to the penalty box. Then, with BU forward Vinny Saponari in the penalty box, Vermont tied the score. Justin Milo beat Millan in close after Millan had made a nice save on Vermont forward Viktor Stalberg. Drew MacKenzie and Stalberg drew assists on the goal, which was scored at 9:04 of the second.

Just 40 seconds later, Vermont took a 3-2 lead with defenseman Josh Burrows scoring a goal that Millan probably wished he could have back. Burrows skated in on the right side and fired a wrist shot that beat Millan to the glove side. Millan seemed to be in a position to stop the puck, but it snuck by him nonetheless.

From that point, there was end-to-end action with both clubs getting scoring chances, but Madore and Millan were up to the challenge. Then, at 18:39 of the second, the Terriers tied the score at 3 when Vinny Saponari beat Madore over the goaltender’s right shoulder after a nice feed from Bonino. Brandon Yip also assisted on the play.

BU coach Jack Parker felt that this might have been the biggest goal of the game for his club, given the momentum that Vermont had gained over the course of the second period.

They were all over us, I thought, in the second period”, said Parker. “And to get that goal back was a huge lift, ties it up, but also gives us an opportunity to feel a little bit better going into the third period. And we’ve been a pretty good third period all year.”

Vermont had a definite edge in play in the second, outshooting BU 16-6.

The third period swung back to a more cautious affair, with neither team wanting to make the mistake that could end up being the winning goal. BU seemed to carry the play somewhat, with Vermont not taking as many chances as they had in the second period. BU’s Wilson had the best chance to score in the first nine minutes of the third, tipping a shot on Madoe’s doorstep that the goaltender was able to save.

Then, another penalty to BU gave the opportunity to Vermont to take the lead. Defenseman Drew MacKenzie, who hadn’t scored a goal all season, put himself in the unlikely position of hero with his goal from the point on a wrist shot that beat Millan between the legs. The power play goal, which came at 9:40 of the third period, was assisted by Roloff and Justin Milo.

But MacKenzie’s hero status was short-lived, as he figured prominently in the tying goal. BU’s Jason Lawrence fed Chris Higgins in the right slot, with Higgins pass back to Lawrence bouncing into the net off of a sliding MacKenzie. Defenseman Brian Strait also assisted on the goal, which was scored at 13:06 of the third.

Higgins credited a generous helping of luck for the game-tying marker.

Jay made a great play to dish it off to me and then he went hard to the net”, explained the Senior forward. “I tried to slide it over to him. Maybe I should have thought shot first instead of pass. But I was fortunate enough that when I went to slide it over to him, it just went off one of the Vermont guy’s hands and went into the net. Lucky bounce, but great play by Jay and Strait.”

The unlucky carom was obviously a disappointment for MacKenzie, who discussed the goal after the game.

Obviously, scoring my first goal this season went from being a high point to, you know, letting one go on my stick”, stated a dejected MacKenzie. “Obviously I’m disappointed, but there’s nothing I can do about it now. If I could take back that goal, I would. But it happens. I can’t do anything.”

Just over a minute later, BU would finally re-take the lead, this time for good. A face-off in the circle to the left of Madore was won by BU’s Wilson, who in turn fed the puck to Higgins for a shot on goal. Madore made the save, but Wilson was there to pounce on the rebound for the game-winning goal. At that point, just 5:41 remained in Vermont’s season.

Higgins provided his own account of the winning goal by his talented linemate.

There was a face off in the left circle there”, recounted Higgins. “And Willy, he’s great on face offs and made a great play by winning it back on my stick, and I just kind of rolled up a little bit and threw it on net, and Willy went hard to the net and just banged it home.”

BU coach Parker was not at all surprised that his star forward potted the winning goal.

If you’re an All American, you’re a great player, no matter what school you play for” stated BU’s legendary coach. “(Wilson’s) an All American for his team. He was Rookie of the Year in the league. He’s had a great two years here.”

The Terrier’s made sure that Vermont wouldn’t get any closer, turning back any significant Vermont scoring chances before they could get to Millan. BU ran out the clock for the 5-4 victory, and moved on to the Saturday’s final against the RedHawks. BU finished the game with a 28-27 edge in shots, a fitting result considering the final score.

All told, the line of Wilson, Higgins and Lawrence tallied nine of the 14 points earned by BU players in this contest. The trio as a whole were the heroes in this game for BU. Higgins, in particular, came through in a big way for a team with many, more heralded players in their line-up than he.

I think anybody’s that watched us year in, year out his four years here would remember him as being a terrific player” said Parker of Higgins. “But you’re right, he doesn’t get much accolades because there’s always been somebody else. (John) McCarthy gets a few more points. Wilson gets a few more points. But, overall, he’s been a key guy for us and he’s been a terrific guy for us as far as the way he plays.”