ST. PAUL - There were seven walk-on players in Boston University’s lineup Saturday. Nine Terriers playing in the NCAA West Regional semifinals were freshmen or sophomores and only two were seniors.
Although BU advanced to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2009 despite losing three key players during the season, a Terriers team lacking depth couldn’t survive giving Minnesota eight power-play opportunities. Wearing down as the game went along, BU lost, 7-3, to the Gophers and ended a season in which the Terriers generated as many headlines off the ice as on.
“I told my team I was proud of this team because of what they went through and how hard they worked,’’ coach Jack Parker said. “The better team won tonight.’’
The Gophers, who advance to face North Dakota in Sunday’s regional championship, took control late in the second period. With the game tied at 2, the Gophers scored a pair of goals 29 seconds apart.
Nate Helgeson gave the Gophers a 3-2 lead when his shot from the high slot beat Kieran Millan high on the glove side at 15:09.
Nine seconds after Minnesota (27-13-1) took the lead, BU’s Justin Courtnall hit Gophers defenseman Nate Schmidt in the head. Courtnall was assessed a five-minute major and a game misconduct.
Minnesota quickly took advantage. Just 20 seconds into the extended power play, Jake Hansen tipped a shot past Millan and the Gophers led, 4-2.
“It was a game that was there for us in the second period,’’ Parker said. “We talk about Rule No. 1 being ‘Don’t beat yourself,’ and we didn’t heed that tonight. We had too many penalties.’’
The Terriers tried to get back into the game early in the third period. Adam Clendening cut Minnesota’s lead to 4-3 when his shot from the right point beat goaltender Kent Patterson just more than three minutes into the third period.
But five minutes later, the Gophers regained the lead when Nico Sacchetti drove to the net and beat Millan. Playing his final game for BU, Millan made 35 saves.
“Any time we got some momentum, it seemed like they got a goal and it went away,’’ junior Ross Gaudet said.
While disappointed to have its season end, there was a sense of satisfaction in the BU locker room.
“I was very proud of the guys and their effort, not just today, but for the entire season,’’ Terriers captain Chris Connolly said. “There was a lot of resilience and a lot of good character in that locker room. We easily could have folded up and packed it away at Christmas and this team was able to get a bid into the national tournament. There’s just no quit in that locker room.’’
There certainly would have been reason for the Terriers to give up on the season. First Charlie Coyle left midway through the season to play major junior hockey in Canada. Then Corey Trivino and Max Nicastro were arrested on sexual assault charges and dismissed from the team, prompting the creation of a task force charged with studying the culture of the men’s hockey program.
Still Parker called the season “rewarding,’’ in large part because of how the players still on the team handled the constant change.
“There was turmoil and there was sadness,’’ Parker said. “Kid’s roommates missing, kids they went to class with every day missing, my best friend missing, the guy I ate lunch with every day missing. It was hard for these guys.
“From December on, for the most part, they had more fun coming to the rink than anything else because they were allowed to smile there. It was a hard year.’’
While the Terriers fought and played hard, they also struggled the final two months of the season. With the loss to the Gophers, BU finishes 23-15-1 after going 8-9-0 since a mid-January sweep of Providence. The loss of Coyle was especially costly. Playing for the Saint John Sea Dogs in Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, Coyle recorded a hat trick as his former teammates were closing out their season.
Despite the way the season ended, Parker found perspective.
“It was a pretty good run for an undermanned club,’’ Parker said.