The battle for the starting goaltending position has been an ongoing story for the Massachusetts hockey team this season. And it took another unexpected twist on Friday night when Kevin Boyle was given the nod against No. 11 Boston University.
The sophomore goalie hadn’t started a game since Jan. 11, a forgettable outing in a 5-4 loss to Providence, and it appeared that fellow sophomore netminder Steve Mastalerz had assumed the starting role after playing well in the last four games, most notably in a 5-2 win at then-No. 2 Boston College on Jan. 18.
Instead, UMass coach John Micheletto kept the surprises coming by putting Boyle between the pipes, and the decision paid off as Boyle made 19 saves on 20 shots in the Minutemen’s 5-1 win over the Terriers.
The only BU goal came with less than five minutes remaining in the third period when Ben Rosen scored with the game already well out of reach.
Boyle came into the game with a chip on his shoulder, and used the time on the bench as motivation for when his opportunity finally came.
“It’s been motivation, since I haven’t been playing, to work real hard during the week in practice just so I could be ready if and when I get the call,” Boyle said. “I just got myself focused and felt pretty good.”
Any concerns over whether or not Boyle would be rusty after going three weeks without game action were silenced with just over four minutes remaining in the first period when BU’s Evan Rodrigues found himself on a breakaway chance that he attempted to backhand into the back of the net. But Boyle went into a split, got his blocker hand on the puck and secured it.
That save catapulted the Minutemen, who scored just over a minute later and ran away with the win from there, while Boyle took the pressure off his team by using his pads to handle the low shots the Terriers were taking. The sophomore also secured the puck well and prevented BU from getting any second chance opportunities by controlling the rebounds.
“He was hungry and he had a lot of energy,” Micheletto said of Boyle. “He did a nice job of controlling his crease too.”
Micheletto has emphasized all season long that he names his starting goalie each week based on performance in practice. With that in mind, Boyle said he’s been pushing himself in practice more than usual the last few weeks with hopes of reclaiming that top spot. However, he had no indication of whether or not he’d get the call on Friday.
“I definitely feel like I’ve been doing well in practice,” Boyle said. “I’ve definitely been working harder than ever. That being said, I never know what goes through Coach’s (mind) when he makes his decision, but I definitely felt good in practice.”
Boyle started 15 out of 16 games from Oct. 27 to Jan. 11, and through November had established himself as one of the top goaltenders in Hockey East. At that point, it appeared Boyle had secured the full-time job until he hit a rough patch early in December, allowing 11 goals in a two-game weekend sweep at the hands of Colgate.
While Boyle was wearing down as the season progressed, Mastalerz and unofficial third-string goalie Jeff Teglia were battling injuries, leaving Micheletto without a viable option to take his starter’s place.
Now that his netminders are healthy, Micheletto says he enjoys having his weekly goaltender competition back in full swing for the stretch run.
“I think it’s a good scenario,” Micheletto said. “You got guys that are pushing each other, it creates competition, it brings out the best in people. If you’re a competitor it brings out the best in you.”
One of the reasons Boyle looked so comfortable out there on Friday was the play of the defensemen in front of him, who were blocking shots while the forwards were contributing on the backcheck.
“Boyle was called on to make a couple saves tonight, but we really didn’t give him much,” said junior forward Michael Pereira, who led the Minutemen with two goals and two assists for the game. “Either goalie we put in we have trust in them and confidence in them.”
BU coach Jack Parker watched his team get frustrated by the efforts of Boyle, but felt his goalie Sean Maguire (23 saves) actually played a better game, but simply didn’t get the same kind of defensive support that Boyle got.
“I thought we were OK for a little while, but at no point did we look sharp,” Parker said. “Once they made it 2-0 I thought they took the game away. I thought Boyle played well, but I thought our goalie played better than he did. Our goalie made some big saves.”
Nick Canelas can be reached reached at email@example.com and followed on Twitter @NickCanelas.