Boston University had a 3-2 lead over Providence College with nine minutes to play in Saturday’s national championship game. This was supposed to be the year for the Terriers. After finishing 10-21-4 in 2013-14, BU came back guns blazing, led by freshman sensation Jack Eichel, considered by many to be the best American hockey prospect in at least 20 years.
From front to back, BU was the best in the nation, and that was proven night after night. The Terriers won the Beanpot and cruised to the Hockey East championship. Nine minutes from the trifecta, it looked like nothing was stopping them. This had to be their year.
And then Matt O’Connor endured the worst moment of his life.
Tom Parisi flipped the puck out of the neutral zone at the start of what was supposed to be a line change. The puck went right to O’Connor, who comfortably grabbed it in his glove.
Or so he thought.
The puck fell out of his glove and trickled through his legs. When he realized it, O’Connor tried everything to get it back, but he pushed the puck over the line and into the goal.
Two minutes later, Brandon Tanev scored the game-winning goal, gathering the puck off a face-off and immediately firing a shot at O’Connor, who was visibly rattled. Tanev beat him high to the stick side, giving PC the 4-3 lead.
After the Friars’ celebrations, as BU fans slouched out of TD Garden, which had been such a friendly venue to them all year, 50 members of the media surrounded O’Connor in the locker room.
Still in his pads, the junior goaltender answered every question that came his way. He recalled the horrifying gaffe several times.
O’Connor handled himself like a professional.
Angry BU fans and the harshest of bystanders will let O’Connor hear about this moment for the rest of his life, and O’Connor might not forgive himself for one of the biggest Boston sports errors since Bill Buckner in the 1986 World Series.
Do not expect O’Connor to flee to Idaho, however.
For as much as people will want to criticize him for the mistake that allegedly cost BU the national championship (Tanev still could have scored later), O’Connor is still a goaltender with a bright future. O’Connor will most likely be back at BU for his senior season, which means the Terriers possess the best returning goalie in Hockey East.
Athletes make mistakes. They are human, after all. Goaltenders—like kickers in football, pitchers in baseball and forwards in soccer—have it worse than anyone. A teammate can miss an easy attempt at goal and people will shrug it off. But if a goaltender slips up, that is what will be remembered forever.
The Terriers got a lot right Saturday, and O’Connor may have been right when he said they deserved better than his mistake. If every athlete were destroyed by one mistake, however, there would be no athletes. There would be no sports.
BU should be in the mix again next season. There is plenty of talent. The NHL will likely seek some of it out in the next couple weeks, but there is still enough there to be successful.
Especially in goal: BU has a great goaltender coming back. His name is Matt O’Connor.
If he can put Saturday night out of his head, ignore the jeers he is bound to hear all year and play his game, there will be some NHL teams seeking his signature next spring.