Since losing to Harvard 4-2 in the first round of the Beanpot in early February, BU had gone 7-0-1 over an eight-game stretch, starting with an 8-0 wipeout of Northeastern in the Beanpot consolation game and finishing with a 6-1 home win over Providence in the regular season finale, a contest that included a third-period brawl that led to the ejection of four players from each team.
The Terriers had clinched the top seed in the Hockey East playoffs by winning 21 of 24 league games, and they looked to be a favorite to capture the school's third league tournament title while at the same time earning an automatic berth into the NCAA tournament, where they would return for a fifth straight year.
In a bizarre set of circumstances, BU's reward for earning the top seed was a quarterfinal round matchup against Maine, the defending NCAA champions. Coming off a memorable 42-1-2 season -- with the only loss courtesy of a gutsy BU comeback in Orono when the Terriers scored five unanswered goals, capped off by Mike Prendergast's game winner in overtime -- the Black Bears and coach Shawn Walsh ran afoul of the NCAA for the use of two ineligible players (Jeff Tory and Patrice Tardif) and were forced to forfeit 14 wins from the season, dropping them from a home ice berth to the basement of the Hockey East standings with a 3-20-1 record. The league had attempted to ban Maine from the postseason tournament due to the forfeits, but the school went to court and was granted an injunction by a judge to play. Parker and his squad were actually looking forward to the challenge the Black Bears would present, helping prepare them for a potential spot in the semifinal round at Boston Garden.
BU went 2-1-1 against Maine during the season, and the Black Bears were missing several stars from their national championship squad (offensive catalysts Paul Kariya and Jim Montgomery, defenseman Chris Imes and goalies Mike Dunham and Garth Snow), but the Ferraro brothers Peter (back from the U.S. Olympic team) and Chris (back from the U.S. National team) had returned to boost Maine's lineup and Tardif had regained his eligibility for the series. The Terriers would also enter Game 1 shorthanded with goalie J.P McKersie, defensemen Doug Wood and Chris O'Sullivan and forward Jay Pandolfo all banned from playing as a result of the season-ending tussle with the Friars.
Nonetheless, there was plenty of emotion and offensive fireworks inside Walter Brown Arena once the teams got down to the task of settling things on the ice. BU broke out fast and scored the first four goals, with two coming from Bob Lachance en route to his second career hat trick. Justin Tomberlin finally got Maine on the scoreboard in the second period with the first of Maine's five power-play goals (BU was whistled for 14 penalties, Maine 12), ending BU goalie Derek Herlofsky's scoreless string at 116 minutes and 20 seconds, but Rich Brennan countered for the Terriers with a shot from the blue line less than 20 seconds later.
Tomberlin picked up another goal off a rebound but Dan Donato's shot that deflected off a Maine player made it 6-2 less than four minutes into the final period, with Walsh replacing goalie Blair Allison with Blair Marsh at that point. Lachance then finished off his hat trick before three straight Maine goals from Peter Ferraro, Mike Latendresse and Cal Ingraham made it a two-goal game with 55 seconds left.
Mike Pomichter ended the drama with an empty net goal with only 13 seconds to go as the Terriers outlasted the Black Bears 8-5 to take a 1-0 lead in the best-of-3 series.
"It's why they're No. 1 in the country. They outskated us. They outworked us. They outcoached us. They outplayed us," Walsh noted in the The Boston Globe. "When you get five power-play goals, you shouldn't lose a game. I tip my hat to them."
BU's four suspended players returned to the lineup for Game 2 and they made their presence known throughout the contest. Unlike the previous night, however, it was the Black Bears who struck first when Peter Ferraro beat McKersie just 1:21 in. Later in the period BU evened the score when Shawn Bates tipped a Pandolfo feed past Marsh, but it was a period mostly owned by Maine as it established a 12-3 shot advantage.
O'Sullivan put the Terriers up 2-1 with a power-play strike but the Black Bears responded by ramping up the pressure on McKersie. The BU goaltender was equal to the task as he turned back scoring attempts from Tardif, Latendresse, Tim Lovell and Reg Cardinal. Parker felt that BU withstanding that flurry was a key point of the contest.
Ingraham lifted the Black Bears into a tie with yet another power-play goal but with less than two minutes left in the period Pandolfo answered with a power-play goal of his own to give BU a 3-2 edge heading onto the final 20 minutes. The lead increased to 4-2 at 2:15 of the third period when Jon Jenkins took Jon Pratt's crisp pass in stride and hit the back of the net.
Ingraham again brought Maine back to within one with a redirect of Peter Ferraro's shot, but McKersie, who finished with 30 saves, shut the door the rest of the way to post his sixth straight win. The BU goalie had to withstand a Maine power play inside the final three minutes and an extra attacker situation over the final 40 seconds. As the final seconds of the game wound down, he was in possession of the puck.
"I looked up, saw there were three seconds left, and what a great feeling it was," he told the Globe.
The Brown Arena partisans let out an appreciative roar when the final buzzer sounded and the defending national champions had been eliminated. The team also emerged out of the locker room for a curtain call when the cheers continued.
Northeastern, which had lost four of five games against BU during the season, was the semifinal round opponent at Boston Garden. The Terriers made it five out of six against the Huskies following a 5-2 victory, with Jacques Joubert chipping in with a pair of goals, Kaj Linna picking up two assists and Herlofsky posting his 10th straight win while making 28 saves. It was also BU's 100th all-time win against NU and improved its record to 31-6, setting the school single-season record for wins.
O'Sullivan and Pomichter scored and Herlofsky came up with 11 saves to stake BU to a 2-0 lead at the end of the first period. In the second period goals by Joubert and Mike Grier overcame scores by NU's Jordan Shields and David Penney. Joubert's shot from the right faceoff circle was the only goal of the final period, with Herlofsky logging 28 saves and NU counterpart Todd Reynolds 29.
"Both teams played a very technically sound game. I think the difference was that we put the puck home on our chances while Herlofsky came up big on their chances," Parker said in the Globe. "I was a little concerned going into the third period leading, 4-2. It was like that early this season and they won, 5-4. I told our kids that we've been practicing the past four months. You play all year to determine your champion, and that is the team that plays the best hockey in Boston Garden in March."
Looking to avenge a 5-2 loss to Maine in the 1993 Hockey East championship game, BU faced second-seeded UMass-Lowell for the title. The Chiefs (since renamed the River Hawks) roster included Norm Bazin, the school's current coach, Hockey East scoring leader Greg Bullock (47 points) and future NHL goaltender Dwayne Roloson.
Roloson was busy in the early going as BU applied steady pressure, but he made two big saves on Pandolfo from in close to keep the game scoreless. The Chiefs broke the ice on the power play when Bullock beat McKersie with just under eight minutes left in the opening period. BU responded 27 seconds later with Pratt tucking the puck past Roloson.
Just 1:37 into the second period the Terriers went on top thanks to a pair of freshmen when Bates faked a shot and put a pass on the stick of Grier on the left wing, with Grier finishing off the play with a goal. A nice individual effort by Kenny Rausch increased BU's lead to 3-1 when he took the puck away from a UML defenseman and lifted a backhand shot into the net. The Chiefs made it a one-goal game again when Bullock picked up his second tally of the night at 11:48 of the second period, but McKersie turned away every other shot he faced, 22 in all for the game, to help BU to a 3-2 win and its first trophy on Boston Garden ice since the '92 Beanpot. Roloson, who finished with 37 stops, was named the tournament MVP.