Boston University’s weekend started on a low note. A trip to Providence ended in a 5-3 loss to the Friars that shocked Hockey East and college hockey as a whole. Twenty-four hours later, national title contender Denver skated onto the ice at Agganis Arena for its second game in a weekend tour of Commonwealth Avenue.
BU coach Jack Parker was hardly thrilled with the effort, but the Terrier defeated The Pioneers, 4-3, stemming a late DU comeback. While it was a Beau Bennett holding minor with 19 seconds remaining in regulation that finally killed the DU rally, a strong first 40 minutes showed the Terriers what could await this season if they’re at their best.
What I saw
- Something special may come from the Terriers second scoring line of sophomore winger Matt Nieto, sophomore center Charlie Coyle and junior winger Alex Chiasson. Three of the most gifted BU players have pieced together some beautiful sequences in the early going, but they have yet to truly take over a game. On Saturday, each registered a point with Chiasson and Nieto scoring goals on breakaways. Neither score came with the entire line on the ice, but, as the group, gains timing, it could quickly become the league’s best come Hockey East Tournament time.
- Max Nicastro and Sean Escobedo showed their usual flashes of dominance as a defensive pairing, but still never seem to neutralize a forward line like juniors with that much experience should. Denver’s team speed and puck movement may have a little to do with that. Still, the Terriers seem to be without a true No. 1 defensive unit. Looking around the country at the teams shouldering the “favorite” label in terms of national title contenders, BU is certainly not the only club with some questions on the blue line. Even the Pioneers have their questions. But Nicastro and Escobedo are capable of becoming that group. Now would be a great time.
- The Terriers survived a major scare in the second period when junior forward Wade Megan quickly left the ice favoring his left shoulder. Megan has been one of the Terriers best players in the early season, showing strong leadership playing most with freshmen Evan Rodrigues and Cashon Hohmann. Megan returned later in the period to the delight of BU coach Jack Parker. However, Parker did say Megan has a bruised shoulder. With just one game next weekend, a non-conference matchup against Holy Cross at Agganis, Megan will have plenty of time to rest rest his shoulder. Megan should play against the Crusaders, but a night off wouldn’t be particularly surprising.
What I thought
- Kieran Millan has always been a strong collegiate goaltender. Winning a national title as a freshman elevated him to that status when he may not have been particularly deserving, especially since he spent that first year playing behind one of the best defensive units in college hockey history. As a senior, though, Millan looks like the type of goaltender capable of taking games over. The dreadful loss to the Friars on Friday night, paired with one truly soft goal against Denver, may lead some to question this. Still, Millan is the most experienced goaltender in the conference. The Terriers look like a team that could find itself in Tampa six months from now. Millan is going to be good enough to get them there, we’ll see if the rest of teammates are.
- The Terriers have only three freshmen on their roster in Rodrigues, Hohmann and defenseman Alexx Privitera. For Hohmann and Rodrigues, their first season of college hockey comes with very little pressure. The duo has found itself on the same line with Megan anchoring the trio. Based on the Terriers lineup, it seems like they’re basically the third or fourth scoring line, depending on how you interpret things. Rarely are they sent out against first or second scoring lines from the opposition, and their appearances on special teams almost always mean they’re surrounded by elders. The presence of so many experienced players has helped cover a lot of the rookies’ mistakes, while their skills have allowed for some truly promising moments — including a beautiful pass from Hohmann to spring Chiasson’s breakaway, as BU was changing lines. As it usually is, though, life is a little more difficult for the blue liner Privitera. A difficult game on Friday was the low point of his young career. Through three games, the replacement for David Warsofsky has no points and rates a plus-1.
- Six sophomores are seeing regular minutes for the Terriers in the early season and all of them have showed marked improvements from a season ago. Coyle is a first round draft pick of the San Jose Sharks (later traded to the Minnesota Wild), while Nieto and Adam Clendening were second round picks in June. Sahir Gill and Garrett Noonan both played major minutes as a freshmen and contributed. Parker expected big season from all five of these players. Perhaps the most remarkable sophomore, though, has been defenseman Patrick MacGregor. The big-bodied blue liner played in just 13 games last season and was not initially expected to contribute. However, the absence of senior Ryan Ruikka, expected to miss another week recovering from a preseason foot fracture, has allowed MacGregor to make an impact. Through three games, he is pointless but has rated a plus-3 and drawn praise from Parker.
What they said
“If we show up, we will compete with the best teams in the country. If we don’t, we’ll get blown out. It’s just that simple. When we come into the game, we need to make sure that we’re ready to play and focused to do what we’re here to do.” – senior center Corey Trivino
“The biggest thing we learned this weekend was that we can’t take anything for granted. Last night, we might have overlooked that game coming into this one. Last year, we learned that all the games add up and count. This year, we need to come out every game ready to play just like we did against Denver [Saturday night.]” – sophomore forward Matt Nieto
The Terriers are among the most skilled teams in the country and have substantial game experience at some of the most important positions, including Millan in goal. However, they struggled to piece together consistent efforts last season and Friday’s loss to Providence shows they aren’t over this just yet.
Fans on the East end of Commonwealth Avenue know that this team is capable of winning a national championship. While BU isn’t exactly starved for trips to the Frozen Four, wasting opportunities doesn’t sit well with anyone. The comments from Trivino, a senior who was on BU’s last national championship team, and Nieto, one of the nation’s most talented underclassmen, shows that the Terriers understand what they can accomplish if they’re at their best.
What they didn’t say
Parker was not asked about redshirt freshman forward Yasin Cisse, who has still yet to play this season after sustaining an ankle injury in the season-opener last season. Cisse missed the entire year after surgery — he missed time in juniors with an injury to the same ankle.
Next weekend, BU plays Holy Cross in its last non-conference game until a Thanksgiving weekend date with Cornell at Madison Square Garden in New York. Parker has said that Cisse is healthy, but has spent the last few weeks working himself into game shape after his extended absence. The matchup with the Crusaders may be an ideal time to get Cisse into the lineup in a game that will not cost the Terriers any standing within Hockey East.
While the Crusaders are considered to be a realistic threat to win Atlantic Hockey and challenge for an NCAA Tournament berth, there’s little doubting that the game is of less consequence than those directly following it.