A young Boston University men’s hockey team has had a few big tests during the first two months of the 2012-13 season, but none compare to what it’ll face this weekend.
The No. 9 Terriers (7–4, 5–3 Hockey East) will host Boston College, which has topped the national polls all season, at 7:30 p.m. Friday night at Agganis Arena before visiting the Eagles at Conte Forum at the same time Saturday night.
But even with the weekend’s magnitude, rivalry and conference implications, it doesn’t mean the players won’t just enjoy it.
“[It’s a] a fun weekend too, I might add,” said associate head coach Mike Bavis. “This is why our kids and their kids for the most part choose these schools, for a chance to play a big game against your biggest rival. The fans focus on how big it is, and that is the easy part, but it is fun for our guys to play in these games.”
It may be fun, but it’ll also be difficult. BC (10–1, 8–1 Hockey East) has reeled off 10 straight after dropping its season opener to Northeastern University.
With 3.64 goals per game and a 26.8 power-play conversation rate, both at the top of Hockey East, BC has one of the most potent offenses in the league. The Eagles have outscored opponents 40–26 on the season.
The top line has done the bulk of that damage, scoring 22 of the Eagles’ 40 goals. Captain Pat Mullane (six goals, nine assists) and senior Steven Whitney (seven goals, six assists) have taken back seat to sophomore Johnny Gaudreau in the scoring department.
Gaudreau, whose nine goals and 10 assists rank him tied for first in the country in goals and fourth in points, is proving to be particularly dangerous. The wing tallied two goals and three assists in the Eagles’ 6–3 win over Dartmouth last Saturday.
“He is a unique player,” Bavis said. “You wouldn’t look at him and say he is blazing fast. But just the way he can roll and move, it is hard to get a good piece of him. It is hard to really play him tight because of that fear of how he moves. I think it is as much about what we do with the puck and being aware of him in terms of coming through center ice on the rush.”
The BC offense comes alive even more so in the third period. The Eagles have scored 18 times in the final frame of games this season, compared to eight goals in the first and 13 in the second. That trend was evident in the teams’ last matchup, when BC scored three times — once on an empty net — to put away a 4–2 on Nov. 11 at Agganis Arena.
“Last time we played them we didn’t have our best effort,” said senior captain Wade Megan, who was a minus-2 and without a point in the game. “We’re looking forward right now, had a great week of practice and we’re ready to go so we’re excited.
The Eagles are also strong in net, with Parker Milner having started all 11 games thus far. BU touched him up for 11 goals in three games last season, but the senior has more than held his own so far this time around. His 2.08 goals-against average and .926 save percentage put him in the middle of the pack in a very strong goaltending conference.
On the other side of the ice, BU will look similar to how it has the last few weeks. The lines should be mostly the same if not exactly the same, Bavis said, because the coaches like the balance it gives the team.
Senior assistant captain Ryan Ruikka said he will sit Friday, meaning junior defenseman Patrick MacGregor will be in the lineup for the sixth time in 12 games. Ruikka expects to be back on the ice Saturday.
Bavis also said the power play, which is on an 0-for-17 run going back to Nov. 16, is coming along.
“You have two new freshmen back there, you have some sophomores that did not get a lot of power-play time,” Bavis said. “There is a period of that kind of coming together and working through some stretches where it doesn’t work. They finally get to the point where … you need it to work to win a championship.
“Let’s do this better, which is simple: move it faster, be ready to shoot, get better screens. Those are the things that top, top power plays have.”
Bavis didn’t know for sure who would start in goal — and head coach Jack Parker, who was attending a memorial service for former BU President John Silber, was unavailable — but it is likely freshmen Matt O’Connor and Sean Maguire will play a game apiece.
As the players have said all season, though, the team is fine with either, especially with Maguire picking up his game of late. His goals-against average is down to 2.56 while his save percentage is up to .910.
“[Who plays in goal] really doesn’t make a difference to us,” Megan said. “They’re both playing well and they’re both more than capable, so it’s not a concern for us.”
Wade Megan – Cason Hohmann – Yasin Cissé
Matt Nieto – Danny O’Regan – Evan Rodrigues
Sahir Gill – Wes Myron – Sam Kurker
Matt Lane – Ben Rosen – Ryan Santana
Sean Escobedo – Alexx Privitera
Garrett Noonan – Patrick MacGregor
Matt Grzelcyk – Ahti Oksanen