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Men’s hockey refocuses on defense before visit to Merrimack Warriors

After one of the worst losses in recent Boston University men’s hockey history Wednesday, the No. 8 Terriers got back to the basics Thursday at practice by refocusing on their defensive effort.

The practice, which BU coach Jack Parker called “fabulous,” came after a players-only meeting called by the seniors.

“[The meeting was to] just make sure stuff like that doesn’t happen again and … don’t let a game slip through our fingers,” said senior defenseman Sean Escobedo, referring to the Terriers’ 6–5 overtime loss to Harvard Wednesday. “It’s just [about] how yesterday we were freshmen and today we’re seniors, and time flies by so you have to take advantage of this opportunity.”

With that in mind, BU (11–7, 8–4 Hockey East) will look to bounce back Friday at 7:30 when it visits Merrimack College at J. Thom Lawler Arena in North Andover. It will be the second of three regular-season meetings between the teams, the first since BU beat the Warriors (7–8–4, 5–4–1 Hockey East) in mid-November.

“We haven’t been who we were most of the first semester, and that’s a team that competes hard and creates offense out of good solid defense,” Parker said. “You play defense with your heart and your legs and your head, and defense is much harder than playing offense.

“So you can go out there and get three goals as a line and look pretty good offensively, but have no effort defensively because it’s harder to do that,” Parker added.

Defense will be BU’s focus headed into its return to Hockey East play.

One thing that will help is having its full lineup for the first time in a month, including the return of sophomore defenseman Alexx Privitera, who is second on the team with 43 blocked shots.

With Privitera’s two-game suspension over, senior assistant captain Ryan Ruikka will take a seat as the odd defenseman out.

Parker indicated the battle for the sixth defenseman spot, which is ongoing between Ruikka and junior Patrick MacGregor, could be far from over. What he cares about most, though, is a good defensive effort Friday night.

“Me telling them doesn’t do anything, really, unless I bench five guys,” Parker said. “I don’t believe in motivation because motivation means ‘from within.’ I have to get them in an environment that they’re wiling to motivate themselves.”

Between the pipes, Parker said freshman goaltender Sean Maguire will start. If Maguire — who has a .930 save percentage and a 1.98 goals-against average — puts up a good game, it could be a chance to start to set himself apart from classmate Matt O’Connor, who has given up 12 goals in his last two games.

The bigger question is who will be in net for the Warriors. Junior Sam Marotta (.916 save percentage, 2.36 GAA in 12 games) and sophomore Rasmus Tirronen (.912 save percentage, 2.42 GAA in nine games) have split time almost evenly while putting up nearly identical numbers.

“[Merrimack] coaches are happy with both of them,” Parker said. “Go with either one. They’re getting good goaltending no matter who’s playing.”

On the other side of the ice, junior forward and Boston native Mike Collins leads the Warriors. With 21 points (nine goals, 12 assists), more than double anyone else on the team, Collins is already closing in on his career-high 30 points from his freshman year.

Merrimack’s power play is third best in the conference, operating at a 16.9 success rate. Parker said the Warriors’ man-advantage is a lot different than the last time BU saw it, when it went 1-for-4 to score Merrimack’s only goal.

“They went from a 1-3-1 power play to what I call a BU power play,” Parker said. “They have two forechecks, and they seem to be playing most of the time with their more aggressive forecheck. When they played against us in the past they played about 50-50 with both.”

BU’s weak penalty kill — at 80.9 percent, it’s third worst in Hockey East — could make it particularly troubling, but with a re-emphasis on defense the Terriers might be able to hold their own.

After Wednesday vs. Harvard, it will be hard for it to get much worse. But, as Parker put it, BU is looking to make that game its low point

“It’s not about what happened to you, it’s about how you react to what happened to you,” Parker said. “How are we going to react to that? And we reacted pretty well [Thursday].”

“But we have a tough task ahead of us and we could go up and play extremely well against Merrimack and still lose. But what we first have to do is start playing the right way, and if we can start to get back to playing the right way we will sooner or later be successful again.”

BU lines:

Wade Megan – Cason Hohmann – Sahir Gill

Matt Nieto – Danny O’Regan – Evan Rodrigues

Mike Moran – Wes Myron – Sam Kurker

Matt Lane – Ben Rosen – Ryan Santana

 

Sean Escobedo – Alexx Privitera

Garrett Noonan – Patrick MacGregor

Matt Grzelcyk – Ahti Oksanen

 

Sean Maguire

Matt O’Connor

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