Of the Boston University men’s hockey team’s 16 remaining games, four — 25 percent — are against Northeastern University. They’ll meet the Huskies (6–10–2, 3–8–2 Hockey East) for the first time this season on Friday at Agganis Arena, then host the University of Massachusetts-Lowell for the first time on Saturday.
The last time the Terriers (12–7–0, 9–4–0 Hockey East) saw the Huskies, Northeastern captain and former Terrier Vinny Saponari was launching himself into the glass, celebrating an overtime game-winner in the last game of the regular season on March 3.
The image was a memorable one, though the game was meaningless for both sides, as BU had already clinched a playoff spot and Northeastern had already been eliminated from contention. BU coach Jack Parker said that is not his players’ enduring memory from last spring, though.
“This year’s team remembers last year’s loss to Minnesota [in the NCAA tournament],” he said. “That’s what they remember. They’re not remembering a game that didn’t count and didn’t have any effect on us at all.”
This year’s Northeastern team is a bit tough to figure out. They have beaten both first-place Boston College and the second-place University of New Hampshire, both in October. They’ve also lost at least once to every Hockey East team besides BU, whom they have not played, and the last-place University of Maine, whom they tied 1–1 on Jan. 11.
“They maybe take some teams lightly sometimes,” Parker said. “When you think you’re a good team, you usually do play better against good teams. It was amazing they didn’t make the playoffs last year with the type of year they had, and with the type of wins they had.
“They had a lot of great wins against some real top opponents on the road. They are not afraid of anybody.”
Freshman Kevin Roy leads the Huskies in points with 20. He is the highest-scoring rookie in Hockey East and Northeastern’s offensive backbone, as it only has two other players with 10 or more points (compared to BU’s eight).
Three goalies have started for Northeastern, although senior Chris Rawlings has recently reestablished himself as the go-to netminder and holds a .927 save percentage, third best in the conference.
BU freshman Sean Maguire’s .938 save percentage would have him at the top of the league, but he’s played just less than the 40 percent of BU’s minutes in goal he would need to qualify.
Maguire will be in the Terrier net after being named Hockey East Co-Rookie of the Week thanks to a one-goal, 37-save win over Merrimack last weekend.
Parker said freshman goalie Matt O’Connor will start on Saturday against UMass-Lowell (11–7–1, 5–6–1 Hockey East) after getting some extra practice in with goaltending coach Mike Geragosian. O’Connor got off to a sharper start than Maguire this season but has struggled in his last few starts, and the two goalies could be settling back into the tandem that Parker originally envisioned would alternate starts.
“It would be nice if we could alternate them the rest of the year because they’re both playing great, but if somebody’s playing great and somebody falters a little bit, then we will get out of it,” Parker said. “There’d have to be a pretty good separation, but that can happen too.”
Maguire has given up just five goals in his last five starts, dating back to Nov. 16 against the University of Vermont. The situation in front of him, with a group of defensemen that has struggled mightily in recent weeks, is a little shakier.
“Our defense corps is not playing together as well as they should,” Parker said. “There’s an uneasiness that they’re not as confident as they were first semester. They seem to have distractions on their minds that are keeping them from being better pairs or better individuals.”
Those distractions, Parker said, could be taking many forms.
“Just, ‘I’m not getting the puck, I don’t feel comfortable, he’s jumping in the play too much and I want to jump in the play,’” Parker said by way of example. “‘Who’s going out on the power play. He’s getting more ice time than I am.’
“And I don’t mean it in a selfish point of view, because none of them are selfish and they’re all rooting for each other to play well.”
Senior alternate captain Ryan Ruikka, who will start on Friday after sitting against Merrimack College last weekend, agreed that the defense has struggled with focus lately.
“We definitely need to just start playing our position a little bit more. We’re a little bit too focused on offense, I think,” Ruikka said. “It’s a lot easier to play offense. When it comes to defense you’ve got to work hard, you’ve got to want to get the puck from another guy and shut them down.”
UMass-Lowell (12-7-1, 6-6-1 HE) has reeled off eight straight wins since its 4-7-1 start, climbing back above .500 and into sixth place in the conference. A preseason favorite to play on home ice in the playoffs, the River Hawks look to be headed right back into the thick of things in the second half.
Led by sophomore forward Scott Wilson’s 18 points, the River Hawks have outscored opponents 30-11 in their last eight games. They topped Providence, 2-1, on Thursday in their latest win.
“They look fast, they look smart, they look hard to play against, they look everything we expected them to be,” Parker said. “Their record doesn’t show it yet, but they are a UNH or a BC in this league right now.”
BU lines (Friday):
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-Matt Grzelcyk
Ryan Ruikka-Ahti Oksanen