Boston University men’s hockey coach Jack Parker has at least two more games left in his illustrious coaching career, but the watch for his final game begins this weekend when the No. 18 Terriers take on Merrimack College in the Hockey East quarterfinals.
Parker, who on Monday announced he will retire at the end of the season, said he did not want the news to be a distraction for his team leading up to the weekend.
“When the season’s over we’ll sit down and talk about the past,” Parker said. “But right now what we’re worried about is Merrimack … I thought we had a great week of practice.”
The Terriers (18-15-2, 15-10-2 Hockey East) have had success against Merrimack (15-15-6, 13-11-3 Hockey East) this season, sweeping the season series. In the process, BU outscored the Warriors 12-4 and held their leading scorer Mike Collins goalless.
Collins, who is among the top candidates for Hockey East Player of the Year, has slowed down his production as of late, which has led to Merrimack struggling at the end of the season. Merrimack has only won one of its last seven games and Collins has only scored one goal in his last eight games. Collins’s only goal in his last eight games came in that one win.
The Warriors have relied heavily on Collins to lead them to wins all season. Merrimack is only 2-9-3 in games in which he did not score a point, while it is 13-6-3 when he has scored a point. However, the Terriers are going to defend Collins just like any top-line forward, according to BU captain Wade Megan.
“He is obviously a good player, but they have other good players on their team just like we have good players,” Megan said. “So we are not going to change our game for one guy.”
While Merrimack has struggled as of late, BU is currently on a bit of a hot streak. The Terriers have won four of their last five and used that run to earn home ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs.
Friday’s game will also be the first time several Terriers play in a postseason game for BU, including six freshmen skaters, freshman goaltender Sean Maguire, senior forward Jake Moscatel and junior defenseman Matt Ronan.
One freshman who will see a bigger role Friday night is forward Sam Kurker, who will be replacing senior defenseman Sean Escobedo on BU’s second power-play unit. Junior forward Sahir Gill will move back to the point where sophomore Evan Rodrigues plays on the first power-play unit, while Kurker will assume the role of senior forward Ryan Santana in front of the net.
“Kurker is a big body in front of the net and I think he will be a good presence there,” Megan said. “We will be able to screen the goaltender and hopefully get some pucks to the crease and go from there.”
Parker said the move was made in part to get Escobedo some rest, as the team is only using five defensemen for the most part with Ronan filling in when he needs to. However, he also said Kurker earned the extra ice time with his improvement over the second half of the season.
“He has really gotten better and better as he has grown up as an 18-year-old coming in here,” Parker said. “I’m really happy with his progress.”
Another freshman that is sure to play a big role this weekend is Maguire, who has been stellar in net since fellow freshman Matt O’Connor was injured for the rest of the season.
The Powell River, British Columbia native has a 1.76 goals-against average and a .953 save percentage in his four starts since O’Connor’s injury, and earned his team-leading third shutout in a 5-0 win over Northeastern University last Saturday. In his one start against Merrimack earlier in the season, Maguire made 37 saves in a 4-1 win at Lawler Arena.
The weekend is also big one for the five BU seniors who will not be returning to the team next season, as it is a win or go home type of atmosphere. If BU cannot escape the first round of the Hockey East tournament, it is highly unlikely it will make the NCAA tournament and it would therefore be the end of their collegiate careers.
“The past five or six games, we really haven’t been in the position where we can afford to lose games,” Megan said. “So not much changes for us in that regard. It is win or go home and that is what playoffs is all about.”