College hockey offseasons are about asking questions. Teams are left with several holes to fill due to graduation and players leaving school for professional leagues. The Boston University men’s hockey team began answering those questions in Saturday night’s preseason game against St. Francis Xavier University, as the freshmen shone in their new roles.
Freshman forwards Nick Roberto and Tommy Kelley, both Massachusetts natives, each scored their first goals in BU uniforms and led the Terriers past the X-Men by a score of 2-1. For Roberto, it was just nice to get the first one in the books.
“It was definitely huge to get it right out of the way so you don’t have to worry about it,” Roberto said. “I was just trying to get to the net, and luckily a rebound came to me and I had two chances to get it in. So it was pretty good. Definitely a lot of weight off my shoulders now.”
The 5-foot-9, 173-pound Roberto scored his goal on the power play while battling in front of the goal mouth. That position on the power play is generally designated to bigger, stronger forwards such as 6-foot-3 sophomore forward Sam Kurker, who is on the second power play unit.
However, Roberto had a lot of success in that role, especially for a player in his first game. He led the team with seven shots in addition to his goal.
“He’s quick, he’s hungry, he’s competitive, he’s hockey strong,” said BU coach David Quinn. “I know he’s not big, but he’s got great leverage and he’s an athlete. He’s got great anticipation. I thought he had a great night tonight. He’s a guy that was making plays, he’s fast, very smart, picks things up quickly.”
Roberto was not the only freshman to impress on the night, though. Forward Robbie Baillargeon, who assisted on Roberto’s goal, played on the first line with junior forward Evan Rodrigues and sophomore forward Danny O’Regan. O’Regan and Rodrigues are the top two returning scorers for BU but Baillargeon did not look out of place.
In addition to Roberto and Kelley, freshman forwards Brendan Collier and Dillon Lawrence and freshman defensemen Doyle Somerby, Dalton MacAfee and T.J. Ryan made their debuts Saturday night. Kelley made a positive impact by scoring the game-winning goal late in the third period, but for the most part, it was an up-and-down debut for the freshman class that was working on adjusting to a higher pace of play.
“I’m sure a lot of nerves were set in in the first period and parts of the second, but I thought everyone calmed down,” said senior captain Patrick MacGregor. “The whole team looked pretty good throughout the whole game. I thought maybe some sloppiness at times, but that’s what you get for your first game in four months or five months, so I thought they all played pretty well.”
The pace of play was a little faster than most of the freshmen have been used to, which is something Roberto said he noticed during his first shift. Pre-game nerves along with the adjustment in speed made for a tough transition.
“I was trying to get the pace going and then I heard the band playing when I was doing my skates, so I got a little jittery,” Roberto said. “But once I got out there I got my first hit out of the way, I adjusted pretty quickly.”
Quinn has said all along that the play of his upperclassmen will be the key to the success of this year’s team. However, with at least one freshman expected to play among the top-6 forwards and the bulk of the team’s depth in the freshman class, the quick transition for the youngsters will be key to BU’s success throughout the year.
“I really like what I saw from a lot of them,” Quinn said. “I thought they showed some skill, they played at a pace, they were physical, and overall, it was a good night. It was a good start for us.”