This weekend, when the Boston University men’s hockey team plays host at Agganis Arena, it will be faced with something it hasn’t seen in several years: a legitimately good University of Vermont squad.
Puck drop is set for 7:30 p.m. Friday, followed by a 4 p.m. start Saturday on NESN.
The Catamounts — owners of a 12-8-3 overall record and 4-6-0 mark in Hockey East — will be making their second trip to Boston in as many weeks. They split a two-game series with No. 11 Northeastern University last weekend, after which they moved up to No. 17 in this week’s USCHO.com poll.
“There’s no bad team in this league,” said BU coach David Quinn. “It’s just reality. There are no gimmies. No gimmies.”
But this time, Vermont is competitive in more than just an every-Hockey-East-team-will-put-up-a-fight sort of way.
It allows 2.22 goals per game — more than a goal per game less than BU’s average — and owns the second-best penalty kill at 88.2 percent. Even though the Catamounts’ power play ranks last in the conference rankings and their total offense is in the bottom half, they are dangerous late in games, scoring nearly half of their goals in the third period.
One reason for that is the Catamounts’ ability to boast multiple offensive weapons. Senior Chris McCarthy leads the team with 25 points (11 goals, 14 assists), though freshman Mario Puskarich is not far behind with 10 goals and 12 helpers.
Puskarich’s 22 points are good for second best among conference rookies.
Like BU (7-13-2, 2-7-1 Hockey East), Vermont has received considerable contributions from the blue line.
Junior Michael Paliotta ranks fourth in scoring among Hockey East defensemen with 17 points (three goals, 14 assists) — mirroring sophomore defenseman Ahti Oksanen’s season. Similarly, senior Nick Bruneteau has already surpassed his offensive output from last season with 11 points.
“I’m sure they’ve got returning guys that have just gotten better,” Quinn said. “More of them have gotten better than have gotten worse. That’s the hope, because some of them are going to take a step back.
“You go through things in life between the ages of 18 and 22 where you grow forward a little bit and you’re going to take a step back a little bit. And obviously they’ve got more guys that have taken a step forward than have gone backwards. That’s why they’re having the success that they’re having.”
Goaltending-wise, Vermont coach Kevin Sneedon has worked a consistent platoon since early November, with freshman Mike Santaguida and sophomore Brody Hoffman playing every other game in net. The pair’s numbers are comparable, though Hoffman has an edge in both save percentage (.925 to .919) and goals-against average (2.00 to 2.34).
Vermont’s situation between the pipes is similar to that of the Terriers this season. But sophomore Sean Maguire started over classmate Matt O’Connor in both of BU’s games last weekend, and he will get the nod again in at least Friday’s game.
Saturday’s starter is to be decided.
How many skaters Maguire will have in front of him Friday is to be decided. Senior wing Jake Moscatel will still be out hurt, and junior wing Evan Rodrigues (leg) and sophomore defenseman Ahti Oksanen (hyperextended knee) are questionable. That means Quinn could dress as few as 16 skaters.
As such, he has decided to put his top three healthy forwards together. Freshman Robbie Baillargeon will center the top line, with junior Cason Hohmann on his left and sophomore Danny O’Regan on his right.
“You want to get your best players together,” Quinn said. “I love Baillargeon’s game. He has played very well. He keeps getting better and better and better.”
Quinn’s hope is the change will allow the Terriers to add to the win column for the first time in nearly two months.
“It’s to the point where we need one bad,” Quinn said. “Talking to our captains and our team, they feel one win would really put us in a completely different mindset.”