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Men’s hockey stumbles in transitional season

MICHELLE JAY/DAILY FREE PRESS  FILE PHOTO The loss of defenseman Matt Grzelcyk in January dealt a huge blow to the Terriers’ power-play unit.

MICHELLE JAY/DAILY FREE PRESS FILE PHOTO The loss of defenseman Matt Grzelcyk in January dealt a huge blow to the Terriers’ power-play unit.

Boston University Athletics marketed the 2013-14 season as a “New Era” for BU Athletics.

Along with other changes throughout the department, the university hired a new bench boss for its men’s hockey team for the first time in 40 years. As the new-season excitement wore off and the slogan lost its shimmer, though, it became clear that the first year of this era was going to be a transition.

The season started off well enough for the Terriers (10-21-4, 5-12-3 Hockey East) and first-year head coach David Quinn. In its opening weekend, BU defeated the University of Massachusetts and the College of the Holy Cross at Agganis Arena.

After starting its season with a 3-1 stretch at home, the Terriers took to the road. In what became a trend over the course of the year, however, BU dropped both away games — one against the University of Michigan and the other against Michigan State University. At the time, the bigger issue was that after a tight game against Michigan (18-13-4), the team derailed against Michigan State (11-18-7). The Terriers took a 1-0 lead at the end of the first period, but with five minutes left in the game, gave up three goals in what was ultimately a 3-1 loss.

Quinn showed frustration with his team after the game, calling its performance “youth hockey” and adding that the team should “be ready to practice on Tuesday.” BU took 13 penalties on the weekend and was outshot 77-46.

“Without our goaltending, God knows where we’d be right now,” Quinn said. “They’re allowing us to grow and find our way, win some hockey games in the process.”

Sophomore goaltenders Sean Maguire and Matt O’Connor kept the Terriers in the majority of their games. Even when BU’s offense struggled during the middle portion of the season, the duo gave their team a chance as the Terriers had 10 two-goal losses and lost four games by a mere goal. Mixed into those small differentials were 11 empty netters.

After a comeback win over Providence College on Nov. 1 in its return to Agganis Arena, BU struggled to produce, as it dropped its next three games. The team failed to score more than one goal in any of the losses during that streak.

As they had done earlier in the season, the Terriers bounced back at home, picking up two straight wins and a tie in their next three games. In the middle of that stretch, though, BU lost junior forward Cason Hohmann for an indefinite period of time because of a shoulder injury.

Despite the inconsistencies the team had experienced during the first half of the season, the team found a reason to celebrate on the last day of November when it defeated Cornell University in the fourth edition of Red Hot Hockey at Madison Square Garden. The team also came away with the first-ever Kelley-Harkness Cup. BU won the game 3-2, but was outshot 39-11, adding on to a previously existing theme where the Terriers struggled to get shots on goal.

“I have been coaching for 20 years now, and I don’t know if I have been prouder of a group of guys,” Quinn said after the win. “We just refused to lose tonight. There were a lot of obstacles and a lot of hurdles and we found a way to get it done. … To me, that is what BU hockey has been about for a long, long time.”

Unfortunately for the Terriers, that win became a marker of more than just Quinn’s pride for his team, it was also one of the last highlights of the season. BU was winless in its next eight games, going 1-14-3 from Dec. 1 to Feb. 17.

Part of the Terriers’ struggles came from an offense that still failed to produce and a power play that went from being one of the top-ranked in the nation to being 31st of 59 teams. The team also had to deal with the fact that it was shorthanded. Sophomore defenseman Matt Grzelcyk dislocated his shoulder in a practice in early-January. Then, in mid-January, sophomore forward Sam Kurker, who struggled to stay in the lineup throughout the season because of penalty trouble, left the team. After that, sophomore Danny O’Regan never returned to full form after suffering an undisclosed injury during the World Junior Championships.

“Our D core [was] not as deep,” Quinn said after the season ended. “We lost an offensive dynamic to it. When Grzelcyk went out we were seventh in the country in power play. We had a hell of a power play. … You take one guy off and the whole thing gets steamrolled and people may not understand the trickle down effect it had.”

BU would not win again until the final weekend of the regular season and doing so in the most unlikely of circumstances. With multiple players benched for violating team rules, BU defeated Northeastern University at home 4-1 on the same night that it honored former head coach Jack Parker and its graduating class. The Terriers then defeated the Huskies (19-14-4, 10-8-2 Hockey East) at Matthews Arena for their first and only road win of the year the next night.

The weekend sweep meant the team’s second trip within three weeks to South Bend, Ind., to play the University of Notre Dame. While BU fought back with a goal in both the second and third periods, it never got the puck luck it needed in the final five minutes to advance to the second round of the Hockey East playoffs, falling 3-2.

Almost one year to the day after he was announced as the next head coach of the men’s hockey team, Quinn’s first season came to an end.

Next year’s Terriers will look considerably different. With an incoming freshmen class that includes some top-ranked prospects, a sophomore class that picked up an excess of experience in their first year and Quinn’s admission that he will make roster cuts, BU is leaving the transition year of its new era.

“I judge everything based on can you play on a national championship team here at BU, because at the end of the day, that’s what we want to do and that is what the expectations are,” Quinn said. “I learned that we have a core here, we didn’t have enough. I think with the recruiting class we have coming in, we are going to have all the right pieces in the right places in order for guys to maximize their potential.”

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