Each weekend in Hockey East has been a rollercoaster ride this season. With the calendar now turned to December, the ride is about to get a bit more interesting.
The No. 5/7 Boston University men’s hockey team (9-4-0, 4-4-0 HE), still working to find the consistency that carried them to the No. 1 ranking last month, opens a home-and-home series with No. 2/3 Boston College (9-4-1, 5-3-1) tonight at Agganis Arena.
The highs and lows that come with every league matchup are only magnified when the opponent makes its home just a few stops down the Green Line. Not to mention, the Eagles are the defending national champions.
‘Over the years we’ve gotten the best out of each other. I think BC will give us their best game tomorrow night, and we’ll give them our best game. If we don’t do that to each other, it will be an aberration,’ BU coach Jack Parker said.
When the Terriers took care of business, 4-1, against St. Lawrence University last Saturday, it was the first step toward recovering from a midseason tailspin that included being swept on back-to-back nights by the University of Vermont. A weekend set with the Eagles gives BU a chance to take a leap forward and erase the ill effects of that November swoon.
‘We’re trying to go back up the other way. I don’t think we’re back where we want to be, but we’ve certainly stopped the bleeding,’ Parker said. ‘We’re getting better and we’ll see if we can continue that trend this weekend.’
There is no question that success against BC ‘-‘- no matter how it is measured ‘-‘- would restore the confidence that was on display as the Terriers dispatched one ranked foe after another to earn the top spot in national polls. Failure, whether it comes in the form of lackluster effort or simply giving four points to a conference opponent, would nullify every big win the team tallied.
It seems too easy to place so much significance on a pair of December games with more than half a season of hockey to follow. But when BU and BC take the ice, the intensity is ramped up tenfold, and the game really does carry extra weight.
‘BC games are always important to this team. The bragging rights and the history of that rivalry . . . that stuff’s always there. Now add to that the fact that BC is one of the best teams in the league,’ Parker said.
A weekend sweep for the Terriers would leapfrog them past BC in the standings and back into the driver’s seat for home-ice advantage in the postseason. If the Eagles have their way ‘-‘- and they have on most nights this year ‘-‘- the Terriers will find themselves deep in a hole, buried toward the bottom of Hockey East.
Last season’s series was decidedly in favor of BC, which won three of the four contests, including an overtime victory in the first round of the Beanpot. BU saved face with a 2-2 tie in which the team played perhaps its best hockey of the season, though that game couldn’t make up for three losses in a long season of disappointments.
While the Eagles are largely the same team BU saw last season ‘-‘- except for the absence of Hobey Baker finalist Nathan Gerbe ‘-‘- the Terriers’ more energetic brand of hockey is sure to keep this year’s series interesting.
BU and BC are ranked first and second in Hockey East, respectively, in goals per game, so in a rivalry always packed with fireworks, the lamps might get a little more use than usual. Senior Brock Bradford (13 goals, 9 assists) is the offensive leader for the Eagles and earned Hockey East Player of the Month honors for November.
Bradford has been aided by talented freshman forward Jimmy Hayes (6g, 2a). The Dorchester, Mass., native was named to the U.S. World Junior team set to compete in Ottawa from Dec. 26 to Jan. 5. Hayes will play alongside Terrier sophomores Colin Wilson and Kevin Shattenkirk, who will not be with the Terriers for the Wells Fargo Denver Cup on Jan. 2 and 3.
As always, BU is taking things one step at a time as it tries to assure itself of a comfortable postseason position. So before taking on the rest of the world in Ottawa, the Terriers will focus on winning back bragging rights from the defending champs who play down the street.
‘The rivalry never takes a backseat,’ Parker said. ‘These games are different than any other game before them. In any year, these games are more important.’