Tonight, the No. 2 Boston University men’s hockey team heads back to North Andover to meet Merrimack College.
Two weeks ago, in the teams’ second meeting of the year, senior forward Chris Higgins was boarded by Merrimack (5-14-3, 2-12-2 Hockey East) defenseman Fraser Allan on a hit BU coach Jack Parker termed ‘vicious.’
Receiving a mild concussion and six stitches in the wake of the incident, Higgins missed a week of contact practice before returning to the lineup last weekend against the University of New Hampshire.
With Higgins back, the Terriers’ (18-5-1, 11-5-1) offense stretched the ice, scoring eight goals in two games to extend their winning streak to four games.
That being said, after the home-and-home set with UNH, Higgins struggled this week in practice, battling nausea and headaches.
With the first round of the Beanpot slated for Monday evening, Parker has decided to pull Higgins from the lineup tonight to rest the forward for next week.
‘Higgins is not going to play. He’s got a little bit of a headache again from the hit, so he will not play [Friday],’ BU coach Jack Parker said. ‘I figure instead of getting jolted [Friday] night and not being able to play in the Beanpot his senior year, we’d sit him out.
‘He probably could play both games ‘-‘- his concussion tests have come back to where they’re supposed to be ‘-‘- but he still said he’s got headaches. He’s been playing great, and that line’s been going great, but it’s better to err on the safe side.’
Freshman forward Chris Connolly, the team’s quick fix on the forward lines throughout the year, will fill Higgins’ role on the first line alongside sophomore Colin Wilson and senior Jason Lawrence.
Connolly’s speed will allow the trio to continue its torrent play of late, as Wilson and Lawrence have combined for 49 points this season.
However, what has proven to be one of the strongest links for the Terriers over the past two weeks has been the play of freshman goalie Kieran Millan.
Millan, who leads the nation in winning percentage with a 14-1-1 record and helped quiet UNH’s James van Riemsdyk last weekend, has calmed the defensive unit in front of him.
‘The guys feel comfortable that if they get out of position a little bit, [Millan] will be able to stop that shot and not everything’s going to jump in the net,’ Parker said. ‘Goaltending is always a huge part of the success of the penalty kill.’
Millan and the Terriers’ work on the penalty kill has been especially strong of late, as BU held UNH scoreless on 14 power plays over the weekend.
‘We’ve been playing the initial rush very well ‘-‘- [opponents] get the puck in the zone, and we get it right out,’ Parker said of the Terriers’ penalty kill. ‘We’ve been getting better at recognizing how to play our four against their five deep in our zone. When you’re doing well on special teams, it’s hard not to be a good team. Special teams are so important in winning and losing hockey games.’
As for the chippy play that consumed BU and Merrimack in their last meeting, Parker assured it would not be a part of tonight’s matchup.’
‘If we played the next night it might have been a problem, but we’ve had games under our belt and they’ve had games under their belt [since the last meeting Jan. 16],’ Parker said. ‘I’ve talked to their coach [Mark Dennehy] – I don’t think there will be any carryover.’