Nine different forwards on the No. 15 Boston University men’s hockey team have come together to form nine separate first-line combinations in the 34 games of the 2010-11 season. The latest trio of junior left wing Chris Connolly, freshman center Sahir Gill and freshman right wing/center Charlie Coyle have combined for 52 of the possible 102 starts at the top of the lines sheet, but before last weekend’s series against Providence College, those three had never played together on a line.
Put that relative inexperience with one another alongside their collective goal-scoring struggles heading into the end of the season – Coyle was the latest member of the newly formed line to light the lamp, with his last goal coming way back on Jan. 21– and it’s easy to understand how those struggles continued against the Friars, resulting in a pointless weekend for all three.
“It’s hard for guys to hit it off right away,” said Connolly, after BU’s 3-1 win over University of Vermont on Saturday. “Guys are used to kind of doing their own thing. Everybody’s their own guy and brings something to the line. Charlie’s a big strong kid with a lot of talent. Sahir’s a great playmaker. I just try to provide some energy for the line, get after the D a little bit. It takes a little bit [to gel].”
But over the weekend, Connolly and his two new linemates appeared to finally click together on all cylinders in both Saturday’s win and the team’s 3-3 tie with the Catamounts the night before as they tallied five points collectively between the two games.
Gill arguably had the best weekend from the center position, pitting an assist on each night with a breakaway goal off a turnover in the Vermont zone. That was the freshman’s first tally since before Thanksgiving, Nov. 20 to be exact in a 4-2 win over University of New Hampshire.
However, it was Connolly who talked about lifting a little weight off his shoulders after Saturday’s win. After shooting high on an open net in the first period, Connolly skated into an open high slot to demand the puck from Gill in the right circle so that he could get a second chance to hit his target. What resulted was a shot that finally rippled the laces of the cage for the captain’s first goal since Jan. 15.
“It’s kind of a monkey off my back,” Connolly said. “I guess I’ve been a little snakebitten as of late. After that open net, it’s hard not to get frustrated. You wonder if anything’s going to go in for you ever again. It was good to finally see one hit the net. Like I said, I’ve gotten the monkey off my back so now just relax.”
“I was really happy for Connolly because he’s really been working hard of late,” said BU coach Jack Parker. “I thought he had a great game tonight. I thought it was one of his best games of the year, not just because he scored but because he was all over the place.”
Coyle, playing in only his third and fourth games of the season as a wing, was the only member of the line to not score a goal over the weekend, but he did have an assist on a goal by Adam Clendening in Friday’s stalemate.
The weekend’s uptick in production couldn’t have come at a better time for Parker as his team prepares for the Hockey East tournament in two weeks and a potential spot in the NCAA tournament.
“You want to have your important guys scoring this time of the year and not still be snake-bitten,” he said.
“It’s really put us in a bad frame of mind,” the BU coach added later. “Guys are squeezing their sticks. They’re getting opportunities. They want to get a goal. [They think] it’s the end of the season here. We have to get a goal. It’s not that they’re being selfish, but they want to get a goal for their team. There’s no question it weighs on them.”
Now with a couple new notches on the stats sheet, Connolly believes this could be the start of a much better trend for both himself and the two guys who he could be playing with for quite some time.
“Tonight was a good game for us to develop some chemistry,” he said on Saturday. “This is our [fourth] game together. We’re starting to understand what each other do and play off each other pretty well. I wouldn’t see why it wouldn’t continue, hopefully.”