Let’s roll back the tape, shall we?
Just three weeks ago, the Boston University men’s ice hockey team’s captain corps rattled off a few sound bites to the media about their upcoming season.
The overarching theme of their comments was, in a word, excitement. Excitement for a new season, excitement for the games that lay ahead and excitement for what they would have the opportunity to accomplish.
Yet, hidden under the generic, rile-‘em-up-style preseason hoopla remained a legitimate tang of bitterness and a hardened hint of resolve.
“It sucks,” said junior forward and assistant captain Alex Chiasson, referencing the Terriers’ lack of championship hardware thus far in his career. “For myself, the junior class. I’ve been here for two years and I haven’t really won anything.”
“I think especially the junior [and] sophomore classes are really hungry to come out of our little slump,” fellow junior forward and assistant captain Justin Courtnall said. “Our class specifically is really hungry to get something under our belt, especially a Hockey East [championship] win or something to do with that.”
Not so subtle from the guys with the newly stitched A’s on their jerseys . . .
But, hey! Great! So after two years of mediocre outcomes, a fourth place Beanpot finish and slippery slides down the national ranking ladders, the Terrier leadership has provided a clear indication that they are ready to win again and that they are as sick of losing as the BU fan base is, right?
Four games into the 2011-12 season, the Terriers (2-2-0, 1-1-0 Hockey East) have lost when they are expected to win and won when they are expected to play a close game, exhibiting a see-sawing pattern all-too-familiar to the BU faithful.
Many would point at the teams that the Terriers have played and conclude that a blowout win against the University of New Hampshire loses much of its merit because of the fact that the Wildcats are still winless at 0-4-1. Similarly, a loss to Providence College seems vindicated by the fact that the Friars have surprised Hockey East with a 2-1-1 start, their only loss coming against the reigning national champion University of Minnesota-Duluth.
While it is true that, in both cases, the teams have thus far turned out to be entirely different from what BU was expecting when entering their respective matchups, the factoid of greater concern to the Terriers is that they have only exhibited a level of intensity consistent with the team they expect to show up on a given night.
Of the four games that BU has played so far this season, their most recent 5-4 loss to the College of the Holy Cross remains the ugliest example of their lackluster tendencies.
Entering the contest, BU coach Jack Parker and his captains indicated that the Terriers could not afford to overlook the Crusaders, a recurring theme that seems to emerge before most games against lesser competition.
“I know [that the Atlantic Hockey Association] has knocked off people in our league almost every year,” Parker said prior to the game. “I know the last time they came into this building, they gave us more than we ever wanted. I think we had to score two goals late to get the 3-2 win and they dominated the game. Without goaltending, we would have easily gotten beaten.”
And yet, despite claiming to have learned from the past, the Terriers turned in another slip-shod, loosey-goosey, play-at-the-last-minute effort. This time, it wasn’t good enough.
In the third period, frustration and corner-cutting boiled over as Terrier junior forward Wade Megan ran Crusader sophomore forward Shane Stockton into the glass in the attacking end with the Crusaders up 4-2 and the Terriers lacking offensive chemistry.
After Megan was dismissed with a game misconduct for hitting from behind, senior goaltender Kieran Millan let the puck get by him just 10 seconds into the ensuing power play on a shot from the blue line. Despite getting the wet laundry treatment from his defense yet again on Saturday, Millan allowed what would turn out to be the game-winning goal on a shot that he should have saved.
“You hope your team will compete and recognize that Holy Cross probably had this game circled on their schedule for a while, and we certainly did not,” Parker said. “You have to get yourself up to the level of competition that the other team is ready to play. We don’t have enough talent to win hockey games when the other team outworks us. And Holy Cross doesn’t have enough talent to win hockey games if we outwork them. No team in college hockey has enough talent to win on talent alone.”
Three power play goals on seven penalties, three of which resulted from sloppy checking? Doesn’t sound like the level of competition that the Terriers can exhibit to me.
After the game, Crusader sophomore forward Adam Schmidt put the caliber of team that the Terriers were playing into perspective.
“This is by far the most fun game I’ve ever played in my life,” he said. “This team has been battling all year so far . . . beating a top-10 team in the country is something to really scream out, and it feels great.”
While the Crusaders rarely have the opportunity to challenge and defeat the highest ranked teams in the nation—before Saturday, the nearest example of such a win came in 2006—the Terriers play in a conference in which they are forced to do so on a regular basis.
Yet, as more time passes, games against the best teams in the nation become less and less nerve-wracking for BU fans because they know that, win or lose, their team will leave it all on the table. Matchups against the lowly, on the other hand, are a different story.
Thus, the resounding question surrounding the team shifts from, ‘Can they get up for big games anymore?’ to ‘Can they get up for enough of the little games to make it to the big ones that really matter?’
At this point, it is hard to take the Terriers’ words at face value. Instead of backing up their assertion that they are tired of losing by changing the way they prepare themselves and their team for games, the captains have come up short. Instead of translating their claims that they know they cannot overlook lesser teams into the style of play that they exhibited against then-No. 3 University of Denver when they play the likes of the Friars or the Crusaders, the team has played down to their opponent.
Four games hardly make a season, and the Terriers still have ample time to pick up the pieces and make good on their words, but so far, hindsight is 20-20, and although they have proven that they have the ingredients to win, they have also provided ample evidence that getting there will not be as easy as they originally thought.
You’ve got to play the games, boys.
All of them.