This weekend, as the No. 16 Boston University men’s hockey team takes on two Hockey East opponents at Agganis Arena, the operative word is “should.”
The team (4-4-1, 3-3-1 Hockey East) should handle the last-place University of Vermont with ease Friday night, and should turn around the very next night and beat University of New Hampshire.
The Terriers should be able to keep the Catamounts (1-5-1, 0-4-1 Hockey East) and their league-worst average of 2.14 goals per game and 4.57 goals allowed per game.
BU should be able to take advantage of the league-high 36 goals allowed by UNH (4-4-2, 3-3-1 Hockey East), a team it easily dispatched in a season-opening 5-0 win on Oct. 8.
But all of that is on paper, and games aren’t played on paper, so BU coach Jack Parker isn’t taking anything for granted.
“[The Catamounts have] always played us really well in this building, so we’ll have our hands full no matter what their record is,” Parker said. “Their record is not indicative of how good a team they can be on any given night.”
At the same time, Friday night’s game might be a perfect set up for another BU let down. Several times this year – in games against Providence College, College of the Holy Cross, and University of Massachusetts-Lowell in particular – BU has come out sluggish, leading to losses to teams the Terriers probably should have beat.
With lowly Vermont the warm-up for the more formidable Wildcats on Saturday, there is no telling how the Terriers will come out of the gates mentally on Friday.
Senior captain Chris Connolly isn’t expecting another BU breakdown, though, saying the team is looking to learn from those mistakes.
“Our team has had a tendency to play down to the opponent and that’s something we’re trying to fix,” Connolly said. “Coming off the big weekend [last weekend] we have a lot of confidence. We just have to make sure that we’re not going to come into this weekend overconfident. We have to match the intensity we had last weekend and still clean up the things we did imperfectly.”
After the Catamounts comes an opponent that will likely prove a tougher task, the Wildcats.
Forwards Nick Sorkin and Stevie Moses led the way offensively for UNH. Sorkin has a slight scoring edge over Moses (five goals and seven assists against four goals and seven assists), but the latter has tallied 48 shots on goal, a team high.
Together they have contributed to a UNH turnaround and a 4-0-1 record in its last five games, making the Wildcats a far different team than the one the Terriers ran over 5-0 on Oct. 8.
This difference hasn’t escaped Parker, to say the least.
“They’ve had their ups and downs and we’ve had our ups and downs,” Parker said. “If we think we’re getting better, they’re definitely getting better, too.”
Personnel-wise, the Terriers will be without at least one key player. Senior goaltender Kieran Millan will sit out as punishment for skipping class, and freshman forward Evan Rodrigues will not dress so freshman forward Cason Hohmann can get some playing time as a wing on the third line.
Additionally, sophomore defenseman Garrett Noonan may still be out with a bad ankle. Noonan is day-to-day, according to Parker, and will be a game-time decision on Friday. If he doesn’t play, freshman Alexx Privitera will take his spot.
Privitera played well in Noonan’s place against BC – it was the best game of his young career, according to Parker – and his improvement could even be seen as indicative as the entire team’s apparent improvement.
“He’s a playmaker,” Parker said of the young blue liner. “He deserves on to be back in the lineup, so he’ll get there, even everybody’s healthy or even if everybody’s playing well.
In the end, the cards are mostly in BU’s hands. If the Terriers can stick to what should happen, it could prove to be a huge weekend for a team that has dropped a bit in the national rankings since the season started. By weekend’s end, the Terriers could really pick of the momentum with a pre-Thanksgiving sweep – or start to look like turkeys themselves.
“We have four points this weekend starting with Vermont,” Connolly said, “so we have to come out with that same intensity, be physical, not try to make pretty plays because that’s what makes us a good team.”