To say the least, a lot has happened since the No. 2/3 Boston University men’s hockey team faced off against Providence College last.
When the Terriers (13-6-1, 10-4-1 Hockey East) visited the Friars (9-9-2, 7-5-1 Hockey East) at Schneider Arena on Oct. 14, BU was a team that was nothing short of consistently being inconsistent.
Bogged down by rainy weather and heavy traffic en route to the Ocean State, the Terriers fell behind 3-0 early before ultimately losing 5-3.
“We can take a lot from that game,” said BU coach Jack Parker. “They dominated us at times with their team speed, with their penalty kill, and they’ve done it all year to everybody.”
But now, three months later and fresh off a pair of come-from-behind wins, BU will play a home-and-home with Providence to wrap up the season series. The Terriers will host the Friars on Friday at Agganis Arena at 7:30 p.m. before visiting Schneider Arena again on Saturday for a 7 p.m. puck drop.
The Friars, currently fifth in Hockey East standings, won’t be playing the same Terrier squad they surprised in October, though. According to Parker, the team has grown a lot since then in a lot of ways, especially in terms of confidence.
“You’re getting a lot more experience under your belt, a lot more feeling of your teammates and your linemates,” Parker said. “Biggest change is that we’ve been getting consistently great goaltending. We’ve seen our core of defensemen grow in confidence and in effectiveness right in front of us . . . we’ve grown immensely in those two areas.”
BU is hoping to pick up right where it left off last Saturday, when it beat Harvard University 4-3 in overtime for its third win in three 2012 games. Since losing Corey Trivino and Charlie Coyle in mid-December, the remaining Terriers have been on a small tear, going 3-1 since their three-week end-of-the-semester break.
“It’s been one of the funnest times I’ve been here at BU and guys are ready to go for practice,” said junior assistant captain Alex Chiasson of the recent success. “Everyone’s got a smile on their face and it definitely shows up on the ice.”
To keep those smiles, the Terriers will have to overcome the Friars’ strong special-teams units: Providence owns the sixth-best power-play rate in the league, 17.9 percent, while its penalty kill is number two in all of Hockey East at 86.0 percent. BU, though, does not trail far behind – if it trails at all. With the third-ranked power play (19.6 percent) and penalty kill (83.3 percent), the Terriers will likely keep pace at the least as far as special teams are concerned.
The two teams are similar in several more ways than just special teams. BU’s average goals per game (3.40) is not significantly higher than Providence’s (3.10). The teams’ senior anchors in net are similar too: Kieran Millan (2.81 goals against average, .914 saves percentage) is hardly statistically better than Providence’s Alex Beaudry (2.82 GAA, .902 save percentage) this season.
“If you look at everything we got going,” Parker said, “we’re very, very similar.”
That’s the case when it comes to offense, as well. Providence does not have any clear number one threat, but a trio of forwards, Ross Mauermann (17 points), Derek Army (15 points) and Tim Schaller (14 points), are the most threatening goal scorers.
This lends the Friars a similar offensive strategy to the one employed by BU, which has five players with at least 17 points apiece – Chiasson, senior captain Chris Connolly, sophomore defenseman Adam Clendening and sophomore forwards Matt Nieto and Sahir Gill.
“We both have similar appearance of offense, similar spread of offense. Both of us look for somebody to step up [on any given night,]” Parker said. “I don’t think they have any one big line where you have to put somebody on them and watch them all the time . . . And you can’t look at our lines and say, ‘You know geese, that’s without question the best line. The rest of them don’t score.’”
Although Saturday’s lineup is to be determined, Parker isn’t expecting to make any lineup changes for Friday. Sophomore defenseman Patrick MacGregor will play as junior defenseman Ryan Ruikka sits, continuing the pair’s apparent rotation for the sixth blue-liner spot. Millan will get the start between the pipes on Friday, with Saturday’s goalie also to be determined.
In not changing the lineup, Parker does not want to tinker with the team’s and lines’ chemistry – which, by all accounts, is currently a big positive.
“The team feels good about itself in putting some wins together, but they feel good about themselves that, ‘Hey, we can still do this. We can still do this,’” Parker said. “There’s a good feeling about this team, and I think more than anything else they know they’re a team.”