This week has been a busy one for the Boston University men’s hockey team. After the Terriers took the top spot in one national poll and the second spot in another, BU earned a trip to the Beanpot finals with a 3-1 win over Harvard University.
But at 7 p.m. Friday night at Agganis Arena, the Terriers (17-8-1, 13-6-1 Hockey East) will have to set aside all Beanpot thoughts for a minute – or 60 – when they host the University of Massachusetts for the teams’ final regular season meeting of the season.
“If you look at how hard they skate, how fast they are, how many talented players they have, they have some very good offensive forwards high in the league in scoring,” said BU coach Jack Parker. “They are if not the fastest then in the top three fastest teams in the league skating-ability wise.”
In the pair’s first two matchups this season, a home-and-home at the end of October, conquering the Minutemen (9-12-5, 5-10-4 Hockey East) was no easy task for the Terriers. Still trying to find its groove, BU tied UMass 2-2 in Amherst on Oct. 28 before topping the Minutemen 4-3 in overtime the next day at Agganis thanks to a game-winning goal from sophomore forward Matt Nieto.
But since then, the teams have moved in completely opposite directions. The Minutemen, sitting in ninth place, are on the outside looking in as far as Hockey East playoffs are concerned, while the Terriers caught fire soon after that October series and are the top team in not only Hockey East but in all the country, according to the PairWise rankings.
This may be especially surprising for Parker, who had UMass as one of his preseason Hockey East sleeper teams.
“I truly think UMass will make the biggest jump of anybody this year because they had a really solid, fast skating young team last year and they have just about everybody back of importance for them,” Parker said in late September. “And they’ve added some good kids, so they’ll be a real good team. They’re hungrier.”
That hasn’t come to fruition at all, and Parker doesn’t have much of a reason why.
“I’m flabbergasted that they haven’t done better win-loss wise,” Parker said Thursday afternoon. “That is a much better team then their record [shows,] there’s no question in my mind. A much better team. And I still believe that if they get to the playoffs, they’ll be a team nobody will want to play in the playoffs.”
One reason for the lack of success – an explanation Parker hit on – is UMass’ goaltending situation. The Minutemen have played three goalies, sophomore Jeff Teglia and freshmen Kevin Boyle and Steve Mastalerz, but none have performed particularly well.
Boyle has played the most games, 13, but has a 3.15 goals-against average and a .894 save percentage. Teglia (3.32 GAA, .886 save percentage) and Mastalerz (3.08 GAA, .903 GAA) have each played eight games.
“That in-and-out goaltending makes [the other Minutemen] jumpy and makes it real difficult to put together wins,” Parker said. “In all probability [UMass’ struggles] has to be the inconsistency [in net]. If you’re playing three goaltenders there’s something wrong. That points it out right there.
“If [UMass coach] Toot Cahoon can get one of those guys established – and that’s what they’re trying to do, establish one guy – if they can get that guy established as the guy that people are confident in, that’s a big part of it.”
Although the goaltending situation has been problematic, one of the factors Parker pegged in September – UMass’ youth – has come through. A pair of sophomore forwards, Conor Sheary and Michael Pereira, are the team’s second and third scorers, respectively. Sheary holds a slight advantage with 28 points (nine goals and 19 assists) while the younger brother of former BU captain Joe Pereira has netted 11 goals to go with his 12 helpers.
UMass’ biggest offensive threat, though, is senior forward T.J. Syner. With 30 points (11 goals and 19 assists), the Springfield native ranks fourth in Hockey East.
Most of that trio’s success has been thanks in large part to its speed, which Parker said he specifically pointed out to his team when they watched video on Thursday.
“I wanted them to take note of their competitiveness and they’re speed,” Parker said. “They’re one of the best teams in our league in creating offense on transition, and one of the reasons why is because they like to trap at center ice and turn pucks over at center ice, and that gives you a chance to transition.
“And the other reason is they have very good forwards who are very, very quick, so all of a sudden boom! They’re going the other way on you and you get caught on a three-on-two against you.”
It’s for those reasons, Parker said, that he’s not sitting back on the Minutemen, and neither is his team, even with Monday’s excitement looming.
“Every Beanpot final is a big game no matter who you play, and a lot of them have been against BC,” Parker said, “but we have not got caught looking too many times in this game. We could get beat because the other team plays real well, but I think we’ll be ready to play.”
-Redshirt freshman forward Yasin Cissé will make his return to the lineup after being a healthy scratch the last few games. According to Parker, Cissé has turned it around in practice of late.
“We didn’t like the way he was playing,” Parker said. “He has proven to us that he has heard that message because of how hard he has practiced the last few practices, the last few weeks. We’re really happy with him. Now does that translate to something going on in the games? That remains to be seen. He’s earned the spot to get back in and give it another shot.”
Freshman Cason Hohmann will be the odd forward out on Friday.
-Senior goaltender Kieran Millan, who stopped 29 out of 30 Crimson shots in Monday’s Beanpot semifinals, will be in net again on Friday. However, Parker said he does plan on getting Millan’s classmate Grant Rollheiser between the pipes sooner or later.
“One of the problems is, one of the good things is that Kieran is hot as heck right now,” Parker said. “You go with the hot goaltender. And Rollie said that to me, ‘I know how good he’s playing right now.’ But he’s always ready to play and we’ll get him in there.”