The Boston University men’s hockey team will hit the big city Saturday when it takes on long-time rival No. 14 Cornell University at Madison Square Garden for the fourth edition of Red Hot Hockey.
The Terriers (6-6-1, 2-3 Hockey East) are still unbeaten in Red Hot Hockey matchups, going 2-0-1 in the first three contests. The 2011 edition was capped off in grand fashion for BU, when then-senior Ross Gaudet deflected in a game-winning goal in overtime in front of 18,200 fans.
Unlike the rivalry between BU and Boston College, this is not a short trip up the road and the teams do not face off two or more times per season. So when the former ECAC foes take each other on, bragging rights last a lot longer.
“[The rivalry] really originated with the great teams of [former Cornell coach] Ned Harkness and [former BU coach] Jack Kelley,” said BU coach David Quinn. “It is two of the premier college hockey programs in the country year in and year out. Both teams have such a strong alumni based in New York City. It’s kind of like our bowl game.”
The Terriers will have their work cut out for them if they want to keep their Red Hot Hockey dominance intact. The Big Red (7-3-1) are unbeaten in non-conference play to this point in the season and are currently riding a four-game winning streak that includes a 2-1 win over No. 9 Yale University.
A big part of Cornell’s success has to do with its goalie, as senior Andy Iles is one of the top goaltenders in the country. The 5-foot-9 goaltender may not be as big as some of the goalies the Terriers have faced this season like Providence College’s Jon Gillies or Boston College’s Thatcher Demko, but he has an impressive 2.39 goals-against average and has not allowed more than three goals in a contest this season.
“I know he is incredibly athletic,” Quinn said. “He competes as hard as any goalie in the country. Like I said, we have faced some good goalies before, but none better than this kid.”
Cornell also features the most efficient shooting team in the country, as it has scored on 14.8 percent of the shots it has taken this season. However, it only averages 20.8 shots per game, which is the second fewest in the nation — only ahead of the University of Alabama-Huntsville. Bruins prospect Brian Ferlin and kings prospect Joel Lowry lead the way for the Big Red with 13 points apiece.
It is a tough draw for a BU team that is already thin at the forward position. Junior winger Cason Hohmann will remain out of the lineup after suffering a shoulder injury over the past weekend, and multiple other players including wingers freshman Nick Roberto and sophomore Sam Kurker, who missed practice due to illness this week.
Quinn stressed the idea that his forwards need to create traffic in front of Iles and hinder his eyesight if it wants to create offense against Cornell. However, after missing wide with 24 shots on Saturday against the University of North Dakota, Quinn said the team focused on simply hitting the net in practice this week.
“Three of [North Dakota’s] prime scoring chances in the third period were a direct result of us missing the net and starting their breakout,” Quinn said. “It is something that we have talked an awful lot about this week, and hopefully we can follow through with it. We did a better job of it in practice, so hopefully we can carry it over into the game.”
Sophomore goaltender Matt O’Connor will make his fourth straight start in goal Saturday night. O’Connor was named Hockey East Player of the Week as he stopped 92 of the 96 shots he faced against UND. In his last three starts, O’Connor has a 1.62 goals-against average and a .960 save percentage.
“We have got two very, very good goalies,” Quinn said. “O’Connor happens to be the guy with the hot hand right now.”
Quinn said he does not anticipate there being a Thanksgiving hangover for his team on Saturday. After all, the team practiced Thanksgiving morning and then again on Friday.
“I think my [Thanksgiving] was very good. I’m sure theirs was pretty good too,” Quinn said. “It was a holiday, but it was not the full holiday for what most people experience.”