Ice Hockey, NCAA, Opinion, Sports

Analysis: O’Connell’s departure necessary for men’s hockey

On the heels of a rocky season on Comm. Ave, the Boston University athletics department showed it’s committed to raising the expectations and performance of Terrier hockey by setting out to replace former head coach Albie O’Connell. 

O’Connell’s tenure at BU wasn’t as bad as some angry tweets might describe, but it was certainly not up to par with the standard of the program. He garnered a 58-49-16 overall record and led his group to a Beanpot championship and NCAA appearance –– but the ruts between those successes were pretty low. 

men's hockey coach fired
Albie O’Connell, former head coach of Boston University’s men’s hockey team. The University has moved on from O’Connell in an effort to make the team more competitive. COURTESY OF BOSTON UNIVERSITY ATHLETICS

The Terriers have been booted from the first round of the Hockey East playoffs for two consecutive years and had a quick exit in the 2020-2021 NCAA tournament, while not even receiving a bid this time around. 

Despite their 14-1-1 run from December to late February, the inconsistency and, simply put, bad hockey, which started in October, was unacceptable. Injuries didn’t help the squad and it can’t all be put on coaching, but the lack of control O’Connell had over the locker room showed in his team’s passionless play.

BU’s turnaround effort would mean a lot more if it amounted to anything, and unfortunately, when the calendar flipped to March, it didn’t. After losing 8-1 to Maine in their last regular-season game and 3-1 to the University of Connecticut in the HE quarterfinals, the Terriers’ redemption tour was halted when it mattered most. 

To go far in the postseason, a roster has to not only want to play for each other, but for their coach too. From the outside, O’Connell didn’t ignite that winning fire in his players, and from a media standpoint, the energy and fervor was rarely there. 

Looking at a team like the University of Massachusetts Amherst, which has collected three trophies –– including a national championship –– in the span of a calendar year, the guys in the Minutemen jerseys would run through a wall for head coach Greg Carvel. BU needs to bring that kind of culture back to their own program. 

O’Connell had a stellar playing career at BU and is an outstanding recruiter, but arguably a better assistant coach. He understands the game to a tee, but that doesn’t always translate into being a strong head coach. This next hire is pivotal for the organization with a fanbase that’s growing impatient of watching subpar hockey.

Jay Pandolfo came on staff as associate head coach this season. With his NHL experience and Terrier alumni status, it would make sense for his name to be in the hat of potential candidates. 

Before BU, Pandolfo served as the assistant coach for the Boston Bruins for five years and it’s curious to me why he would leave a job at the pro level if a head coach position wasn’t guaranteed in the college-level job description. That said, he’s good at what he does as an assistant and may be content with that specific role –– only time will tell. 

Many previous head coaches have had a prior affiliation with the program, including David Quinn and legendary coach Jack Parker who preceded O’Connell in recent history. This factor has been significantly important to the team but it also shrinks the selection pool. 

BU Director of Athletics Drew Marrochello wouldn’t have made this decision if he didn’t have a couple of people in mind to fill the role, but there’s no obvious answer as of now. 

On the athletes’ side of things, it’s not easy losing a head coach whether you liked playing for them or not. The system is about to completely change and that takes an adjustment period. The Terriers’ rising senior class contains 14 of some of their most talented guys who deserve their last year on Comm. Ave to be competitive and not simply a transitional season. 

It’s a big question whether O’Connell’s departure fires these guys up or makes them more skeptical about the stability of the program and influences their choice to stay. I imagine they’re excited for a new direction, but this next hire needs to hit the ground running for a memorable final campaign for this group. 

As BU men’s hockey opens this next chapter, the Terrier faithful wish O’Connell and his family nothing but the best and thank him for his time and effort. He’s a great guy and it will be interesting to see where he ends up after all of this, too. 

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  1. You usually give a coach 5 years to determine if he stays or goes. 2 of those years were during Covid, so giving him only 4 years did not give him enough time to put his stamp on the program. Winning a Beanpot for the first time in seven years and a 19 win season were signs of improvement. I just hope this doesn’t start a trend of firing multiple coaches after just a few years for the program.

  2. I’m sure Pandolfo is a wonderful guy and David Quinn is a comfy choice-given todays recruiting and transfers-program needs Eric Lang/AIC Type skill set

  3. I’m surprised there isn’t more commentary on this but I feel the new coach must be very dynamic and “fire in the belly” to have the kids play for him. Dave Quinn fits the bill but I wonder if he really would like to come back.