It’s crunch time.
The Boston University hockey team takes on the University of Maine tonight in the first of a two-game homestand that ends the regular season. The Icedogs (23-7-2, 15-5-2 Hockey East) come into the contest winners of nine straight and flying high with a chance to win Hockey East.
“We’re tryin to finish as high as we can, and we’ve been playing so well,” senior forward Jack Baker said. “I guess it doesn’t really matter who we’re playing. We want to continue playing good hockey as we go into the playoffs. We picked a good time to hit a good run here.”
Maine (19-9-6, 13-5-4 Hockey East) has also been playing well of late, going 3-0-1 in its last four contests after a two-game skid. The Black Bears’ goaltending standout, Mike Morrison, was named the conference’s Goaltender of the Month for February after putting up an impressive 2.01 goals against average with a .918 save percentage. The Icedogs, however, have a star in his own right in sophomore netminder Sean Fields, who posted a 2.29 goals against average and .913 save percentage while going 7-0-0 last month.
Baker said the team isn’t looking to change any of its approach other than to strike first against Maine, something an impressive come-from-behind team like BU hasn’t always done this season. The key to that may be shaking up Morrison.
“He kind of gets rattled a little bit here and there,” Baker said. “He’s the kind of kid, and they’re the kind of team, we need to get up on them early and exert ourselves, especially at home. We have to take play to them.”
For BU, beating a Hobie Baker candidate in net is no strange task. Two weeks ago, the Icedogs put five goals past University of Massachusetts at Lowell’s senior standout Cam McCormick — twice. Baker said the team is happy with its recent goal binge, and is looking to continue that play heading into the postseason.
Another undeniable factor in the streak has been the BU special teams, with the top penalty kill in the conference and a power play that has improved by leaps and bounds during the last nine games. In addition, the team’s discipline has clearly improved — outside of a brawl against UMass-Lowell — and the Icedogs have seen much less of the sin bin.
“Since we’ve been winning, the power play has gone up and the penalty kill has gone up,” Baker said. “We’re also taking pride in the fact that we aren’t taking a lot of penalties as much as we were at the beginning of the year.”
Maine isn’t the only team that has won awards for the month. BU freshman forward Justin Maiser was the Rookie of the Month award for February, after, among other little things, winning the Beanpot MVP for his two-goal performance against Northeastern University. And while that individual award is no doubt appreciated, Hockey East’s weekly notes release highlighted the team spirit that has driven BU’s successful bounceback season after a 14-20-3 season last year.
Among the Who’s Hot in Hockey East section of the notes, it listed the Boston University Terriers, the only full team listed among individual players and special teams units. The Patriots-like emphasis on the team as a whole is one reason BU has emerged as one of the top three teams in the league with only one player who has put up gaudy numbers of any kind — senior co-captain Mike Pandolfo (20 goals, 15 assists ) — and won nine straight games.
The streak — not only has BU won its last nine games, it went 8-0 in February — has highlighted the resiliency of a team that has 13 come-from-behind wins, coming on the heels of two of BU’s toughest games, 6-1 and 5-3 losses to the University of New Hampshire in a home-and-home series at the end of January.
“Through the ups and downs we’ve had a good attitude,” Baker said, noting that it was the upperclassmen’s job to keep the team’s collective head up. “It’s a make or break time of the season. We can either cry about UNH, or we can get things together, get it rolling toward the Beanpot and the playoffs.”
And roll BU has, going into this weekend for a chance to capture its second regular season crown in three seasons. For Baker and the rest of the Icedogs seniors, this weekend marks their final home series, sort of. In actuality, BU is guaranteed two games on top of this weekend’s contests by virtue of its home-ice advantage for the first round of the Hockey East playoffs.
Still, with the end of his Boston career rapidly approaching, Baker is less sad and more excited for the chance to win Hockey East in a year the preseason prognosticators picked BU to finish fifth.
“It’s pretty strange that it’s already here. I’ve been looking to this weekend since the beginning of the year,” Baker said. “I’m excited to have my two final games be against Maine for a chance to win Hockey East.”