Sports

LIPKA: A gaze from afar

Disclaimer: This page is merely a place for my Terrier-related thoughts to flow, since no one here in Chicago cares to hear them.

l This may seem odd, but listening to BU radio guys Bernie Corbett and Tom Ryan describe the scalding start by Jack Parker’s second-ranked bunch this fall has been, in a way, excruciating. Sure, I’m as thrilled as the next guy that hope has finally sprung eternal for a program that’s been underachieving for a good part of the last decade, but it’s pretty hard to hear Bernie and Tom marvel over Colin Wilson’s skill or the brilliance of the puck-moving by BU’s amazingly deep defense without actually seeing it.

l Since I know you have been watching, tell me: Is it too early to book our plane tickets to Washington, D.C., in April?

l The BU women’s soccer team probably would have preferred to take a bus to its NCAA Tournament destination, and it shouldn’t have been deprived of that luxury, which it earned with an unbeaten season in conference play. But the selection committee made it abundantly clear that the Terriers need to get out of America East by sending 12-8-2 Northeastern ‘-‘- and even Central Connecticut State ‘-‘- to Newton instead of BU, which got a lovely trip to Utah to face the defending national champions instead.

l Of course, the future conference of non-hockey sports at BU depends on the men’s basketball team; it’s just a financial fact of life. Will this be the year Dennis Wolff’s crew finally lives up to expectations? Call me cynical, but I’ll believe it when I see it. Being there for the ‘Great Choke Job’ of 2004 (a home loss to eighth-seeded Stony Brook in the conference tournament after BU won 23 of its previous 24) probably doesn’t help my optimism.

l Pretty good times for BU sports in general, though. Men’s soccer’s getting ready for a home game in the Big Dance. Women’s hockey’s rising up to No. 5 in the polls. (How much of a lock was it that Brian Durocher would have that program rolling by now?) While the men’s basketball team was picked to win the league, the women should also have a strong year with a pair of solid seniors in Jesyka Burks-Wiley and Christine Kinneary.

l The football team is also doing pretty well, at least if you were to ask the Chicagoans I’ve run into. Everyone out here lives and dies with Big Ten football or Notre Dame, so when people ask me what kind of a team BU has this year, I deliver the typical ‘Haven’t lost since ’97’ routine ‘-‘- stolen from the T-shirts, of course. People seem impressed.

l But let’s get serious. It’s about hockey, now and always (but especially now). I’d like to take this opportunity to formally apologize to Parker for questioning the direction of the program on these pages last February. Although, to my credit, I did write ‘Maybe I’m overreacting, and this is just a learning year for youngsters like Nick Bonino and Kevin Shattenkirk.’ See, I completely saw this coming. (Yeah, right.)

l This team is just too talented not to make noise in March, right? Sure, they’ve got to figure out how to play a bit better on the road, but five defensemen are NHL draftees, and that doesn’t count the best one. I’m pretty sure Wilson is the best all-around forward to play at BU since Chris Drury. The last time this team scored four goals per game, Drury was prominently involved. There’s also great leadership, and the desire appears to be there, which hasn’t always been a given the last few years.

l Oh yeah, and then there’s the messianic freshman goaltending duo of Kieran Millan and Grant Rollheiser, who’ve turned the disastrous Brett Bennett era into a distant memory in just six weeks. After Sunday’s shutout, my money’s on Millan to be between the pipes when it comes down to it, although goalie names don’t get much better than Rollheiser.

l Did somebody mention Brett Bennett? Here are his numbers so far this season with the Indiana Ice of the USHL: 8-2-1, 1.88 GAA, .939 save percentage. Go figure.

l BU’s other recent top goalie hasn’t dazzled anyone with his stats (3-4-0, 3.36, .897) for the AHL’s Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins this fall. But that didn’t stop the big club from calling up John Curry on Tuesday following an injury to Pittsburgh starter Marc-Andre Fleury. It’s realistic that Curry, a third-string afterthought his freshman year at BU who blossomed into one of the best goalies in program history, could be playing behind Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin this week. And it couldn’t be happening to a better guy.

l Speaking of good guys, this hockey season just isn’t the same without Jack Falla, the best teacher I’ve ever had. I’m sure the BU community feels the same way. We miss you, Jack.

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