There’s little debate as to whether a healthy Chris Higgins would help the Boston University men’s hockey team this weekend. The senior forward is tied for the team lead in goals, ranks third in points and patrols the left wing for a fearsome first line including classmate Jason Lawrence and sophomore Colin Wilson that stacks up as one of the top scoring trios in all of college hockey.
But Higgins’ status for No. 2 BU’s (16-5-1, 9-5-1 Hockey East) home-and-home series against the No. 11/12 University of New Hampshire (11-6-4, 7-4-3) tonight (7:30 p.m.) at Agganis Arena and tomorrow night (7 p.m.) at Whittemore Center Arena is very much in question.
Last Friday at Merrimack College, Higgins was the victim of a nasty hit from behind levied by Warriors sophomore defenseman Fraser Allan that left him with a concussion and six stitches across his forehead.
BU coach Jack Parker said last night that a final decision regarding the career 100-point scorer’s availability for tonight would be made after today’s pregame skate, which will conclude at approximately 2 p.m. Despite being a limited participant in practice Wednesday and Thursday, Parker said Higgins continues to experience headaches as a result of his concussion and six-stitch scar.
If Higgins does not suit up tonight, the Terriers will find themselves in a situation that has produced nothing but fruitful results through 22 games. Playing without key contributors for short stretches is a familiar tune for BU, which claimed the Wells Fargo Denver Cup earlier this month without Wilson and sophomore defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk while the duo was skating for Team USA in the World Junior Championship.
Among those who stepped up during Wilson’s absence was freshman forward Chris Connolly, who would once again ascend to the first line this weekend should Higgins miss any time.
But Parker’s lineup shifts haven’t always occurred because of injuries or prestigious international tournaments. On several occasions this season, the longtime bench boss has not hesitated to use BU’s deep and versatile roster to his advantage. His message? Nothing is guaranteed, and playing time must be earned.
‘We’ve got players who can step in and play, but we also have some players who are pretty versatile,’ Parker said. ‘It’s nice to have guys like [senior defenseman Steve] Smolinsky. It’s nice to have guys like [freshman forward Andrew] Glass. It’s nice to have guys like [freshman forward Kevin] Gilroy that can step in when they aren’t regulars and play well for us.
‘It’s nice to be able to bench a guy because he’s not playing hard enough or took a stupid penalty. You want to make a discipline statement that’s not going to hurt the team because somebody else is itching to play and he’s a good player, too. When everybody’s healthy, we have three or four guys who are not in the lineup that last year or next year or for any other team this year would be in the lineup every night. We’re very, very fortunate that way.’
Last Friday, Parker demonstrated his recent dissatisfaction with sophomore forward Joe Pereira, freshman forward Corey Trivino and sophomore defenseman Colby Cohen by benching the trio in favor of sophomore forward Victor Saponari, Glass and Smolinsky, respectively.
Glass filled in admirably with a goal and an assist in the win over the Warriors, while Cohen returned to the lineup Saturday and responded with a spirited two-point effort against No. 14 Boston College.
Few teams in the country can match BU’s ability to trot out reserves the quality of Gilroy, Glass, a seventh-round draft choice of the Washington Capitals in 2007, Saponari and Smolinsky. The same can be said for the Terriers’ goaltending corps, as it wasn’t until last Thursday that freshman Kieran Millan was officially tabbed the team’s No. 1 netminder over classmate Grant Rollheiser, who despite his recent struggles received regular work between the pipes through late November.
‘We’ve done a great job of recruiting, and we have a very deep team,’ Wilson said. ‘It keeps you going in practice and keeps you going in games. It keeps you on your toes and definitely makes you want to keep working a little bit harder out there which, all and all, makes for a better team.’