The following article appears in today’s hockey supplement of the Daily Free Press
On April 11, 2009, the Boston University men’s hockey team was on top of the college hockey world.
Then-sophomore Colby Cohen netted the game-winning goal against Miami University to capture a 4-3 overtime win and a national championship. It spurred a parade days later that closed Commonwealth Avenue from Kenmore Square to Marsh Plaza as the team rode by on duck boats.
Understandably, Terrier Nation was in a frenzy.
Senior forward and captain Chris Connolly, just a freshman at the time, was on the ice for the Cohen goal and can still remember it vividly.
“It was a really strange play,” Connolly said. “I remember watching Colby wind up for the big slap shot, it hit another guy and I realized the goalie had no idea where the puck was. I was just watching it quickly and said, ‘Well, this has a chance to go in.’
“I was standing off to the side near the wall and watched it drop in. I couldn’t believe it. After that it was kind of a blur because I was just overwhelmed with adrenaline.”
But since then, the Terriers have won nothing substantial. No Beanpots. No Hockey East Championships. No NCAA tournament appearances. Nothing.
“It sucks,” said Alex Chiasson, forward and one of two assistant captains on this year’s team. “For myself, the junior class, I’ve been here for two years and I haven’t really won anything.”
Chiasson is one of nine members of BU’s junior class, a group too young to have been members of the 2009 championship team but too old to sit back and hope that BU’s rich hockey tradition alone will take the team places.
Junior forward Justin Courtnall, the other assistant captain, has had enough of it too.
“I think especially the junior [and] sophomore classes are really hungry to come out of our little slump,” Courtnall said. “Our class specifically is really hungry to get something under our belt, especially a Hockey East [championship] win or something to do with that.”
With April 2009 just another BU hockey fairytale for the underclassmen and a memory in the now-distant rearview mirror for the seniors, Connolly and his assistants agree it’s time to put an end to this trend.
“You play for the end of the year, [so] come April you want to be one of those teams still playing,” Connolly said. “We’ve been very close the last two years, I think we were the last team out. It comes down to the little things, so we really need to tighten up and focus on those close, one-goal games.”
If the Terriers fail to be one of the teams playing when the calendar flips to April, it won’t be because of a lack of leadership – all parties agree BU has tons of it.
It starts at the top with Connolly, one of the final five remaining members of the national championship team.
After serving as captain last year, a team vote last spring was overwhelmingly in favor of giving Connolly another season with the big red ‘C’ on his chest, according to coach Jack Parker.
“He’s a real good example of what we want in a player, kid, student and teammate,” Parker said. “He’s also real important ice-time-wise, he’s real important skill-wise.
“He’s a very good player for us over these past three years. He is obviously a guy we can follow and count on to keep us on the right track.”
It was harder for the coach to pick the assistants. Most years the team vote indicates a secondary player or two that the athletes look up to as leaders, but with Connolly garnering most of the captain votes, Parker chose to put off picking assistants so he could see who pulled the team together over the summer and early fall.
Parker finally announced on Sept. 27 that he settled for Courtnall and Chiasson, though “settle” doesn’t nearly do the selection justice.
“Both those guys are vocal guys that will help Chris out, and they’re both hard-working guys that show the way not just by saying it, but doing it,” Parker said.
Courtnall in particular will compliment Connolly’s leadership style, one that is mostly “by example,” be it on the ice, in the weight room or around the classroom.
Courtnall described himself as a very talkative guy, constantly cheering teammates on and unafraid to resolve an issue between teammates.
Parker backed that up.
“There’s no question in my mind that [Courtnall is] a vocal leader in the dressing room, he’s a vocal leader in the dorm rooms,” Parker said. “He knows when he needs to step in with somebody, and I think having the A on his shirt will make it that much easier for him.”
Chiasson, on the other hand, wasn’t a natural locker room pacesetter from the start like Courtnall. In his early days with BU, Parker said Chiasson battled to find his groove as a leader. He has always been a vocal player, but it used to make his teammates “jumpy,” whereas it is now a guiding light that makes the team better, not nervous.
Chiasson, though, said the affective factor has always been a part of his game.
“I’ve been an emotional guy since I was young,” Chiasson said. “It’s something that I can’t really change, but you have to be careful with how guys take it and how guys see you as a leader.
It’s something that I’ve been working on. I try to be more positive this year. Obviously, I know it’s going to happen one time that I’m going to get mad and it’s going to come out. At the same time, I have to make sure that everyone stays calm and plays with confidence in themselves.”
With the captain and assistants in place – and a bevy of other unofficial leaders on the team – the senior class is ready to go out with a bang, and the underclassmen are looking to put that first notch in their belt.
Parker said that due to the incredible competitiveness of Hockey East, he would be happy with a third-place regular season finish for the Terriers, which would ensure home-ice advantage for BU during the Hockey East quarterfinals in March.
But that doesn’t mean his players agree. Connolly for one was concise when it came to his conference hopes.
“I’m going for first,” Connolly said quickly. “[Parker] is right in saying that a third place would be a good finish with the competitiveness of this league, but I’d like to finish a little higher, so we’ll shoot for first.”