The following article appears in the hockey supplement of today’s Daily Free Press.
Last season’s Boston University men’s hockey team was a disaster by program standards.
The only championship it won all year was the season-opening Ice Breaker tournament. It finished last in the Beanpot for the first time since 1980. It fell to Northeastern University in the Hockey East Quarterfinals at home and for the second time in as many years, it watched the NCAA tournament from the comfort of dorm room couches.
But last year’s team was not lacking in talent or desire. They were simply too young.
Now a year older, the Terriers are more motivated than ever to become the top dog once more in Hockey East.
“This program is expected to be in the top 16 teams in the nation and make the national tournament year in and year out,” senior captain Chris Connolly said. “I took it a little personally last year being one of the captains to not make it the second year in a row.
“The Beanpot and Hockey East and home ice is all very important, but I think this year we really want to focus on making it back to the national stage.”
Joining Connolly as captains this season will be junior assistants Alex Chiasson and Justin Courtnall. Together, the trio will attempt to bring a national championship back to BU for the first time in three years.
The Terriers lost little and return plenty, and this is especially true with the forwards.
Although BU lost former co-captain Joe Pereira and his 21 points (15 goals, 6 assists), its top five scorers all return. Headlining that list is Chiasson, who led the team in scoring last season with 14 goals and 20 assists.
“He’s going to be a big part of the offense,” coach Jack Parker said. “I don’t think he has to be the guy that carries it because we have other guys that are talented too, but whatever line he’s on is going to be a real good line. He’s going to get an awful lot of ice time.”
Along with Chiasson, the Terriers will look to Connolly (10g, 18a), senior Corey Trivino (8g, 20a), and sophomore Charlie Coyle (7g, 19a) to spark the offense. Coyle, a native of Weymouth, Mass., said he is especially motivated to have a better season this year after finishing last in the Beanpot, a tournament he grew up watching and hoping to play in, last season.
“It’s pretty humiliating,” Coyle said. “We’re obviously forgetting about that. It’s a new year.
“We’re going to have to step it up this year. Through experience last year, we know what it takes. It’s going to be a good Beanpot this year.”
BU hopes experience will help its young offense be more productive this season. Five of its top 10 scorers last season were freshmen (forwards Coyle, Sahir Gill and Matt Nieto and defensemen Adam Clendening and Garrett Noonan). Those five Terriers opened last season ranging in age from 17 to 19, and Parker is hoping that with increased experience and age, they will be even more effective.
“Those guys for the most part were playing first or second lines all year long and they were 18-year-olds playing against 24-year-olds sometimes,” BU coach Jack Parker said. “It’s one thing for our 18-year-old freshmen to be playing against 20-year-old freshman. It’s another thing for them to be playing against 24-year-old seniors.”
In addition to the returning offense, BU will add three freshmen forwards: Cason Hohmann, Evan Rodrigues and red-shirt freshman Yasin Cisse. By losing one and adding three, competition for playing time will increase and Parker is hoping that will help the team improve.
“When you only lose one forward and you add three, you’re going to have more depth,” Parker said. “You’re going to have more fighting for positions, and you’re going to have more skill. They’ll be important because they’ll give us new blood.
The blue line does not have the same depth and talent that the forwards possess this season, but it does have plenty of potential.
The Terriers lost defensive leader David Warsofsky, who left school early to pursue a professional career. Red-shirt junior Ryan Ruikka, the oldest defenseman on the team, will miss the first few weeks of the season with a hairline fracture in his foot. In their absence, juniors Max Nicastro and Sean Escobedo will take over as the elder statesmen of the blue line.
Neither Nicastro nor Escobedo enjoyed a solid season last year and their inconsistency proved problematic for the Terriers, as Nicastro finished tied for a team-worst minus-9.
“At times, those two looked like really top-notch defensemen, and other times they were less than that,” Parker said. “There’s inconsistency game-to-game and shift-to-shift. I think they both have the potential to be all-star defensemen. But more than anything else, they have to be consistent.”
Sophomores Clendening (5g, 21a, plus-8) and Noonan (4g, 11a, plus-6) both had solid freshmen seasons. They will have to take a step up this year as veteran blue liners.
Sophomore Patrick MacGregor saw limited ice time last season, and he will fight for playing time with freshman Alexx Privitera and junior Ben Rosen, who played as a forward last year, for one of the two remaining defensemen slots.
The Terriers return one of the best goaltenders in Hockey East in Kieran Millan, who was a runner-up for the Hockey East Player of the Year Award last year and won BU’s Most Valuable Player Award.
Millan has yet to replicate his breakout freshman season, when he posted a 1.94 goals against average, but he had a record-breaking year last season. Millan set a program record for saves in a season with 1,085 and boasted a .919 save percentage, .002 points shy of his freshman year .921 save percentage. The Edmonton native enters the season one win shy of tying Sean Fields’ program-record 62 career wins.
While Millan struggled in an exhibition game, allowing five goals on 17 shots, the Terriers continue to have faith in Millan’s ability between the pipes.
“Millan will be the number one goalie,” Parker said. “[Grant] Rollheiser will get a chance to get in there and play, but it certainly will not be every other game.
“Millan has had a terrific career so far and he was our MVP last year. Given that he plays up to his ability, we expect him to play most of the games.”
Backup goalie Adam Kraus graduated last season, so Rollheiser and sophomore Anthony Moccia will wait in the wings should anything happen to Millan.
Hockey East has changed quite a bit since the end of last season. Northeastern University, the University of Massachusetts-Lowell and Providence College all have new coaches, which makes them harder to scout since nobody knows their style of play.
Northeastern coach Greg Cronin departed after six years on Huntington Ave. for a job with the Toronto Maple Leafs, and former Northeastern player Jim Madigan replaced him after a stint as a scout with the NHL’s Pittsburgh Penguins.
Norm Bazin took over for Blaise MacDonald at UMass-Lowell and Nate Leaman succeeded Tim Army in Providence.
“It’s kind of disheartening to tell you the truth, but that’s the way college hockey is going,” Parker said of the coaching changes. “Job security is not as good as it used to be.
“I do think that all three of those schools selected really good coaches that will give their team a different outlook that can then challenge incumbent coaches to figure them out and maybe push us a little differently. New blood always makes the old blood better coaches, I think.”