Saturday night at 7 p.m., the No. 12 Boston University men’s hockey team will attempt to do something it has not done all season: win two games in a row.
Fresh off an overtime win over University of Massachusetts last Saturday, BU (3-2-1, 2-1-1 Hockey East) will get its third chance to go on a win streak when it takes on the Minutemen’s satellite school counterparts, the University of Massachusetts-Lowell River Hawks and first-year coach Norm Bazin, at the Tsongas Center.
On the BU side of the ice, most eyes will be on sophomore forward Matt Nieto, the owner of an eight-game goal scoring streak that dates back to the end of the 2010-11 season. With a goal on Saturday, Nieto will match the nine-game scoring streak by former BU forward Chris Drury from November 1996.
Despite Nieto’s success, there are a number of other forwards garnering the attention of BU coach Jack Parker, particularly sophomore Sahir Gill.
“He’s been our best forward,” Parker said. “I think [Corey] Trivino has been from the get-go playing at a real high level, [Charlie] Coyle lately has been playing at a high level, Nieto has put a lot of pucks on the net, but Sahir Gill has been our most consistent top performer.”
Last weekend, the trio of Nieto, Coyle and Gill played together on the second line and impressed Parker, but with the return of the recently benched junior assistant captain Alex Chiasson, that line will be broken up.
For the time being, Gill will center the third line, with Chiasson and freshman forward Evan Rodrigues’ spots in the lineup to be determined as of Thursday night.
By moving Gill, who has tallied three goals and five assists in the early going, to the third line, Parker is hoping to create three powerful groups on offense.
“Whatever line Sahir Gill is playing on is our best line,” Parker said. “When he was playing with [Chris Connolly] and Trivino they were playing great…If I can keep Sahir with another line, a different line, he gives us [more options.]”
Additionally, Saturday may also feature the long-awaited return of red shirt freshman forward Yasin Cisse, who Parker said responded well after a tough week of practice. Cisse has been out since the first game of last season with a torn ankle tendon, and might play depending on how the team’s trainers and Cisse himself feel on Friday.
As for Chiasson, the forward bounced back this week after sitting out last Saturday, and both Parker and senior captain Chris Connolly agreed he had a good week at practice.
“He’s a competitor out there and wants to play as much as anybody else,” Connolly said. “He gets as much ice time as anybody else on the team, so for him to sit out there, sit in the stands and watch was probably pretty tough for him.
“He made it pretty noticeable. He was a little quieter out on the rink and stuff, but I think that’s like anybody…He took the constructive criticism and reacted the right way and has been working hard in practice.”
The slightly changed lines will try to take the pressure off of senior goaltender Kieran Millan, who will assume his regular position between the pipes Saturday night after giving way to senior goaltender Grant Rollheiser for last Saturday’s game.
Millan has a goals-against average of two over the course of five games, a stat swayed by a season-opening shutout of University of New Hampshire. That said, some of the goals can be attributed to a less-than-spectacular defense, a part of the game that, in Parker’s view, BU needs to tighten up on.
“I think it’s an effort thing. It’s an awareness thing. It’s a willingness thing,” Parker said. “Defense takes courage and hard work. Defense should be easy, so we need to get better at that, and I think we are.”
The defense will be missing junior Max Nicastro who, along with senior forward Kevin Gilroy, will sit out Saturday’s game for skipping classes. Freshman Alexx Privitera will likely take Nicastro’s place against the River Hawks (2-3-0, 0-2-0 Hockey East), who already appear to be much improved over last year’s 5-25-4 team.
They return their top three point getters from that campaign – forwards David Vallorani, Riley Wetmore and Matt Ferreira – and have already matched almost half of their win total from last year.
Most recently, UMass-Lowell got swept by No. 1 Boston College last weekend by scores of 4-2 and 6-3. To their their credit, the River Hawks did manage to outshoot the Eagles 79-44 over the weekend, and showed some determination in the second game with two third-period goals to prevent the game from ending in a complete blow out.
For the most part, though, UMass-Lowell is an unknown. The Bazin Era has begun, with the UMass-Lowell alum taking the reigns this year after suiting up as a River Hawk from 1990-94 and serving as an assistant coach from 1996-2000.
“They look like they play a pretty basic college hockey look,” Parker said of possible new tactics from Bazin. “There’s nothing real special out there. What happens is, ‘We’re going to play this way but we’re going to play it harder than you guys.’ And that’s a pretty good philosophy to have. Keep it simple, but play hard.”