Columnists, Sports

COUGHLAN: Men’s team’s are destined for success. Right?

Feel better now?

The Boston University men’s ice hockey team has effectively shaken off its worst start since its National Championship hangover had them at 2-6 to open the season in 2009. They have catapulted back from a 3-4-1 start with a four-game undefeated streak, complete with shimmering W’s over Boston College—in blowout fashion—and Cornell University—by way of Ross Gaudet’s brilliant or accidental (depending on how you look at it) tip between his own legs for the overtime winner.

Kieran Millan has spun together three consecutive gems, allowing two goals over the three bouts compared to the 24 that he allowed in his opening seven starts. That’s over five times fewer goals in his last three games compared to his opening seven.

What was once an insipid man advantage that converted 11.1 percent of the time has exploded with half of the team’s 10 power play goals in four games, good for a 35.7 percent clip during that period.

Even more impressive than the improved potency of the power play have been the renewed stinginess of the penalty kill and a lack of sloppy penalties. Remove the Boston College game—which was bound to see plenty of zebra-striped arms flailing in any scenario—and the Terriers have averaged 8.66 penalty minutes per game during the win streak, a stark contrast to the conference-leading 21.9 minutes that they averaged in the sin bin over their first eight contests.

There will be no fourth place Beanpot finish this year. BU will play in its first NCAA tournament game since 2009. Kieran Millan is not Brett Bennett.

Right?

Similarly, the men’s basketball team has returned to its winning ways under first-year head coach Joe Jones, posting back-to-back-to-back wins after coming up empty in its first four.

Eerily similar to last year’s season-opening struggles, the Terriers (3-4) seemed to be building a habit of losing close games, dropping heart-breakers to Northeastern University in overtime, 82-74, and Cleveland State University, 63-62.

The Terriers rallied around their new coach, however, and posted their first two wins of the 2011-12 season in less than a 24-hour span against the University of Rhode Island and Hofstra University. After following that up with their first home win against Delaware University, 73-67, the post-John Holland and Pat Chambers Era suddenly seems all the brighter.

Jones’ ‘inside-out’ offense has suddenly become the go-to phrase in press conferences for Terrier players instead of Chambers’ patented ‘defense and rebounding’ mantra.

Also, don’t look now, but senior guard Darryl Partin is quietly averaging more points through seven games this year than super-star Holland did in any of his four years at BU. Netting a cool 23.4 points per game, not only does Partin edge Holland’s senior year total by 4.2, but he is scoring at a 45.2 percent clip, a full 6.6 percent better than Holland’s senior year field goal percentage of 38.6.

I guess it’s all in the mohawk.

Not to be outdone, senior forward Patrick Hazel has more than doubled his average scoring output from last season from 4.6 to 10.8 ppg. If the six-foot-six big man can continue to use his oven mitts for blocking, scoring and rebounding rather than fouling, he is bound to repeat the double-double performance that he turned in on Sunday many more times this season.

So, there will be no lack of scoring in Holland’s absence. This isn’t 2009, when the Terriers bowed out of the America East tournament in the first round. Darryl Partin is certainly not Matt Wolff.

Right?

If the Terriers can continue their recent run of success in men’s hockey and basketball, it will only be a matter of time until fans start to notice in a big way. Attendance will explode and BU athletics will be on everybody’s lips, from Kenmore Square to Packard’s corner, as the postseason approaches.

So, how long until Joe Jones sees his head blown up and waved around on poster boards at Case Gymnasium and Agganis Arena? How long until the men’s hockey team starts to sell out home games again? How long until BU fans get used to winning on a regular basis?

Well, three straight wins over Boston College in a 48-hour span certainly wouldn’t hurt. Entering a BU-BC weekend to end all weekends, fans of the legendary rivalry will be treated to three showdowns in which the average level of parity between the teams will be as close to fifty-fifty as it has ever been.

Not only will the hockey team be playing for some serious marbles in a home-and-home series with the No. 2 Eagles, Jones and company will be traveling to Chestnut Hill for the first BU-BC basketball game since 2004 on Saturday.

In the past, the Eagles’ station in the mighty Atlantic Coast Conference has been enough to essentially guarantee them a win against the Terriers of the lowly America East Conference.

However, BC (2-5) currently calls the basement of the ACC its home, having only posted squeakers against subpar teams. By ACC standards, BC sucks.

With a real possibility for three wins against its archrival, BU has an excellent opportunity to turn some heads this weekend.

On the other hand, the opposite result would mark a major setback in both teams’ seasons.

In times like this, it is important to recognize the possibility for failure as well as success.

Way back in the middle of September, after the Boston Red Sox temporarily stopped their September bleeding with a 4-3 win over the Tampa Bay Rays, immortal columnist Dan Shaughnessy ran a column in The Boston Globe that also began with the question, “feel better now?”

He followed the inquiry by spelling out exactly why the Red Sox would be able to avoid a nine game collapse and make it into the playoffs despite a difficult September. According to Shaughnessy, “Terry Francona [was] not Don Zimmer,” and “Kevin Youkilis [was] not Butch Hobson.”

But, we all know what happened next…

The moral of the story is, no matter how encouraging a short string of victories may seem, if there are still games to be played, nothing is impossible in the world of competitive athletics, whether it be a second consecutive fourth place Beanpot finish, an early exit in the America East Conference tournament, or the worst collapse in MLB history.

If that weren’t the case, sports would have died out a long time ago.

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