On Friday, the No. 3 Boston University men’s hockey team will look to rid itself of a problem it hasn’t had to deal with since early November: a losing streak.
Following a weekend sweep and season series loss to the then-No. 20 University of Maine, the Terriers (15-8-1, 12-6-1 Hockey East) will try to get back on the winning track when they play No. 4 Merrimack College at Lawler Arena in North Andover Friday night. Puck drop is set for 7 p.m.
The matchup comes at a time when Merrimack (14-5-5, 10-4-3) has run up a 3-1-1 record its last five games, re-finding the early season momentum that made them the number one team in the country at the end of November.
“They’ve adjusted to taking a dip and now they’re back playing real well,” said BU coach Jack Parker. “I’d be pretty sure we’re going to get their best game tomorrow night. Just because it’s a huge game for them too.”
Merrimack doesn’t have the most threatening offense in the league – its 3.04 goals per game average is 7th in Hockey East and a full half goal behind BU’s 3.54 mark – but the Warriors’ play on the other end of the ice is a clear strength. Led by senior goaltender Joe Cannata, Merrimack’s defense allows a league-best average of just two goals per game.
Parker always speaks very highly of Cannata, the owner of the second best save percentage (.931) in the conference, but the last time BU played Merrimack – a 4-2 BU win at Agganis Arena on Jan. 6 – the Terriers managed to get the puck by the Warrior anchor twice as many times as he is used to.
“We were winning the puck battles, playing simple hockey, making sure that we’re playing defense-first hockey,” said junior assistant captain Justin Courtnall, one of four Terriers to score on Cannata on Jan. 6. “Cannata’s a good goalie and we were able to get [pucks by him].”
BU will be without an entire third of its defensive core, with freshman Alexx Privitera and junior Max Nicastro being out due to wrist and shoulder injuries, respectively.
Nicastro is week-to-week, according to Parker, not the original timetable of day-to-day.
While that means his presence will be missed for the foreseeable future, Courtnall sees the missing blueliners in a wider context.
“Hockey’s a game that has injuries all the time,” Courtnal said. “We’ve been used to stuff like that since we’ve been young. I think that they’re going to be missed. They’re a really strong point in our [defense].
“But those are things you have to persevere through and it shows character if we can win games without them in the lineup.”
For the healthy Terriers, this game is an important one – not only will it be influential in terms of the tight Hockey East standings, but it is also the final tune up for February’s main event, the Beanpot tournament at TD Garden starting Monday.
While some fans may have their minds set on the “quote, unquote ‘big game,’” as Parker put it, the Terriers themselves are trying to stay focused on the task at hand thanks to a little help from another popular team from New England.
“It’s always a possibility,” Parker said of his team potentially looking past the Warriors. “Historically we have not looked by teams on the Friday’s between Beanpots or before Beanpots; we’ve been pretty good at that.
“I’m sure they’re thinking about it because some people have talked about it already, but thank God the Pats are playing, you know? There isn’t a lot of Beanpot talk yet. That won’t come till Monday.”
-Redshirt freshman forward Yasin Cissé, who dressed for but did not play in the Jan. 28 game against Maine, will be a healthy scratch on Friday. This is for performance reasons, according to Parker, not disciplinary ones as was rumored earlier this week.
Parker did say Cissé showered and left Agganis after the second period of the team’s eventual 3-1 loss to Maine, apparently unhappy about his complete lack of playing time. Parker said he only knew Cissé went “home” without knowing exactly where, adding that the Westmount, Quebec native apologized to the team for the incident earlier this week.
“That’s between him and me,” Parker said of the pair’s post-game conversation. “I was happy with what was the problem. And he apologized to the team. It didn’t matter anyway. He was just there in case I moved Benny back to defense; he knew he wasn’t going to play. I told him that before the team, ‘You’re going to dress, but I don’t think I’m going to play you unless I need a forward or in case anyone goes down.’”
-With Privitera and Nicastro out, Parker had yet to decide, as of Thursday afternoon, whether to rotate just five defensemen or add in a sixth one, Matt Ronan. The 5-foot-11, 185 pound sophomore has played just one game in his collegiate career, the Ice Breaker championship against the University of Notre Dame on Oct. 10, 2010.
Should the team dress five blueliners, Parker said, moving junior forward Ben Rosen to defense for shift here or there is an option.