Last March, the Boston University men’s hockey team missed out on a trip to the TD Garden for the first time in nine seasons when it dropped its quarterfinal matchup with Northeastern University in three games. That result is something No. 6 BU will look to avoid this season as it confronts the University of New Hampshire on home ice over the weekend.
BU (21-12-1, 17-9-1 Hockey East) enters the matchup with UNH (14-17-3, 11-14-2 Hockey East) after losing its last game of the season to Northeastern, the same team that ended the Terriers’ season last year. The loss came after winning their previous three games, but BU coach Jack parker said it still hurts the Terriers’ momentum entering the weekend.
“I think we would have liked to have gone into the playoffs winning the last two games instead of splitting,” Parker said. “Hopefully they realize that is that, and now we are playing UNH and we’ll see what happens.”
The season series with UNH went the Terriers’ way this year, as BU swept UNH 3-0 in its three matchups with the Wildcats. BU opened up the season with a 5-0 win over UNH, before topping them 4-1 and 2-1 in its next two games.
The BU squad that beat UNH three times this season, however, is very different than the BU team that is entering the playoffs. BU is without then-leading goal scorer Corey Trivino, as well as former players Charlie Coyle and Max Nicastro, all who have left the team since the last time the Terriers and the Wildcats played.
“I think you can throw those three games out the window; that [was] so early they hadn’t solidified their goaltending situation yet,” Parker said. “Even then I thought the last two games we played against them were really great games to watch.”
UNH has also improved its squad, as it improved its goaltending situation with freshman Casey DeSmith taking over as the starting netminder. Since DeSmith earned his chance at consistently starting on Dec. 8 against BU, he has a 2.16 goals-against average and a .928 save percentage, which ranks him among the top goaltenders in Hockey East.
DeSmith is among the top goaltenders along with BU senior goaltender Kieran Millan. Millan has had another good year for the Terriers, as he recorded a 2.39 goals-against average and a .927 save percentage during the regular season. After sitting on the bench in place of fellow senior goaltender Grant Rollheiser in last game’s loss, Millan should be well rested for the postseason.
“I think at this time of the year it’s good to have some time off,” Parker said. “Now it’s play it out. Let’s go. I think he is well rested.”
With the absence of Trivino, Coyle and Nicastro, BU’s depth has gotten pretty thin. With redshirt freshman forward Yasin Cissé injured for the weekend as well, BU’s depth took an even bigger hit.
Cissé injured his shoulder over the weekend at Northeastern, and senior forward Kevin Gilroy will start in his place in the lineup.
BU earned home-ice advantage through the first round of the tournament by getting the third seed in Hockey East during the regular season. However, with spring break approaching for BU’s students and the projected attendance smaller than an average regular season game with fewer students on campus, the home-ice advantage is certainly less potent.
“I think home-ice advantage is usually a big factor in the playoffs, but not this weekend,” Parker said. “I think that the home-ice advantage crowd-wise kind of disappears on this weekend because of spring break for a lot of schools.”
If BU can win the series and move on to the Hockey East semifinals, it will help bring a better light to a season in which it seems like very little has gone right for the Terriers off the ice. For the players remaining on the team though, it is an attempt to bring some light to what has been a dark year for BU hockey.
“It’s almost like it’s us against [the world]. There is not much left, but it’s a few good men. And this is certainly a few good men attitude right here,” Parker said. “I like that attitude. A lot of people might have written us off. A lot of people might have thought we didn’t have enough. But they didn’t measure the heart of [senior captain] Chris Connolly or the heart of [junior assistant captain Alex] Chiasson or the heart of Kieran Millan. We’ve got enough to beat anybody as long as we are playing well.”