Ice Hockey, NCAA, Sports

Terriers find levels of success despite off-ice distractions

Following a 5-1 win over the University of Maine to end the first half of the hockey season, the Boston University men’s hockey team looked poised for a promising second half. The team owned a 10-5-1 record and had won seven of its last eight games heading into the break.

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As coach Jack Parker reviewed game film from the win over the Black Bears during the bus ride back to Boston, he felt confident about the team’s future looking ahead to the second half of the season.

“I can remember it like it was yesterday,” Parker said. “I was going over the game film on the way home and I was thinking to myself, ‘We could win the national championship with this team. This is a very, very good college hockey team.’ And that changed in a New York minute.”

Just 24 hours after the bus ride back from Maine, then-senior forward Corey Trivino was arrested in connection to an apparently alcohol-fueled on-campus incident in which he allegedly assaulted another BU student. Trivino, who had a history of alcohol issues, was immediately kicked off the team, as he had been warned by Parker at the beginning of the year that any more alcohol-related incidents would result in Trivino’s dismissal from the program.

Five days after Trivino’s arrest and dismissal, then-sophomore forward Charlie Coyle announced he would be leaving the team to play in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League for the Saint John Sea Dogs. Coyle said at the time he chose to leave BU to focus solely on hockey instead of shouldering the demands of a student-athlete. His decision, however, meant the Terriers had now lost two teammates and the team’s top two centers in less than a week.

“It was horrible,” Parker said of Coyle’s mid-year departure. “I think [the team] felt that he deserted us, that ‘How can you do that to your teammates?’ And it was horrible given the fact that it was days after Corey was already gone.”

The loss of Trivino and Coyle marked one of two key turning points in BU’s season. Prior to the departures, BU had been a semi-typical Terrier team. After struggling to find consistency in the early weeks of the season, the Terriers had found a groove and started to settle in as one of the more dominant teams in Hockey East.

They had battled through injuries to senior captain Chris Connolly and sophomore forward Matt Nieto, solved some early-year defensive deficiencies and were receiving more consistent goaltending from senior Kieran Millan.

After Trivino and Coyle’s departures, however, the team had to find a way to replace two of its most dynamic players on offense as well as handle the mental challenges of losing one teammate who was facing serious legal consequences and another teammate who walked away from the team by choice.

The initial results were not good, as the Terriers were embarrassed by the University of Notre Dame, 5-2, in a nationally televised New Year’s Eve game. But, after that game, BU revived its season by winning five consecutive games on its way to a 7-2 record through the first nine games of 2012.

Toward the end of that streak, the Terriers began to struggle with a lack of defensive depth when then-junior defenseman Max Nicastro and freshman defenseman Alexx Privitera both missed time with injuries.

Nicastro returned in time for the Beanpot championship game, which BU lost in heartbreaking fashion to Boston College, 3-2, with 6.4 seconds left in overtime. Following the Beanpot, BU split a weekend series against the University of Massachusetts-Lowell before receiving the final – and what turned out to be fatal – turning point of the 2011-12 season.

On the morning of Feb. 19, Nicastro was arrested and later charged with two counts of rape in connection with an on-campus incident that took place in a BU dormitory. Nicastro, who was no longer enrolled at BU in the wake of the charges against him, was kicked off the hockey team.

The remnants of the team were immediately thrust into a spotlight following Nicastro’s arrest. News stations from around the country covered the story, news trucks lined the curbs around Agganis Arena, and BU president Robert Brown launched a task force to investigate the culture of the hockey team in response to the second arrest.

If the state of the team in terms of depth and psychological issues had been bad following Trivino’s arrest, it was that much worse once Nicastro was arrested.

“We never really recovered after losing Nicastro,” Parker said. “That was kind of the last straw. It was too much to handle. I don’t mean he was way better than the other guys, but it adds up with too many bodies missing.”

The team made the best of the situation. BU finished the season tied for second place in Hockey East with UML and advanced to the semifinals of the Hockey East tournament. BU also secured an at-large bid for the national tournament, but fell in the first round to the University of Minnesota, 7-3.

BU improved statistically from the last two seasons. The team’s 23 wins were the most by a Terrier team since the 2008-09 national championship season, and its national tournament appearance was BU’s first since 2009. The Terriers had one of the best offenses in the league and country, and BU featured three players – junior assistant captain Alex Chiasson, Nieto and Connolly – who finished the year with at least 40 points.

Connolly reached the 100-career points plateau, while Chiasson finished his BU career with 99. Sophomore defenseman Garrett Noonan finished the year tied for first in the nation in goals by a defenseman with 16. Sophomore defenseman Adam Clendening finished sixth in the nation in points per game by a defenseman thanks to his four goals and 29 assists.

But, in terms of hardware, BU has nothing to show for the 2011-12 season. The Terriers won just two of the five postseason games they played in and watched as bystanders while Boston College won its fifth national championship, its third title in the last five years.

Parker denied any bitter feelings over watching the rival Eagles win another national championship. Instead, he said he is most disappointed in who the 2011-12 Terriers could have been versus who they ended up becoming.

“It’s hard to really assess this team,” Parker said. “Are we satisfied with this? In some ways you have to be. But in the end, you can’t be.

“This team was very disappointing because of what it looked like we were going to be and how it wound up because of defections,” Parker said. “To lose those three guys really hurt. But to hang our hat on, you’ve got to love this team for how they played. I love this team for how they played considering the fact that they lost that many guys. But what we could have been if we didn’t lose those guys is kind of tantalizing.”

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