Ice Hockey, Sports

New coach, young core, fresh start: Men’s hockey season preview

For so long, it had been the familiar figure of Jack Parker, complete with a tweed jacket, patrolling the Boston University men’s hockey bench. The 2013-14 season marks the beginning of a new era, though, as David Quinn will begin his reign as head coach of the Terriers.

Quinn, who was hired in March to take over after Parker retired at the end of the 2012-13 season, helped lead the Terriers to a national championship in 2009 as associate head coach before moving to multiple coaching positions within the Colorado Avalanche organization. He made the transition from the professional game back to the college game over the summer, and he has been pleased with the team’s progress in his limited work so far.

“They have been great, I couldn’t be happier,” Quinn said. “Their effort has been outstanding on the ice. I know they have done a good job in the classroom, and socially, things have been going well. It has been a great group of guys to be around, and I know they’re excited to start actually playing games against someone other than themselves.”

The Terriers enter the season even more shorthanded than they anticipated at the end of last season, as two key upperclassmen left the program over the summer. Forward Sahir Gill left the team to pursue a professional career, while defenseman Alexx Privitera departed for the Dubuque Fighting Saints of the United States Hockey League after he was suspended for the final 13 games of the 2012-13 season, due to a series of on-ice misconducts.

The absence of Privitera and Gill leaves BU shorthanded in terms of depth at both the forward and the defense positions. Gill would have had the most career points on the team if he had returned, and he was projected to be among the team’s top-six forwards. Privitera had a conference-high 72 blocked shots before he was suspended, and was expected to be among the top-four defensemen on the team.

The absence of veteran depth places all the more emphasis on the newcomers this season, as BU has nine freshmen looking to make an impact. Of the nine freshmen, six are forwards, which means much of BU’s depth will be made up of first-year players. With Gill gone, one of the freshman forwards is likely to spend significant time among the team’s top two lines.

“I don’t know which one it will be, but one of them is going to earn an opportunity,” Quinn said. “It’s a great year to be a freshman.”

Robbie Baillargeon spent Saturday’s preseason game as the first-line left wing and on the top power-play unit, while fellow freshman forward Nick Roberto scored a goal and spent time on the top power-play unit as well. Both of those newcomers could earn that top-six spot, while Tommy Kelley, Brendan Collier and Kevin Duane are also possibilities.

Whichever freshman gets that top-six spot will supplement a group that includes juniors Cason Hohmann and Evan Rodrigues and sophomores Danny O’Regan, Matt Lane and Sam Kurker. O’Regan was named to the Hockey East All-Rookie Team last season after leading the Terriers with 38 points. He will likely team up with Rodrigues again on the top line, while Hohmann centers the second unit.

Lane and Kurker are newcomers to the top two lines and combined for 12 points as third liners last season. Four of those 12 points came in the final six games of the season, and both Lane and Kurker showed significant improvement as the season went on.

“At the end of the day, if you’re going to have success, your returning players have to become better players,” Quinn said. “To me, the guys like Kurker and Lane and guys like that, those guys have to make the next jump. The good news is that they were better freshmen at the end of the year than they were at the beginning of the year.”

Just like the forwards, the defense will be led by its upperclassmen, especially senior captain Garrett Noonan. It had been speculated that Noonan would forgo his senior year in favor of a pro contract with the Nashville Predators organization, but the Norfolk native returned to BU for the 2013-14 season and brought his 61 career points with him.

Fellow senior captain Patrick MacGregor will also return to the blue line with sophomores Matt Grzelcyk and Ahti Oksanen. Grzelcyk and Oksanen were among the top 10 offensive performers on the team a year ago, combining for 40 points. Grzelcyk’s plus-12 rating was tied for second best on the team behind Rodrigues’s plus-15.

“These guys are incredibly coachable,” Quinn said. “It makes you feel good as a coach that they’re actually listening or trying to listen.”

Rounding out the defensive corps will likely be freshmen Doyle Somerby and Dalton MacAfee. Somerby, who played at Kimball Union Academy with Roberto, is 6-foot-5 and can provide a physical presence to complement the offensive abilities of Grzelcyk, Oksanen and Noonan.

There will not be much change in the goaltending situation for the Terriers since last season, as sophomores Sean Maguire and Matt O’Connor will return between the pipes for the second straight season. Maguire, who had a 2.54 goals-against average and .926 save percentage in 21 games played last season, was the starter at the end of the season while O’Connor was out with a punctured lung. O’Connor posted strong numbers before his injury, though, and had a 2.86 goals-against average and a .910 save percentage through 19 games played.

“Every year is different, obviously,” Quinn said. “But Maguire, to his credit, had taken the job. They’re both going to play and I’m going to judge them based on what I see this year and what I see in practice every day.”

BU will have a young squad this season, but it has a strong group of returning defensemen that will lead them to some success. Even with its strong defensive unit and talented young group of forwards, though, it will be a tough year for the Terriers in Hockey East. BU is ranked No. 19 in the country entering the year, which is behind five other Hockey East teams, including newcomer No. 8 University of Notre Dame. The addition of Notre Dame, plus a tough non-conference schedule that features No. 3 University of Wisconsin, No. 7 University of North Dakota, No. 11 University of Michigan and No. 15 Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, will make earning a spot in the NCAA tournament a serious challenge this season.

There are many unknowns and the Terriers’ opposition looks tough, but for now Quinn will just look to get his BU head coaching career off on the right foot.

“You think you know what a job entails when you see it as an assistant coach from afar,” Quinn said. “Then you have those responsibilities and you’re like, ‘I have to do that?’ There is a lot to it, but I love it.”

Comments are closed.