For the past few seasons, fans of the Boston University men’s ice hockey team have time and time again suffered the same result. They have seen their Terriers teeter on the edge of a championship, coming oh-so-close to crossing the elusive benchmark of holding up the sacred NCAA Championship trophy that BU has not won since 2009.
Now with head coach David Quinn’s fifth season at the helm, BU is stocked with a considerable amount of NHL-caliber talent and ready to make a run past the obstacles that have precluded them from taking home the title.
“We come to the rink ready to work hard,” Quinn said. “We have passion. [Our players] have fun doing it.”
The Terriers have knocked on the door multiple times over the past few years, getting as close as the NCAA Championship game.
This journey came in Quinn’s second season during a 2014-15 campaign in which BU swept the triple crown of Northeast Division I hockey, swiping the Beanpot title while garnering Hockey East regular season and tournament championships.
BU continued this run in the NCAA Tournament as Quinn became the fourth head coach in NCAA men’s hockey history to emerge victorious from his first three NCAA Tournament games.
The team rolled their way past the Northeast Regional and stymied the University of North Dakota in 2015 before suffering a heartbreaking loss at the conclusion of the title game against Providence College.
Quinn received Hockey East Coach of the Year honors that season, and now just two years later, the head coach is not seeking any more individual awards to add to his collection. Rather, the focus for the Terriers is on taking care of business in Saint Paul, Minnesota — the site of the 2018 Division I Men’s Hockey Championship — and returning home to Boston in early April with another trophy to add to the cases on Harry Agganis Way.
This quest starts on Sept. 30 as BU hosts Union College at Agganis Arena.
“There’s more pressure in this preseason to get [our] systems down a little bit quicker,” Quinn said. “At the end of the day, there’s two nets, two blue lines and a center red line. We’re working on playing at a pace, being physical, paying attention to detail and doing all the little things that are going to allow us to have the success that we think we are capable of having.”
And the team has just the talent to do that.
The Terriers strut into 2017-18 touting seven of the top 25 NHL prospects in college hockey according to SB Nation and features a bevy of players who placed their impending NHL careers on hold for another shot at capturing a championship with Quinn.
“I really like the core of guys that we have coming back,” Quinn said. “[The guys] that surround the freshmen coming in. I feel really good about our senior class. I thought we had a really good junior class. The guys that are here coming back as sophomores, you can just see their development and how much more mature they are.”
Returning to the program at the forward spot is a powerful, NHL-bound duo made up of junior forward and assistant captain Jordan Greenway and sophomore forward Patrick Harper.
Greenway, the No. 50 pick in the 2015 NHL Draft by the Minnesota Wild, is entering his third season with BU having notched 10 goals and 21 assists just a season ago. He piloted the group with four game-winning tallies while netting a +11 plus-minus rating over the course of the year, which was good for third on the team.
Harper, who was selected by the Nashville Predators in the the No. 138 pick of the 2016 NHL Draft, packs a considerable punch despite his 5’9”, 160-pound frame. During his inaugural season with the Terriers, he garnered Hockey East All-Rookie Team honors and tied for the team lead with 24 assists, and tallied 13 goals as well.
Harper was key in the Terriers run to the Elite 8 of the NCAA Tournament last season. He assisted on the game-winning overtime goal in a 4-3 win over the University of North Dakota in the Round of 16 before putting in a goal to send the Round of 8 matchup against University of Minnesota Duluth to overtime. BU ended up losing the contest, 3-2, but the experience will serve Harper will as he enters 2017-18, now a seasoned veteran.
Joining these two at the head of BU’s offensive rush will likely be freshman forward Shane Bowers, who can already boast the moniker of having been a first-round NHL Draft pick before even touching collegiate ice.
Barely 18 years old, the Ottawa Senators draftee dedicated his past two hockey seasons to dominating in the U.S. Hockey League with the Waterloo Black Hawks.
In 116 regular season games, Bowers racked up 37 goals and 47 assists, catching the eye of Quinn and a spot on the Terriers front lines.
“Our freshman class has a little bit of everything in it,” Quinn said. “It [has] some size, some skill, some speed. The thing that really jumps out is the maturity [and] how much they love hockey. They come here with a smile on their face every day and they put in a great effort. We are off to a great start from that perspective.”
In net, Quinn is set. Sophomore goaltender Jake Oettinger showcased his immense talent during his first season with the team in 2016-17, and his play earned him a first-round selection by the Dallas Stars in the 2017 NHL Entry Draft.
Named a Hockey East Second Team All-Star, Oettinger sported the 10th best save percentage in college hockey (.927) while his astoundingly low 2.11 goals against average was good for 12th in Division I.
Defensively, the Terriers are threatening as well.
Expect the defensive pairing of senior captain Brandon Hickey and sophomore Dante Fabbro to be a suffocating one as the season begins.
Hickey netted four goals and 11 assists last season. Fabbro, who could accompany Harper in the Nashville organization following his time with the Terriers, recorded six goals and 12 assists in a successful freshman campaign.
“[The practices] have been good, and you can see that we [have] a lot of speed and skill this year,” Fabbro said. “It’s definitely going to be fun. We are trying to go over the basics right now and build that foundation for the year. [We are going to] take it game by game. [Quinn] does not want us to get too far ahead of ourselves. It’s been a great atmosphere so far at the rink.”