Columnists, Sports

Burn the Boats: Great expectations eventually met for BU men’s hockey

Senior captain and defenseman Brandon Hickey losing the puck to University of Michigan sophomore forward Jake Slaker in the NCAA Northeast Regional final. The Terriers finished the 2017-18 season with a 22-14-4 overall record. PHOTO BY MADDIE MALHOTRA/ DAILY FREE PRESS STAFF

And so it ends. Another year in the books. No more weekend trips to the New England countryside or train rides to Boston-based arenas. Although, I guess we were a little fortunate this year.

BU’s unexpected late run to the Hockey East championship and NCAA Tournament injected some much-needed enthusiasm into the program.

Let’s be honest, this team was dead after winter break. Things got even worse after the Terriers’ first game of the new year — a 3-0 loss to the University of Maine on Jan. 6 at Agganis Arena.

It wasn’t announced that night, but sophomore forward Patrick Harper, the team’s leading scorer (at the time) and only player to average more than a point per game all year was done for the year. Oh, and then there was junior forward and assistant captain Jordan Greenway’s looming Winter Olympics departure.

No one in their right mind could have seen the year playing out as it did.

At the start of the season, if you had told me that the team would make the Beanpot tournament final, win Hockey East and make the final eight in the NCAA Tournament, I might have believed you. But if you told me that on Jan. 6, I would have had you checked into a mental institute.

Then again, I was not one of the people who picked BU to walk through the National Tournament at the start of this year purely based on the recruiting class. Just because a recruit is projected or taken high in the NHL Entry Draft doesn’t mean he’s going to immediately dominate college hockey.

And people know that. Yet there BU was, ranked second in the nation to start the year, despite losing defensemen Charlie McAvoy and Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson, and forward Clayton Keller. That’s insane.

The 2018 BU men’s hockey team was written off the second people realized that the Terriers weren’t living up to the hype they had created for the team. I, for one, never had the outlandish expectations that most of the college hockey media had.

Maturity is something that comes with time. The team grew up quickly second semester and players began to feel more comfortable in their roles.

At the same time, BU head coach David Quinn actually had time to figure out what he had on the roster. Through all the undeserving flack Quinn gets, this year might have been his best year behind the bench.

While at some points, it felt as if Quinn was playing lineup roulette — most, if not all, of his lineup moves worked this year.

Sliding freshman defenseman David Farrance in at forward while the team battled through injuries was perfect. This allowed the highly-skilled Farrance to not only stay in the lineup, but develop some offensive traits at the same time.

Farrance went on to score two of the biggest goals all season when he was put back on defense. He also looked like an entirely different player once he was back on the blue line. He was full of confidence and was leading rushes up ice on the grandest stage last weekend.

Initially having graduate transfer forward Drew Melanson on the top line was a bit of a head-scratcher, but boy did that move pay dividends. The line of freshman forward Brady Tkachuk, Greenway and Melanson became one the most unexpectedly dominate trios in college hockey at the end of the season as all three complement each other to a T.

I think this year proves more than ever that you really don’t know what you have until the Beanpot comes around. The Terriers were trending in the right direction in early February, and despite losing Greenway for four games, the train was back on the tracks.

The Terriers never rolled through any team during their late run, besides their first matchup against Arizona State University, but they certainly made life hard on every opponent. They played (to use Quinn’s favorite term of the year) a “man’s game.” They were strong on pucks. They outworked opponents in the corners and in front of the net. They beat out icing calls. They played stingy defense. And above all, they played as a true, balanced team.

Scoring came from guys on the top three lines and the back end. The fourth line, while they never found the back of the net, was still critical to the team’s success. Rightfully so, Quinn had the confidence to line up forwards sophomore Gabe Chabot and seniors Chase Phelps and Nik Olsson against any team’s top line and not have to worry about getting scored on.

No matter how much of a struggle the first semester was for the program, BU hockey is headed in the right direction once again. The 2018 Hockey East championship banner will hang in Agganis forever. That will cement this late season and never say die run, and serve as inspiration for years to come.






3 Comments

  1. Nice article. However, the Terriers always a shot because they always fight and never stop believing in themselves until the puck is taken away. Every year, every team. If you feel differently, stay out of the arena. Believers only! Go Terriers!

  2. Good article. A crushing loss in the last game of the season where it seems that BU Hockey tends to make critical mistakes late in big games. However, I never gave up throughout the season, even when others looked on to next year. As coach Quinn said after the tough loss in Maine, “There’s a lot going on at BU Hockey.” And he was right. They worked hard and earned that Hockey East title. They did not play a balanced game in the last game of the season, but it is hard to be perfect on the ice every time. Especially when it’s back to back. I’ve seen them lose a lot of big games over the years but seeing them win again in the Hockey East Championship made up for it. Jordan Greenway will have a great future in hockey but it is always tough to see someone as dominant as him go. They lose great recruits after 1-2 years all the time, forcing Quinn to coach a brand new team every year and show freshmen phenoms how to be elite. If BU Hockey wants to make a true run at the Championship in Buffalo next year, the younger players will have to put in their hard work here and stay before signing a big contract and leaving.

  3. I tend to think Quinn is among the best coaches in college hockey. In his first five seasons as head coach, BU has won two Hockey East titles and has made the NCAAs four years in a row. Undeserving flack indeed.