The fifth-ranked BU men’s hockey Terriers are two games away from their eighth Hockey East title. In tonight’s first hurdle, they face the University of Maine Black Bears in a conference semifinal battle.
The Terriers (23-13-1, 17-9-1 Hockey East) and the Black Bears (22-12-3, 15-10-2 HE) are fairly evenly matched entering the contest. BU is the tournament’s 3rd seed and the 5th-ranked team in the nation, while Maine is seeded 4th and ranked 11th. Both teams are known for their physicality: Maine is the second-most penalized team in the country, BU the third.
Also well-matched on the ice this year, BU took the season’s first game 5-1 on Maine turf December 8. But the Black Bears managed a sweet revenge on consecutive nights at Agganis Arena in late January.
Terriers captain Chris Connolly (MET’12) says that as the season progresses, Maine has been playing better and better.
“They came down later in the season with a different team than we saw early in the year, and they were very well prepared,” Connolly says. “We don’t expect anything different this time, and we need to be as mentally and physically prepared as possible.”
For the Terriers, tonight’s game comes just five days after an exhausting conference quarterfinal series with the University of New Hampshire that saw the team play more than 11 periods of hockey in three days. UNH wrested the first game from the Terriers in double overtime, but BU swept the final two games of the best of three series, including a double overtime win of its own on Sunday.
Thanks in large part to an extraordinary 68-save performance by goalie Kieran Millan (MET’12), BU rebounded from a 4-1 deficit in that squeaker. Assistant captain Alex Chiasson (CAS’13) scored the game winner after nearly an hour-and-a-half of on-ice play, a goal he cites as the biggest of his career. He says the Terriers come-from-behind victory is indicative of the team’s resiliency.
“We dodged a bullet last weekend, and I think the team knows that. But winning in double overtime like that, that’s what this team is all about,” says Chiasson, who leads the Terriers with 43 points. “We’ve been through a lot and battled through adversity, and it’s great.”
Much of the adversity Chiasson alludes to stems from the loss of three of the team’s best players over the past three months—Corey Trivino, Max Nicastro, and Charlie Coyle (CGS’12). Trivino and Nicastro were removed from the team following separate sexual assault allegations, prompting President Robert A. Brown to convene a task force to “examine the culture” of BU hockey.
In December, Coyle, a first round pick of the San Jose Sharks in the NHL’s 2010 Entry Draft, voluntarily left the team to pursue a professional career.
Chiasson acknowledges that it’s been difficult playing through all the turmoil, but believes it’s brought the remaining Terriers closer.
“It’s tough for the players who were close to those guys, but the thing that keeps this team going is chemistry. Everyone believes in themselves, and we rely on the guy next to us,” Chiasson says. “We’ve been through tough times, but it’s made us better humans and we’re battling through.”
“We don’t have very many bodies left in that room, but we have a lot of character and some good attitudes, and players who love working hard,” Connolly says. “That can go a really, really long way.”
Despite that, Connolly admits the Terriers need to tighten up certain aspects of their game if the team is to be successful deep into the postseason.
“This time of year, power plays and penalty kills can win or lose you hockey games, so we have to try and cut down on stupid stick penalties,” he says. “We’re at our best when we play a complete 60 minutes, don’t turn pucks over, and play hard defensively in front of Kieran.”
As one of the few remaining players from the last Terriers squad to win the Hockey East tournament, in 2009, Connolly says bookending his career with conference championships would be especially sweet.
“We’ve been trying to win this for the past two years, but we’ve put ourselves in a good position,” he says. “Making it back to that Saturday game and going out on top my senior year—that’d be great.”
Chiasson says a Hockey East title would mean a lot to a Terriers squad that’s faced serious ups and down this season.
“With everything we’ve been going through this year, winning something like the Hockey East championship would make our team proud, and make this program look good.”
The number 5 BU men’s hockey team will face the number 11 Maine Black Bears tonight, Friday, March 16, at 8 p.m. at the TD Garden in Boston. Should the Terriers advance to the Hockey East finals, they’ll face either the Boston College Eagles or the Providence Friars on Saturday, March 17, also at 8 p.m. at the TD Garden. Tickets range from $17 to $39 for the general public, and are $10 for students from any of the competing schools with a valid student ID. Tickets can be purchased on the contenders’ campuses, at the TD Garden box office, or online here.
Ben Carsley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.