After disappointing hockey season, Terriers back in the nation's top ten
By Brian Fitzgerald
BU certainly wasn't expected to take Hockey East by storm this year. Finishing with a 14-20-3 overall record last season, the Terriers posted a losing record for the first time in a decade. The fifth-place team -- one of the youngest coached by Jack Parker -- was eliminated in the first round of the conference playoffs.
There would be no NCAA tournament appearance for a team that had experienced a decade of excellence: one national championship, two losses in national title games, and two other trips to the Final Four. Fans dazzled by three straight 30-win seasons (1994-96) had to settle for fewer than half as many victories last year.
So it came as no surprise that BU was expected to place fifth in the 1999-2000 preseason poll of the nine Hockey East coaches. "Even though we are still young, I think we have more talent, more enthusiasm, and more grit than we had last year," said Parker this past fall.
That statement is being proven true, and it's the youngsters who are stepping forward. Sophomore forward Dan Cavanaugh (SMG'02), the team's second-leading scorer among freshmen last year, is at present third on the Hockey East scoring list. Cavanaugh says that he saw potential in this year's team, but didn't expect to see dreams become a reality halfway through the schedule. At press time BU is in second place in Hockey East and ranked ninth in the nation.
"We're pleasantly surprised," says Cavanaugh. "We didn't expect to be ranked this high this early. At the beginning of the season we decided to work extremely hard. We didn't want the same type of season as last year."
Indeed, BU showed signs of life by winning its first two games, against the Air Force Academy and the University of Alaska-Anchorage. However, the Terriers went on a three-game skid to sink below .500.
But then came the Scarlet storm: an 11-game unbeaten streak that vaulted BU to first place in Hockey East and a number 10 national ranking. The Terriers finally lost to Maine, 4-2, for their first conference defeat, and at press time they are in second place (6-1-2). One wonders how high BU would have climbed in the USA Today hockey poll if it had defeated the defending national champion.
"Maine was a tough loss," says Captain Tommi Degerman (CAS'00). "We didn't show up that night, and it put a dent in our record." However, BU tends to follow embarrassing losses with stellar play. After their 7-4 pummeling at the paws of the Vermont Catamounts October 23, BU terrorized the opposition for two months. "It all came down to the fact that we weren't playing as tough as we should have," he says. "When we work hard, the wins come."
In the second half of the season BU will try to tame conference rivals Boston College, Maine, and New Hampshire in three crucial weekend series this month -- the teams are ranked first, third, and twelfth, respectively, in the country. After these six games, the BU faithful will know whether or not the objects of their affection are for real.
Degerman says that the holiday break has been a welcome period of rest and rehabilitation for the Terriers. Defenseman John Cronin (SMG'03) (broken thumb) and Colin Sheen (SMG'01) (broken wrist) have been sorely missed. "We're kind of thin on the defensive side because of the injuries," he says. "Cronin is expected to be back, and we're looking forward to the new kid coming in -- Fred Meyer." The midseason addition to the roster, a freshman defenseman, played with Rick DiPietro (CAS'03) and John Sabo (MET'03) in the U.S. National Program last year.
The Terriers have a lot on their agenda: winning their sixth straight Beanpot Tournament, which will take place on February 7 and 14, and then staying in one of the top slots in Hockey East in order to enjoy home ice in the first round of the playoffs in March. But Degerman (CAS'00) insists that their key to future success is doing what worked for them during their unbeaten streak: don't look too far ahead -- and just take it one game at a time.
"We're looking to get better every game and not worry about what's going to happen a month from now," he says.