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Terriers take Hockey East title in overtime

Men’s hockey will face Nebraska-Omaha in NCAA tournament March 24

Goaltender John Curry (CAS’07) “has been solid as a rock the last two seasons,” says defenseman Dan Spang (CAS’06).

The men’s hockey Terriers are back in the limelight, and the glow feels good, especially for longtime fans. The team, which last won the national championship 11 years ago, now has a chance to regain past glory. BU will face Nebraska-Omaha in an NCAA tournament Northeast Regional showdown March 24 at 4 p.m. in Worcester’s DCU Center, with the winner playing either Boston College or Miami, Ohio the following night on the same rink at 6 p.m. Both games will be televised on ESPN.

BU won the Hockey East championship Saturday night with a 2-1 overtime victory over BC. Brandon Yip (CAS ’09), the conference rookie of the year, scored the winning goal. The previous day, Hockey East MVP David Van der Gulik (CAS ’06) scored a hat trick in the Terriers’ 9-2 win over New Hampshire in the tourney’s semi-finals. To view video highlights, ciick here.

In a rise-from-the-ashes season that has defied all odds, third-ranked BU is two victories away from the national Frozen Four championship tournament in Milwaukee April 6 and 8. The Terriers have been shut out of the Frozen Four during this millennium — leaving boosters nostalgic for the rockin’ ’90s, when they skated into this elite bracket seven times. That incredible run included three trips to the national championship game, with the Scarlet and White taking the title in 1995.

Since 1997, however, the Terriers have been eliminated in the NCAA regionals five times, and fans have suffered through three particularly miserable Marches (1999, 2001, and 2004), when BU didn’t even receive a bid to the tournament. In fact, without a national ranking or much respect in a preseason coaches’ poll picking them to finish fifth in the conference, the Terriers weren’t expected to do well this season. By midseason they were living up to the predictions.

Then came the comeback. The college hockey world took note of BU’s reemergence long before the team took the Hockey East regular-season title on March 4: an 11-game winning streak in January and February that lifted the Terriers from a sub-.500 record fueled a surge in publicity.

No one is happier about the Terriers’ resurrection that Dan Spang,  (CAS’06), who scored two goals in BU’s dismantling of New Hampshire on Friday. The senior defenseman is accustomed to his team ratcheting its play in the second half of the schedule, but in the last three seasons he’s seen resurgences come grinding to a halt early in the playoffs. A year ago, North Dakota blasted BU, 4-0, in the first round of the NCAA tournament in Worcester. In 2004, BU didn’t even receive an invite to the dance after losing to Maine, 1-0, in the Hockey East championship game. In 2003, the Terriers were blanked by New Hampshire, 3-0, in the regionals in Worcester. The DCU Center has been a house of horrors for the team.

“Each year I’ve been here we’ve peaked at the end of the season,” says Spang.

Ultimately, however, the Terriers’ postseason performances couldn’t get them out of New England.

Will this year be different? Spang says that he and his teammates have concentrated on avoiding late-season letdowns, especially right after winning meaningful games. When BU beat Harvard in the opening round of the Beanpot tournament, the Terriers worried about losing the “trap game” four days later against UMass-Amherst. “UMass was a concern because in the past we’ve come out flat after big wins,” he says. “We didn’t want to come back and lay an egg. We were focused on bringing our A game.”

BU did not lay an egg. The Terriers beat the Minutemen, 3-0, then defeated Boston College, 3-2, to win the Beanpot. But beware of the post-Beanpot doldrums. The Terriers, about to face New Hampshire, suffered through four flat practices that week, according to coach Jack Parker (SMG’68, Hon.’97). Sure enough, the Wildcats ended BU’s winning streak at 11 games.

Since then, backed by the stellar play of goaltender John Curry (CAS’07), BU hasn’t seen a loss, and has avenged the loss by eliminating the Wildcats from the Hockey East tournament. “John Curry has been solid as a rock the last two seasons,” says Spang. “He is unbelievable. He makes the saves we need him to make, and he bails us out a lot.”

Growing up in Winchester, Mass., Spang was 11 when he watched BU skate around the Providence Civic Center with the 1995 national championship trophy. The game made a huge impression: he’s dreamed of being a Terrier since he was in middle school. He also watched his idols’ heartbreaking 6-4 loss to North Dakota in the title game two years later — made all the more painful by BU’s blowing a 2-0 lead. It was the team’s last appearance in the Frozen Four.

Spang still has BU hockey dreams — specifically, of flying to Milwaukee in April to help the University recapture the magic of the 1990s. It’s been an intense season, and he doesn’t want it to end in Worcester. “A lot of it is having pride in the history of the program,” he says. “You just want to match the performances of all those great teams in the past and keep the tradition alive.”