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To see and hear Coach Jack Parker share thoughts on his freshmen, goalie and line, click above.
The Ottawa Senators were drilling at the Agganis rink, blades spraying shaved ice against the boards, whistles blowing. The NHL squad was practicing for the next night’s game against the Boston Bruins, while a few yards away BU Terriers Vinny Saponari (CAS’12), Corey Trivino (CAS’12), and Chris Connolly (CGS’10) — also known as the all-freshman line — were leaning against the wall across from the men’s locker room.
They have a big game on their minds, too.
On Thursday, these three, almost as one, will swing over the boards and onto the ice at the Verizon Center in Washington, D.C., against UVM’s Catamounts in the semifinal game of the NCAA hockey championship, BU’s first appearance in the Frozen Four in 12 years.
“You can’t take it for granted,” says Trivino. “You come into this program and then you’re in the Frozen Four. But the reality is this is once in a lifetime for some people. You really have to …”
Saponari steps in, scooping up Trivino’s sentence like, well, a puck.
“… take advantage of it, because we really don’t know if we’ll get another shot. As freshmen, you think, well, you’ve got three more years here, but we don’t know if we’ll get as good a shot again.”
The first-year forwards, comprising the third line, are but 3 of 10 freshmen on this year’s squad. That allows for a certain freedom, says Connolly.
“You’re finally off a line where the guys are usually upperclassmen, and you almost feel pressure to give them the puck,” he says. “When we’re put together, it’s like we can just play. It’s easier to communicate. If something goes wrong out there, we just talk to each other about what to do next. It’s not a problem.”
“We start a lot of momentum,” Saponari adds. “Sometimes our team gets in slumps in games, so we always bring a lot of energy. We’re always upbeat. It’s a lot fun playing with two other freshmen.”
The hockey line is unique in competitive sports, a single unit substituting in on the fly. When physical prowess and mental attitude synchronize, linesmen can perform as a fluid, intimidating, three-headed monster with six legs and three sticks. In the NHL, it’s not unusual for a particularly potent or devastating line to earn a nickname: the Legion of Doom, the French Connection, the GAG (Goal-a-Game) Line. The third line, BU’s freshmen this year, often is the checking line, defense-oriented, skating against the other team’s first or second line to wear them down and combat scoring.
Coach Jack Parker says Connolly and Saponari not only understand their roles, but have been consistent and diverse players from the day they first laced up at Agganis.
“Chris Connolly has played on the first two lines at times,” Parker says. “He’s played center. He’s played wing. And he’s been very, very reliable. Vinny Saponari has been a little bit slower starting, but once he got ahold of everything, he’s played extremely well, too. He plays power play, and he kills penalties.”
At 21, Connolly is the oldest of the three, and the smallest — 5’9” and 165 pounds. After graduating from Duluth Marshall High School in Minnesota, he spent several years in Fargo, N.D., and Omaha, Neb., playing junior hockey in the North American Hockey League.
Saponari, 19, hails from Powder Springs, Ga., not exactly the capital of rough-and-tumble cold-weather sports. But influenced by his father’s love of hockey, young Saponari moved to Ann Arbor, Michigan, billeting with another family while he played in USA Hockey’s National Team Development Program. Older brother Victor Saponari (SMG’11) plays forward for the Terriers as well.
But the guy who’s changed the line around, Parker says, is Trivino.
“He took a little bit longer to get acclimated to the speed of the game and how much focus there is before and during a game. But now he’s playing, without question, his best hockey. He’s been scoring goals, been setting up plays. We knew he’d be this type of player in his sophomore and junior year, but he’s playing like that now for us.”
Trivino, 19, was raised in Ontario, Canada, and played two seasons with the Stouffville Spirit of the Ontario Provincial Junior Hockey League, where he posted 91 points (24 goals, 67 assists) in 54 games in the 2007–2008 season. “My mom’s a big hockey fan,” he says. “I was basically born with skates on.”
Trivino and Vinny Saponari have already been drafted by NHL teams (the New York Islanders and Atlanta Thrashers), two of the four Terrier freshmen tapped in the 2008 draft. David Warsofsky (CGS’10) and goaltender Grant Rollheiser (CGS’10) are the other two.
Trivino, Saponari, and Connolly live on the same floor in Shelton Hall and spend much of their waking time together. Trivino and Saponari share several classes as well. “We come to the rink for three or four hours a day, go back to the dorms, mess around, play video games,” says Saponari. “We play golf together.”
“We’ve had good chemistry from the get-go,” says Connolly.
Senior forward Chris Higgins (MET’09) can relate. He was a member of an all-freshman line in the 2005–2006 season.
“My freshman year playing with my good friends Brandon Yip (MET’09) and Jason Lawrence (MET’09) was one of my favorite experiences playing for BU,” Higgins says. “Being able to play with two of your classmates who you’re real close with makes you more relaxed out there and allows you to really enjoy the game and play your best. Yipper, J-Lo, and I still relive the memories of playing together freshman year and how much fun we had.”
Do Trivino, Saponari, and Connolly miss the typical freshman experience on campus?
“People would probably say we don’t get to go out as much or do the stuff that normal kids get to do,” Saponari says. “But for us, the best thing is playing on Friday and Saturday night.”
“We wouldn’t want to be anywhere else,” Trivino jumps in.
“Exactly,” Saponari echoes.
“Two more games,” says Connolly.
“Two more games,” Saponari says. “This is our shot.”
Caleb Daniloff can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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