December 11, 2009

BU is losing ground fast

The cliché to use for a game between Boston University and Boston College is “throw out the records.”

After Saturday’s meeting, BU coach Jack Parker (Somerville, Mass.) and the Terriers may want to do just that.

The Terriers looked overwhelmed by their Commonwealth Avenue cousins, and the 4-1 BC victory at Agganis Arena put the defending league, Beanpot and national champions firmly in ninth place – out of playoff contention if the season ended today.

To be fair, there’s a lot of hockey left to play, and just because the Terriers aren’t tearing through the league like they did in last year’s dream season doesn’t mean they can’t turn it around and make a run – after all, they’ve still got 16 Hockey East games left. But they’ve only got one game left in 2009 -- Friday against RPI -- and after that the season shifts into overdrive for January and February’s grueling homestretch.

So is it too early for the Terriers to be concerned that thoughts of a repeat – or even home ice in the quarterfinals – might be slipping away?

“We can turn some things around for sure,” Parker said. “Can we catch BC? Probably not. Can we catch UNH? Probably not. In order for us to get back in this, we have to win five league games in a row to start looking like we’re a hockey team again.

“That can be done, maybe, but there’s no reason to think it’s going to be automatic, because we haven’t been putting the puck in the net like we should (and) we haven’t been as sharp on the power play as we have to be.”

A short ride west on the Green Line finds the Eagles in wholly different spirits. They enter the weekend in second place, with top dog New Hampshire not far out of their sights, and thanks to Saturday’s win – sparked by the first career goal for grinding defenseman Edwin Shea (Shrewsbury, Mass.) – they’re sitting pretty a couple of weeks before the new year.

“We’ve been on a little run here the last three weeks,” said BC coach Jerry York (Watertown, Mass.), who saw goaltender John Muse (East Falmouth, Mass.) play as solid a game Saturday as he’s had all year. “We’ve seen some improvement in a lot of different areas, but this weekend I thought we were very solid defensively, both goaltenders played well, a young defensive corps made good decisions, managed the puck very well. I think that was the key to last night’s and tonight’s game: We got exceptional goaltending and we really managed the puck well.”

The historic Boston rivals have swapped places from last year. BC is vying for first place with another traditional power in UNH, while the Terriers, just months removed from raising banners at Agganis, are floundering, and the agenda items are getting painfully simple.

“I’m just looking to get a ‘W’,” said Parker. “I’m not worried about home ice.”

NEHJ Player of the Week

Brian Foster, sr., UNH


The Pembroke, N.H., native turned aside 57 of the 60 shots he faced during the weekend’s two games, including a 29-save effort to give the Wildcats a win over UMass-Lowell on Friday.

Looking Ahead

Merrimack at UMass, Saturday


The holiday break is looming, and this is the last Hockey East game for either team until the Minutemen play BU on Jan. 2. So Saturday’s a chance either for fifth-place UMass to pull within a few points of the top, or for former UMass assistant Mark Dennehy’s (Dorchester, Mass.) Warriors to create some distance between itself and the ninth- and 10th-place teams (BU and Providence, respectively) before conference play goes on hiatus until the new year.

Around Hockey East

Boston College


Muse may have looked a lot more like his old self Saturday, but the night before, freshman Parker Milner showed that there isn’t a huge gap between him and his elder colleague, stopping 23 of 24 shots to beat UMass on the road.

Boston University

Eric Gryba’s goal in Friday’s tie with Vermont – the Terriers’ program-record fourth straight overtime game – was his first since Nov. 1, 2007, also a game against the Catamounts. He also entered into a tie Saturday for the second-most career penalty minutes by a Terrier, going to the box for the 283rd minute to rank with Jack O’Callahan (Charlestown, Mass.).

Maine


One need look no further than the standings to know third-place Maine has been better this year than last. But to quantify that, at this point last season the Black Bears were averaging 2.38 goals per game. This year, they’re busting the twine at a rate of 3.56 goals per game.

UMass

Framingham, Mass., native Will Ortiz has five goals and nine assists through 14 games in his senior season. In the best year of his career, 2006-07, he totaled seven goals and 14 helpers.

UMass-Lowell


Kory Falite
(Billerica, Mass.) scored his 49th career goal in Friday’s loss to New Hampshire, making him the first River Hawk since current New Jersey Devil Ben Walter to reach that number.

Merrimack

Arlington, Mass., native Justin Bonitatibus had the game-winning goal and an assist Friday against Northeastern for the first multi-point game of his career. After scoring three goals in his first 76 games, he’s already got four through seven appearances in his senior season … Scituate, Mass., native John Heffernan also scored his first collegiate goal Friday.

UNH


Friday night’s win over UMass-Lowell – led by Blake Kessel, the nation’s second-highest scoring defenseman with 17 points – was the 450th in the career of coach Dick Umile (Melrose, Mass). … Sunday, Lee, N.H., native Greg Burke scored his first collegiate goal in a win over Vermont.

Northeastern

The collegiate career of freshman goaltender Bryan Mountain might be very young, and it might be a very small sample size, but it’s trending upward. His first appearance was in a 6-2 loss, and he gave up three goals in his first college start Friday, a 3-1 loss. But Saturday, he turned all but one of Merrimack’s 25 shots aside to pick up his first win.

Providence

Alex Beaudry
continues to earn his pay … er, scholarship, in the PC net. He made 20 saves in the first period of Saturday’s loss to Maine, the second time he’s made that many stops in a single frame this year – last time, it was in the third period on Halloween against UMass.

Vermont

Vermont’s varsity sports teams will wear a Green Mountain Battle Flag on their uniforms for the rest of the year to honor the Vermont National Guard troops who have been deployed to Afghanistan in record numbers.

Andrew Merritt can be reached at feedback@hockeyjournal.com.