January 31, 2014

Terriers end slump, aims to rediscover winning ways

By Andrew Merritt

Robbie Baillargeon (Enfield, Conn.) and the Terriers ended an eight-game winless streak last weekend, but BU failed to earn consecutive victories against the Vermont Catamounts. (Photo by Dave Arnold/New England Hockey Journal)

Two months is an awfully long time to wait.

That's about how long Boston University had to wait between victories - a stretch starting after the Terriers' win over Cornell on Nov. 30, and not ending until Jan. 24 with a 4-2 win over Vermont.

That included eight games in which BU went 0-7-1, in the longest winless stretch for the program in some two decades.

The slide was almost certainly the nadir of David Quinn's debut season as the Terriers' head coach. When it came to an end on last Friday's victory, keyed by a game-winning power play goal from defenseman Ahti Oksanen, there was an obvious sense of relief.

But just as learning to cope with a losing streak is a part of the growing process for a young team, so too is figuring out how to turn one victory into a trend, and it became obvious the next night that the Terriers just aren't quite there yet. Vermont ran roughshod on a tired Terrier team that had been stretched to the limit to win Friday's game, and the depth problems that became evident a couple of weeks ago when BU played with just 17 skaters were on display again.

"I think I wonder a little bit about how tired some guys were, mainly our top two or three lines," senior Matt Ronan (Woburn, Mass.) said after Saturday's 6-2 loss to the Catamounts. "I think we wanted to compete, but maybe our legs weren’t there. I know some guys were excited about tonight, but I guess I’m just concerned about the laziness creeping into our game."

Quinn noted to the media that several players, including captain Garrett Noonan, played more than 30 minutes in Friday's victory. It showed Saturday, as Noonan was beat several times on plays the veteran defenseman usually handles with ease.

"Our depth sometimes gets in our way, and guys like that, if he’s playing 27 minutes a night, he’s not in a position where he’s as tired tonight," said Quinn, whose Terriers fell to 8-13-2 after the weekend split.

It didn't help that Noonan and the other penalty killers were tasked with killing 10 penalties in Friday's win.

"We play our best players so much, maybe I need to tail it back a little bit," Quinn said. "Depth isn’t one of our strengths right now, and especially where it becomes a special teams night like last night, it really wears on us."

Saturday's loss got ugly fast, as the Catamounts jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the first and countered Needham, Mass., native Danny O'Regan's second period goal with one from Chris McCarthy, a shorthanded and his second of the game.

The Catamounts scored three more in the third, and after Colin Markison put the sixth UVM goal in the net to make it 6-2, BU had its lone bright spot in the game – the first career action for Anthony Moccia, a senior goaltender from Medford, Mass., who played the final 3:46 and made one save.

"Oh, that was awesome," Ronan said. "I was super pumped for him. I was glad he got a couple shots too, it would have been disappointing if he didn’t get a few shots."

"I know how much it meant to him, and what it meant to me," Quinn said. "He’s a special person, and he’s meant an awful lot to this program. That’s the one thing about college sports. People look at the stars and the guys who get all the minutes, but a lot goes into having success in college sports. It’s not just what you see on the ice, it’s the attitude, it’s the atmosphere. People like to call it culture."

That last word, "culture," was one that haunted BU for a few years after the scandal involving the team led a task force to identifying a "culture of entitlement" within the program.

The program has largely moved on from those dark days. Quinn is now hoping to replace it with a culture of winning.

The Terriers just have to learn how to do it.

Player of the Week

Clay Witt, jr., Northeastern

Another weekend, another heavy workload for Witt, who made 60 saves on 63 combined shots as the Huskies split with the Irish. That included a 30-save shutout on Friday night.

Games of the Week

Boston College at Providence, Friday, Jan. 31

It's pretty obvious that the Eagles are the cream of the crop this year – in Hockey East and in the nation. The question is where the Friars stand, with a 15-6-5 record but a 7-5-1 mark in the league. Is PC for real? Only one way to find out.

Hockey East power rankings

  1. Boston College (18-4-3, 11-1-1 HEA) – It does seem like the only thing keeping the Eagles from winning every Hockey East game they play is not playing a conference team. They got a surprising run for their money from Penn State on Saturday, but Thatcher Demko had one of his best games of the year, making 33 saves on 36 shots to hold on.

  2. UMass-Lowell (16-7-2, 6-4-1 HEA) – Still kind of hard to figure the River Hawks, who took a 4-2 lead into the third against Providence Friday night before losing 5-4, but then ran roughshod over those same Friars the next night in a 6-1 win.

  3. Northeastern (15-8-3, 8-5-1 HEA) – There are some obvious holes in the Huskies’ game, and that was obvious against Notre Dame. NU took just 14 shots on goal in Friday’s 4-0 victory, and then couldn’t beat Steven Summerhays despite 36 attempts the next night in a 3-0 shutout loss.

  4. Providence (15-6-5, 7-5-1 HEA) – In a weekend of splits across Hockey East, Providence was the perfect example of feast and famine. Friday’s come-from-behind win over UMass-Lowell was just as impressive as Saturday’s 6-1 loss was disconcerting, and the latter displayed the struggles of Jon Gillies (South Portland, Maine), who has an .886 save percentage since coming back from World Juniors.

  5. Vermont (13-9-3, 5-7-0 HEA) – After handing BU its first victory in two months on Friday, the Catamounts bounced back to hang on to seventh place the next night. Still, two of their players – Chris McCarthy and freshman Mario Puskarich – have accounted for nearly 34 percent of their goal scoring, and that lack of scoring depth is a troubling sign.

  6. New Hampshire (14-13-1, 6-6-0 HEA) – The Wildcats are only sixth in goals per game in Hockey East, but they’re taking the third-most shots per game of any league team. At some point, that should be paying dividends.

  7. Maine (12-9-3, 6-4-2 HEA) – Like UNH, the Black Bears are taking a ton of shots – a Hockey East-leading 34.58 per game, in fact – but their goal-scoring is a little off at 3.21 goals per game, good for only fifth in the league.

  8. Notre Dame (15-9-1, 4-6-1 HEA) – The Irish picked up their first really big win of their debut Hockey East season, bouncing back from a 4-0 shutout against Northeastern Friday to beat the Huskies 3-0 on Saturday.

  9. UMass (7-16-3, 3-8-2 HEA) – It’s all about silver linings for the Minutemen right now, and here’s one: West Haven, Conn., native Michael Pereira didn’t just reach 50 goals and 100 points last weekend, he led UMass with a four-point outburst (3g, 1a) over the two-game split with Merrimack to do it. He’s one of only five players in UMass history to reach the 100/50 plateau.

  10. Merrimack (7-13-3, 2-7-2 HEA) – If you say nothing else of the Warriors, say this: They’re resilient. Three of their seven wins this year have come via third-period comebacks, including Saturday’s come-from-behind win over UMass, the former employer of coach Mark Dennehy (Dorchester, Mass.)

  11. Boston University (8-14-2, 3-8-1 HEA) – The Terriers’ 4-2 win over Vermont snapped an eight-game winless streak and a six-game losing streak. The former is the longest for a BU team since a nine-game stretch in 1987-88, while the latter is the longest losing slide since 2000-01.

Twitter: @A_Merritt

Email: amerritt@hockeyjournal.com