Hockey East Wraparound: David Quinn era off to 2-0 start; BC drops 7 on RPI; Friars pick up impressive sweep; Upset of the Year?
|10.14.13 at 9:12 am ET|
It may not have been against the toughest competition in the world, but Boston University will gladly take a 2-0 start to the David Quinn era. The Terriers are a young team — 18 of their 25 players are freshmen or sophomores — so growing pains are going to be inevitable. They certainly experienced some of those this weekend, particularly on special teams, but they still managed to beat Massachusetts 3-1 on Friday and Holy Cross 3-2 on Saturday.
Coming into the season, there were really only six spots in the lineup that the Terriers felt totally comfortable with. They knew that Danny O’Regan, Evan Rodrigues and Cason Hohmann would create offense up front. They knew that Garrett Noonan and Matt Grzelcyk were among the best two-way defensemen in the league. And they knew that Sean Maguire and Matt O’Connor made for a pretty solid goaltending tandem. Unsurprisingly, all of those guys played well this weekend (and O’Regan, Rodrigues, Hohmann and Noonan all scored).
Every other spot on the roster was something of a question mark. The Terriers knew they had talented players who could fill them, but none of them were really proven. They were going to have to rely a lot on freshmen, and they were going to need sophomores Matt Lane, Sam Kurker and Ahti Oksanen to play bigger roles and be more consistent.
Of those sophomores, Oksanen had the best opening weekend. He registered four assists and a plus-3 rating and looked strong in his own end. Lane notched a power-play assist on Saturday and brought some energy to his shifts on Friday. Kurker, on the other hand, definitely did not have the start he or BU was hoping for, as he took two offensive-zone penalties on Friday before getting benched and failed to register a shot on goal for the weekend.
As for the freshmen, Tommy Kelley registered his first career goal on Friday, and Nick Roberto did the same on Saturday. Both came on quick shots from the slot that showed an ability to finish from in close, and Kelley’s came on the power play. Roberto led the team with seven shots on goal for the weekend, and classmate Robbie Baillargeon tallied five while looking pretty comfortable alongside O’Regan and Rodrigues on BU’s top line. Pretty much all of BU’s freshmen saw time on special teams, and Quinn said he only expects them to get better in those roles.
“I just love their attention. I love their coachability,” Quinn said after Friday’s game. “They really want to learn, and they’re easy kids to coach. It’s a fun group. It’s a really fun group.”
As BU’s underclassmen get more and more comfortable in their roles, the Terriers will get better and better as a team. They’ll be tested a lot more over the next four weeks — their next seven games are Rensselaer, Wisconsin, Michigan, Michigan State, Providence (2x) and Boston College — so we’ll have a good idea of how they stack up against top competition a month from now. But for the time being, BU will take the two wins.
“You have to look big picture here,” Quinn said. “We’re going to be a completely different team in the next two months. If we can win hockey games in the process, which I think we can and I think we will, we’re going to be in a great situation.”
BC scores a touchdown
After being held to one goal and 21 shots in a season-opening loss to Michigan on Thursday, the Boston College offense came to life in a big way on Sunday, dropping a seven-spot in a win over Rensselaer. Jerry York changed up all four lines, and something clearly clicked with the new groupings.
The new top line of Johnny Gaudreau, Bill Arnold and freshman Adam Gilmour combined for two goals and four assists. The second line of Kevin Hayes with rookies Ryan Fitzgerald and Austin Cangelosi totaled two goals and three assists. And the third unit of Quinn Smith, Patrick Brown and freshman Chris Calnan chipped in two goals and two assists of their own.
York always looks for balance up front, and while it’s only one game, it appears he may have found some on Sunday. It’s also nice when you can get a bunch of freshmen onto the scoresheet so early in the season to help calm any nerves they may have had (freshman defensemen Ian McCoshen, Steven Santini and Scott Savage have all registered points as well).
It’s also worth noting that RPI isn’t exactly an easy win. The Engineers just missed NCAAs last year, and they entered the weekend ranked 15th in the country.
Friars pick up impressive sweep
The Hockey East team with the most impressive opening weekend? That would be Providence. The Friars outscored Minnesota State 8-1 in a series sweep. While Minnesota State isn’t really a name that jumps off the page, it’s important to note that the Mavericks made the NCAA Tournament last year and have 12 of their top 13 scorers back, as well as WCHA First Team goalie Stephon Williams. They entered the weekend ranked 11th in the country.
A sweep in and of itself would’ve been impressive for the Friars, but to do it in such dominant fashion is a great sign for a team that isn’t satisfied with just making it to the Hockey East semifinals the last two years. All-American netminder Jon Gillies picked up right where he left off, stopping 63 of the 64 shots he faced on the weekend. Another encouraging sign was Mark Jankowski scoring two goals in Friday’s win. He’s one of the keys to Providence taking the next step.
The Friars struggled in key non-conference games last year — going 0-4-1 against Minnesota State, Miami and Quinnipiac — and that was a big reason they ended up missing NCAAs. So not only was this weekend important as far as starting the season on the right foot, but it was also important in avoiding those non-conference struggles that ultimately doomed them last year.
Lowell bounces back after Upset of the Year
There’s a pretty good chance we won’t see a bigger upset all season than the one we saw Friday night. Sacred Heart, who won just two games all of last season, managed to go into Lowell and beat the defending Hockey East champions and preseason No. 1 team in the country, 2-1. Former Vermont goaltender Alex Vazzano deserves a ton of credit for giving the Pioneers a chance, as he stopped 35 of 36 shots and helped Sacred Heart overcome a 24-12 shot differential in the final two periods.
Determined to prove that the shocking loss was just a fluke, the River Hawks bounced back with a 5-2 win over UMass on Saturday. Unless Lowell gives us a reason to reconsider, it’s probably safe to assume that Saturday is much closer to what the River Hawks will be than Friday is. They have too much returning talent to not be a really good team. This could be the kind of result we look back and laugh at come NCAAs, much like we did with Quinnipiac’s early-season loss to American International last year.
Merrimack shut out twice
Merrimack’s biggest question mark coming into the season was offense. The Warriors didn’t do anything to answer that question this weekend, as they got shut out twice by Denver. The Pioneers are a good team, but they aren’t light years ahead of Merrimack. The Warriors should’ve at least been able to score a goal or two. There’s no reason to ever go into panic mode after one weekend, but there is reason to at least be concerned. Going back to last season, Merrimack has been shut out in five of its last eight games.
Notre Dame’s defense is pretty good
On the opposite end of the spectrum as Merrimack is Notre Dame, who shut out Western Michigan twice while allowing just 22 shots on goal in each game. The Broncos just missed NCAAs last year and brought back enough to be competitive again this year, so this is definitely a big sweep for the Irish. Notre Dame ranked in the top 10 nationally in team defense last year, and it’s off to a great start in that respect this year.