November 3, 2011

Hockey East Journal: BU hasn't put best foot forward

by Andrew Merritt

Boston University defenseman Garrett Noonan (photo: Dave Arnold Photography)

AMHERST, Mass. – Jack Parker (Somerville, Mass.) never has any trouble expressing how he feels about his team – especially when those feelings are something other than satisfaction.

The legendary Boston University coach is almost as well known for his postgame quips as he is for his record and three national titles.

Friday night, after the Terriers eked out a 2-2 draw with UMass after falling behind early, Parker had some choice words for his team.

“The idea of imminent danger doesn’t seem to register with my team – especially with my ‘stars.’”

The Terriers looked for all the world like the team to beat in Hockey East in the preseason – New England Hockey Journal even picked them to win the league title in our season preview. They boasted unsurpassed depth, with all but two of last year’s leaders returning from a team that had underachieved in 2010-11. The road to the title seemed to be laid in front of them.

Yet through the first four games of the season, BU was 2-2, already with an ugly loss to Providence in its league account, and a pretty embarrassing 5-4 defeat to Atlantic Hockey member Holy Cross – often an also-ran even in a league full of teams without full scholarship loads.

Friday night in Amherst, they gave up the game’s first two goals, and it wasn’t until there was less than five minutes left in the second period that they got on the board via a Matt Nieto strike. Sahir Gill tied it early in the third, and the Terriers even looked close to stealing a win in overtime, but couldn’t capitalize and settled for the draw.

With all due respect to a UMass team that should be much improved from last year, it’s hard to see how BU didn’t have an easier time of it, and the coach didn’t have any easy answers either.

“I thought we were in and out of our game, cruising around at times,” Parker said. “We had some key guys just not play well. In general, it was not a very efficient game by us, not a very thorough game by us, and it’s just more of the same.”

And then the BU bench boss indicated that changes were afoot for a squad that may have gotten a little too comfortable with playing .500 hockey.

“We’re in a funk here and we can’t seem to get out,” he said. “We’ll get some people’s attention; some people won’t play tomorrow night. Those who play well will be rewarded with further play.”

Parker also went out of his way to name some of the players he was pleased with. Conspicuously, one of the names not mentioned was that of Alex Chiasson. The junior led the Terriers with 34 points last season, and through five games played he has four goals and three assists, but Friday night he went pointless with one shot on goal.

Apparently the “some people” Parker was referring to was Chiasson, because Saturday night at Aggannis Arena, he was a healthy scratch. Gill dropped to the second line to replace him, and freshman Evan Rodrigues got a shot on the top line while rookie Cason Hohmann was reinserted into the lineup, taking Rodrigues’ spot on the third line.

Rodrigues made the most of his opportunity, picking up two assists, and the Terriers pulled out a 5-4 win in overtime. Yet even that came only after they fell into a 3-0 deficit in the first period – exactly the kind of imminent danger Parker referred to a night earlier.

Parker showed over the weekend that it’s never too early to send a message, and Saturday night, it seems that message was received.

Now we’ll see if it sticks.

Game of the Week

Maine at Boston College, Friday

The Black Bears are fresh off a weekend spent throwing some cold water on Providence’s hot start, but they’ll see a much stiffer test in the Eagles, who have yet to lose a league game.

Hockey East Power ratings

1. Boston College (7-1-0, 5-0-0 HEA) – There may come a weekend when someone can trip the Eagles up, but it was not last weekend, as the No. 1 team in the nation easily handled UMass-Lowell in a home-and-home sweep highlighted by two goals from league rookie of the week Johnny Gaudreau and another strong couple of outings from player of the month Bill Arnold (Needham, Mass.)

2. Merrimack (6-0-0, 4-0-0) – The No. 7 Warriors’ first big road trip of the season was a happy hunting party, as they swept Vermont 4-1 and 4-2 in Burlington, with a 3-for-8 power play performance and Hockey East co-player of the week Ryan Flanigan scoring a goal and two assists with a plus-4 rating.

3. Maine (3-2-1, 3-1-0) – The Black Bears proved the previous weekend’s win wasn’t a fluke but the start of a trend, sweeping upstart Providence at home in overtime Friday and in regulation on Saturday. Defenseman Matt Mangene led the way with a goal and four assists in the two-game set.

4. Boston University (3-2-1, 2-1-1) – It was a three-point weekend for the No. 12 Terriers, who quickly found themselves trying to turn their season around, and it pushes them into fourth place in the league. Still, having to come back from early deficits and some obvious turmoil gives one pause before declaring all to be well at BU.

5. Providence (2-3-1, 2-2-0) – The Friars’ stumble continued over the weekend, and this time they got hit where it hurts – in the league standings. A pair of losses at Maine doesn’t scuttle the season by any means, but it brings Nate Leaman’s burgeoning squad back to earth for sure.

6. UNH (2-4-1, 1-3-0) – The folks in Durham had to sit back and say, “finally,” as the Wildcats made a mark in the win column for the first time, slowing their early stumble with victories over Union in overtime and then, more convincingly, over Northeastern at home.

7. Northeastern (1-4-1, 1-4-1) – The Huskies only played one game over the weekend, and they couldn’t make it count for much, getting run over by UNH in just the Wildcats’ second win of the season (and only two weeks after handing them a 4-0 drubbing). They now find themselves on a three-game losing streak.

8. UMass-Lowell (2-3-0, 0-2-0) – It’s a tall order these days for any team to beat Boston College, let alone the rebuilding River Hawks, and while they kept BC goalie Parker Milner busy with a combined 76 shots over the two-game set, they were never really in either end of the sweep.

9. UMass (1-3-2, 0-3-2) – It was a little bit of déjà vu for the Minutemen, who on Friday night took a 2-0 lead and gave it up in a draw with BU, then Saturday went up 3-0 after 20 minutes against the Terriers, only to surrender it and fall in overtime.

10. Vermont (1-3-0, 0-2-0) – The late-starting Catamounts got off to a bad start on their league schedule with a pair of losses at home to Merrimack, even after striking first in Saturday’s game.

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