Over the last 12 years, BU hockey has experienced only two losing seasons. Unfortunately, those have come in two of the last three years. Has the Terriers’ reign of dominance come to an end or only hit a couple bumps in the road?
Or something in between?
Most likely something in between. It’s hard to see the Terriers snaring NCAA bids the next nine consecutive seasons, but it’s also hard to envision losing records every other year.
Coincidentally, both losing seasons featured the same record: 14-20-3. Two years ago, the Terriers rebounded with a 25-10-7 mark, a Beanpot title, a Hockey East regular season championship, and an NCAA tournament run that was only a quadruple-overtime game away from a trip to the Frozen Four.
Can they fashion another turnaround like that?
“We have to get better goaltending and we have to play with more consistency in our own zone,” says coach Jack Parker. “Our special teams were good last year on the offensive end. We had a great power play last year, but we didn’t kill penalties very well. Those are the areas we’d really like to improve upon.
“It’s a tough league. We could improve upon those areas and not improve our [position in the] standings because this is a great college hockey league and everybody seems to be at the top of their game right now.”
The pivotal position for BU is undoubtedly goaltending. While there were certainly some well-played nights in the Terrier nets last year, there were too many that were not. As soon as Jason Tapp or Sean Fields put a strong game or two together and appeared ready to seize the number one job, he’d toss it back like a hot potato. Not until Fields finally asserted himself in the playoffs did a clear leader appear.
At times, Tapp seemed burdened by the number one tag, as if he had to replace the departed Ricky DiPietro all by himself. Fields, the more athletic of the two, was a late signee who’d been plucked off the talent tree a year before his time. He still needed time to mature and work on his mechanics a little. Unfortunately, Tapp’s struggles pushed Fields into the limelight while he was still a Not Ready For Prime Time Player.
The hope is that his strength in the playoffs and overall maturing will make him a Very Ready For Prime Time Player this year, while Tapp rebounds in the number two role to play as well as he did when still in DiPietro’s shadow.
“We kind of rushed Fields after DiPietro left us in the lurch,” says Parker. “He should have been a freshman this year instead of last year. I think that in our minds he played real well most of the season. We didn’t give him a lot of games and he played very well in the playoffs.
“We’re hoping that he makes a step up and we’re hoping that Jason can revert back to the way he played his sophomore year. He had some great games that he gave us last year; he just wasn’t consistent enough. But I think that Sean Fields is the guy we’re going to be relying on.”
The offense also struggled last year. The 2.75 goals per game average in Hockey East contests was BU’s lowest figure since Hockey East formed. While admittedly scoring overall is down and the days of averaging five and a half goals (1994-95 and 1995-96) don’t seem likely to return, the Terriers clearly need to elevate their production or risk another 14-20-3 season.
Of course, it doesn’t help that top scorer Carl Corazzini and Dan Cavanaugh (fourth in points) are gone. Still, Brian Collins and Mike Pandolfo produced in the 30-point range last year and return along with Jack Baker and John Sabo. Baker needs to rebound to at least the 30-point plateau he hit as a sophomore before struggling with shoulder injuries last year. Sabo, who has never scored more than 18 points, can perhaps better channel his feistiness and become more of an offensive threat.
It’s way too early to call last year’s freshman class a bust, but the five forwards — Gregg Johnson, Mark Mullen, Frantisek Skladany, Ken Magowan and Steve Greeley — didn’t have a single player top 10 points. This will be a make-or-break year for most of them. Skladany seems the most likely of the five to emerge in a big way.
— Jack Parker
And if none of the above steps up, then perhaps this year’s freshmen will be ready. Most recruiting experts ranked BU’s incoming class as one of the best in the nation, based primarily on snagging four members of the U.S. Under-18 Team. Two of them are forwards, Brian McConnell and Justin Maiser, so they could potentially make an immediate impact.
“I think the freshmen are going to be a big part of our team, but not so much the offense,” says Parker. “I think it’s going to be the sophomores, juniors and seniors that can pick it up. Our sophomore class has got to make a big jump from their freshman year.”
While questions surround the goaltending and forwards, the defense looks like potentially the top group in the league. Pat Aufiero and Chris Dyment were All-Hockey East selections two years ago, but suffered disappointing seasons in 2000-20001. Freddie Meyer, not Dyment or Aufiero, was the Terriers’ best blueliner and could be an All-Hockey East choice this year. Following the three potential all-stars on the depth chart are juniors Mike Bussoli and John Cronin.
In addition to the returning starters are freshmen Ryan Whitney, one of the highest-rated recruits anywhere, and Bryan Miller. Both were offensively adept blueliners on the U.S. Under-18 Team.
“We have to get Dyment and Aufiero to play as they did their freshman and sophomore years,” says Parker. “They had off years last year, but if they [rebound] we certainly will have a lot of depth and we’ve added two great freshmen.
“I think Freddie Meyer is the best defensemen in the league and Cronin and Bussoli will give us solid performances. So we’re going to be very solid there, no question about it.
“The questions are, will we get a little bit more offense out of that group than we did last year and can we get their confidence level back to where it should be?”