A prediction by this writer of fifth place and an even loftier prediction of third place by the league’s coaches? Didn’t Boston University almost miss last year’s playoffs entirely, spared the ignominy only by an overtime goal at the Whittemore Center in the regular season’s final game? Didn’t the Terriers then lose goaltender Sean Fields, their only netminder with significant experience, as well as defenseman Ryan Whitney, who happened to lead the team in scoring, and Frantisek Skladany, the top point-getter among forwards?
Fifth place? Third place?
Fans of schools picked to finish lower might whisper that if their team had suffered such losses after such poor results, they wouldn’t be getting picked for anything but the basement. The media and other league coaches, the whispering would say, are just listening to Jack Parker.
Why wouldn’t you listen to a man with 692 wins and counting? The guy just might know a little something about the sport.
That said, the reason for optimism isn’t based on Parker brainwashing folks like this writer. (One can’t wash something that doesn’t exist.) Instead, it’s based on three reasons.
First, BU’s playoff upset of top-seeded Boston College and the resulting tooth-and-nail loss to Maine in the semifinals showed that there was more substance in the Terrier locker room than the regular season record would have indicated.
Second, in recent years BU has consistently rebounded from disappointing seasons. You have to go back to the eighties for the last time the Terriers missed the NCAA tournament in consecutive seasons. The disappointments in 1998-99 and 2000-01 were followed by first- and second-place finishes, respectively. Perhaps such facts are for history majors and not for jocks, but those who have assumed that one bad year at BU will follow another have been wrong for a long time.
Third, the Terrier recruiting class is an impressive one, with the marquee name being Chris Bourque, son of You-Know-Who. Some have rated this incoming class as the fourth best in the country.
“The freshmen will be important, but the upperclassmen will be even more important,” Parker says. “We had a real good second half of the season last year. We really finished strong. Once we got everybody healthy, we were a much better team.
“So I think the upperclassmen led by Brian McConnell, David Van der Gulik, Brad Zancanaro and those guys will be the most important. We certainly like our freshman class and they’ll play a lot, but it’ll be the upperclassmen that’ll make or break us.”
Like so many teams in the league, BU’s fate will be to a great extent determined by its goaltending. Stephan Siwiec has seen limited action in his two years, recording only seven decisions (3-2-2, 2.79 GAA, .895 Sv%). Karson Gillespie is a highly-regarded recruit who is likely to make a strong run at number one.
“Our biggest question mark is in goal,” Parker says. “Who is going to take Sean Fields’ place? It remains to be seen. We think Siwiec and Gillespie will probably split the duties for a little while and see who goes well.”
In front of Siwiec and Gillespie will be an impressive group of defensemen led by juniors Dan Spang and Jekabs Redlihs and sophomores Kevin Schaeffer, Sean Sullivan and Thomas Morrow. Bryan Miller, who patrolled the blue line his first two years before moving up front last season to help out the offense, is penciled in back on defense.
“Our biggest strength is on the blue line,” Parker says. “We had three freshmen and two sophomores play regularly all last year so they got a lot of good experience. They played pretty well, especially the three freshman for freshman. I think all five of them will be that much better this year when they’ll be two juniors and three sophomores. In reality, [with Miller] we’ve got six regulars back.
“We added another guy, [Dan] McGoff, who is a real good defenseman so there’s no question in my mind that that will be our biggest asset. Whitney was a great player for us and was our leading point-getter last year, but I think we’re better off because we have more experience with the same guys.”
Up front, Van der Gulik, McConnell, Zancanaro and Kenny Roche lead the returning forwards. Collectively, the group will be looking to avoid the frequent circumstances of last year in which they played well territorially, but couldn’t bury the puck.
“We struggled to put the puck in the net last year for two reasons,” Parker says. “One, we had some guys that were banged up who were good players for us who were at half speed for half the season at least.
“One guy that comes to mind is Van der Gulik. He was our leading goal scorer on the team; he got 13 goals. He was snakebit the first half of the year mostly because he had a bad back and a bad ankle that really bothered him. By the time he got healthy, he took off. So I think if he can stay healthy than he’ll be fine. A guy like McConnell had a real good second half for us. He’s going to chip in and get 15 goals.
“We’ve added to our scoring punch with our freshman class as well. So I’m not too concerned about [putting the puck in the net]. I don’t think [talent] is a big question mark for us. We will be fine that way.
“[But] scoring is difficult in this league no matter what. We’ll be a much better offensive team this year than we were last year, but we’re still not going to be getting six a game, that’s for sure.”
If the goaltending comes through and the defense is as strong as expected, the Terriers won’t need to be a goalscoring juggernaut to challenge for home ice and an NCAA berth.