BOSTON — Most class reunions don’t start until five years after graduation. At Boston University this season though, the first day on campus represented a reunion for four teammates whose ties go back for several years — or even most of their lifetimes in one case.
Terrier freshmen Chris Bourque and Brian McGuirk have a friendship that goes back to the days when they were more concerned with Hooked On Phonics than with hooking.
“At about five or six we started playing together in Danvers hockey,” Bourque says, recalling their days at the Mites level.
Defensemen Dan McGoff started playing with the pair when he was nine or ten, while Bryan “Boomer” Ewing is the relative newcomer to the quartet, having played as Bourque’s linemate for the last two years at Cushing Academy.
Meanwhile, McGoff starred at Noble and Greenough, while McGuirk excelled at Governor Dummer. “We all broke off in high school,” McGuirk says of the initial trio of friends. “But we still played together in the summers.”
All four players attracted the interest of college hockey recruiters, but when McGuirk was first to agree to come to BU, it keyed a domino effect that should continue to make waves for the Terrier program for years to come.
“Obviously, once he committed I knew that it was probably my main option,” recalls Bourque, son of legendary defenseman Ray Bourque. “It made it much easier to go where one of your good friends who you’ve known your whole life is going. We always talked about BU, going to school in Boston, staying in Boston. It wasn’t a hard decision to make to come here.”
It also was a decision that gave McGoff a final incentive to get off the fence. “I had a BC offer and a BU offer,” McGoff says. “I’d say that one of the main reasons I chose to come to BU was I knew that they would be here. That was a pretty big factor.”
Next up, the Terriers set their sights on Ewing, who had piled up 27 goals and 31 assists for each of the last two seasons playing alongside Bourque.
“Ewing was really thinking about UNH, and getting his linemate here really helped us get him here as well,” acknowledges Terrier coach Jack Parker. “Those connections really helped us get them all here.”
Bourque, McGoff, and Ewing gave the Terrier program a nice preview of their wares last March and April. Playing together on the Junior Bruins in the 12-team national 17-and-under tournament in Marquette, Michigan, the trio led the team to a championship. Bourque led all tournament scorers with a whopping 11 goals and 11 assists in just six games, while Ewing was fifth overall with a merely mortal 3-6-9 in five games played.
Since arriving on Babcock Street, the Terrier freshmen have found themselves happily located at the intersection of opportunity and ability. Historically, many great Terrier forwards — such as Chris Drury and Mike Grier — were fourth-line role players for their first year wearing the scarlet-and-white.
Yet the Terrier line of Bourque, Ewing, and fellow freshman Peter MacArthur was arguably the most impressive trio in the early going — at least until Ewing was sidelined until after Christmas after suffering a separated shoulder in last week’s Hockey East opener against Providence College. The young line had been playing with a startling degree of poise and skill, speed and grit.
“We needed help up front as far as overall skill was concerned,” Parker says. “We graduated five forwards; that gave opportunity for kids to come in and play. But it also gave opportunity for guys to come in and play on the power play.
“Bourque is playing the point on the power play. We lost Whitney in that position last year. Ewing was playing great on the power play and killing penalties; he was arguably our best freshman before he got hurt.
“MacArthur is our leading goal scorer, and he’s playing very well. He kills every penalty and plays every power play. So those freshmen are getting a lot of ice time, but the reason is they deserve it.”
MacArthur’s speed and skill is matched by his eternally upbeat character. “The first day of practice that we had Gatorade instead of water, it was like it was Christmas for him,” recollects team manager Kirsten Durocher. MacArthur and Bourque teamed up for a two-on-one goal against BU’s all-star alumni team last weekend that showed no signs of jitters.
That poise is one of the first things that strikes you about the soft-spoken Bourque on the ice. On another two-on-one rush in that same game, Bourque slipped and fell but still got off a quality shot from the ice, going down with the ease of a couch potato reclining back into his La-Z-Boy. His teammates routinely work the word “unbelievable” into the conversation when describing him.
“Chris is unbelievable,” says McGoff. “He’s got a head for the game that not many people have. He has great skill too-he can skate well and has great hands. But I think the one thing is that he sees the ice better than anyone else out there.
“In the alumni game, he pulled a move on one of the defenseman, and I just sat back and said ‘Oh my God, I can’t believe he just did that.’ Every once in a while he pulls a move out of somewhere and just makes someone look stupid.
“I played against him for two years too, and he’s one of the hardest kids to play against. He gets over the blue line, and you have to back off. You have to give him space because he’ll go right around you. But if you back off and give him space, he’s going to make something happen. So he’s the most dangerous player I’ve ever played against.”
BU fans have not had much of a chance to see what McGoff can do thus far, as Parker moved Bryan Miller back to defense for this season, meaning that six blueliners started this season ahead of McGoff on the depth chart. However, he should be a formidable factor for the Terriers before long: just ask his roommate.
“He’s real good defensively,” Bourque says. “You’re not going to see him on the scoresheet too much-maybe an assist here and there-but he’s definitely going to make his presence felt. He’s a real good stay-at-home defenseman, sees the ice well and gives you the puck wherever you are on the ice.”
Meanwhile, McGuirk is playing the fourth-line centerman’s role effectively. “He’ll come get you,” McGoff says of his friend. “He’s fast-probably one of the fastest on the team. And strong — when we did tests this summer, he was probably the strongest in all three things: bench, clean, and squat. So he comes after you and bangs you. If you keep your head down, he’ll punish you. He’s just a solid player, good forechecker — knows his role and does it well.”
Meanwhile, Ewing has the reputation of a goal scorer with a spunky style. “As a player, he’s always been one that can finish,” McGoff says. “He’s a tough kid. He gets after it, and he’s really strong on his skates. He weighs 150, but he can knock anyone down.”
“We’ve got really good chemistry together,” agrees Bourque, clearly enjoying an opportunity to play with his former linemate.
This class certainly does have chemistry. Generally, freshmen learn the ropes from the upperclassmen. While that’s definitely happening for these new arrivals, their poise and skill also may be rubbing off on their more experienced teammates.
“Bourque on the point on our power play has made our power play much better, and he’s making individual players better,” says Parker. “They’re moving the puck better; they’re seeing things better; they’re getting more creative because they see what he can do with it. I think the fact that we’ve got more offensive depth up front takes pressure off of guys to get goals.”
“It’s great to have that opportunity,” McGuirk says.
The chemistry does not go unnoticed off the ice. This big freshmen class seems to be just really nice people — guys who will help load the bus without an engraved invitation.
Egos don’t appear to be an issue. Take, for example, McGoff’s reaction to scoring a nice goal in the alumni game. “I just remember laughing; I don’t know why,” McGoff says. “I think I was just so shocked that I scored on [Islander goalie Rick] DiPietro. I was kind of laughing and put my hands up, and then put them right down, because I didn’t want to be that kid who celebrates during the alumni game. It was pretty funny.”
It certainly helps when the most highly touted freshmen appears to be extremely down-to-earth. “He’s a great kid,” McGoff says of Bourque, his close friend and roommate. “He’s always joking around. He’s a great kid, fun to be with. Never a dull moment with him. He’s a straight shooter too — if something’s bothering him, he’ll tell you. Hopefully he stays for four years, and I can play with him for four years.”
Indeed, the only concern BU fans might have is whether this promising freshmen class will remain complete well after the team moves into Harry Agganis Arena in January. Just recently, a Canadian newspaper published speculation that Bourque eventually would “come to his senses” and make the jump to major juniors up north.
“It’s just a big rumor,” Bourque says. “It’s not even really an option in my mind. I love it here. It’s a real lot of fun. The hockey’s good, and the school’s good. I’m staying here.”
“If Chris Bourque didn’t come to BU, he would’ve gone to the U.S. Junior League,” Parker says. “He would not have gone to play major Junior A hockey; I’m sure of it. The fact is I think Chris Bourque is very, very happy here. It certainly isn’t as if he has a lack of ice time or that he doesn’t get along with his teammates.
Parker chuckles. “I can see why they’d like to have him, that’s for sure.”