This week, CSTV’s Friday Night Hockey heads to what some people call “God’s Country,” as we’ll be in Manchester, N.H., for a Hockey East showdown between Boston University and No. 8 UNH. Legend has it that Daniel Webster personally chased the devil out of his home state once upon a time, and the Wildcats would love to do the same to the Terriers.
The keys to the game are a bit different this week, as these two teams are much more similar than they are different, and will be looking for big contributions in the same areas. Both UNH coach Dick Umile and BU coach Jack Parker are excited about their teams, which are young, aggressive and fast. Both teams also feature goalkeepers who are unproven — but proving themselves very quickly – in BU’s John Curry and UNH’s Jeff Pietrasiak. As similar as these teams are, they’ll both be looking to stand out Friday night, and the winning squad will do so in three key areas.
THE YOUNG AND THE RESTLESS: Both teams feature a plethora of young talent. UNH (3-1-1, 0-0-0 HEA) has five seniors on the roster, while BU has three, and the younger players on both squads are being asked to step in to immediate responsibility. That’s not to say that these teams don’t have skill and confidence – far from it.
BU (3-2-0, 2-0-0) has played eight freshmen from a highly touted recruiting class. The Terrier “pups” have garnered a lot of attention, and with good reason. They are led by the scoring of Peter MacArthur, the craftiness and playmaking ability of Bryan Ewing (who will sit out Friday’s game with a shoulder injury) and the dynamic presence of Chris Bourque, this class has the potential to be one of the great classes in the storied history of BU. The youngsters are seeing time in key situations, and are having a major affect on the outcome of every game.
UNH “only” has six freshmen, but the Wildcats are getting very solid play from their high-powered sophomore class, led by Brett Hemingway, Dan Winnik, Jacob Micflikier and Josh Ciocco. Hemingway is the Wildcats’ leading goal scorer (four goals in five games), and Ciocco isn’t far behind (three). With young offensive talent like that in the lineup, UNH should be scoring goals for years to come.
KEEPING UP: Neither school’s keeper has had much experience, but both BU’s Curry and UNH’s Pietrasiak have stepped into their schools’ nets with gusto.
The emergence of Curry as the Terriers’ top goalie may be the best individual story of the young season. A year ago, Curry played a grand total of just more than five minutes all season long. This year, after diligent practice, and work with BU goaltending coach Mike Geragosian, Curry has broken out as a dependable starter and energized his team, allowing a total of four goals in his two starts while boasting a stingy .954 save percentage. Parker compares Curry to recently graduated UNH netminder Mike Ayers, in that he wastes very little energy and seems to always be in position. He was in position to take in a few “we’re not worthy” bows from Terrier fans after leading BU in a 2-1 upset of Maine on Sunday.
Speaking of Ayers, his successor, junior Jeff Pietrasiak, has played admirably, if a bit inconsistently at times. The Shrewsbury, Mass., native has a 2-0-1 record so far this season, but gave up some questionable early goals in the tie with Michigan on CSTV and also gave up four goals to Mercyhurst in his last outing. The tall keeper relies on quick reactions to be successful, but is occasionally guilty of playing back in his crease a bit too much.
Both of these keepers are gaining confidence with each start, they have the confidence of their teams and their coaches, but neither one is a sure thing at this point. Which goalie will play better on Friday? The answer is a key to this game.
OLDER AND WISER: Youth will certainly be a focus on Friday night, with BU’s hot freshmen and UNH’s sophomore studs making an impact for their respective teams, but you can’t overlook the contributions of either team’s veterans. There may not be many upperclassmen on either side, but the upperclassmen that are there tend to make their presence known.
For BU, captain Brian McConnell’s leadership, experience and work ethic give the Terriers a valuable presence up front, and Bryan Miller has made himself just as valuable on the BU blue line. Miller is back on the blue line after a year up front, and the move seems permanent, since the Terrier coaching staff feels that Miller sees the game better offensively from a defensive position. A defenseman with Miller’s scoring instincts is a dangerous weapon for any team, since the Wayne, N.J., native not only moves the puck well, but can also finish when called upon.
Speaking of creating from the back end, UNH’s top upperclass presence so far has been junior Brian Yandle. While Yandle has yet to score a goal this season, his nine assists are the second best total in the country. Yandle has great vision, and really helps spear what is becoming a very potent UNH power play. Speaking of the extra-man unit, the top finishers with the man-advantage have been also been seniors: Sean Collins and Preston Callander, who give the Wildcats an experienced scoring presence up front.
Of course, as similar as these teams have been, one key difference between them has been special teams. The aforementioned power play is really clicking for New Hampshire, scoring at a 26.8 percent clip, while BU’s power play is hovering near 12 percent. Granted, it’s still early in the season, and the Terriers’ extra-man unit is likely to get better with all the young talent, but at this point, the power play is likely to be a major factor in Friday’s game.
On the other hand, while the Wildcats have feasted on the man-advantage, the UNH penalty kill has left much to be desired, currently hovering below 80 percent efficiency. This could be the weekend BU’s power play explodes, just as easily as it could be the weekend when the Wildcats begin to lower the boom on opposing power play units.
In any case, both teams will be anxious to lower the boom on one another, with points in the Hockey East standings at stake. All in all, it should be yet another great game on CSTV’s Friday Night Hockey.
Billy Jaffe serves as a hockey analyst for CSTV. He is a former college player at Michigan and has served as a broadcaster and an on-ice official for CCHA games.