Boston University enjoyed a magical season last year, winning everything but the Stanley Cup. Whether dominating teams or needing a miracle in the closing minutes, such as in the national championship game, the Terriers came through every time.
Repeating may be another story. In addition to graduating a ton of talent, they also lost Colin Wilson and captain-elect Brian Strait when the two turned pro early.
That said, talent returns in abundance and BU has resumed its longtime status as a recruiting powerhouse.
The Terriers remain rock solid in the net. Kieran Millan earned Hockey East rookie of the year honors last year with a 29-2-3 record, a 1.94 GAA, and a .923 save percentage. Small wonder that fellow freshman Grant Rollheiser, the top collegiate goaltender selected in the 2008 NHL draft, couldn’t wrestle more than 12 games away from Millan. Adam Kraus will hope to “pull a John Curry” and emerge from third on the depth chart.
“We’re in pretty good shape there,” BU coach Jack Parker says. “Kieran looks in better shape than he’s ever been in right now.
“People talk about a sophomore slump. Maybe Kieran will have a sophomore slump, but I don’t think all three goalies will have a sophomore slump. We expect to be playing two or three of them in a rotation for a while.”
The defense enters the season in almost as good shape despite the losses of three-time All-American and Hobey Baker Award winner Matt Gilroy as well as Strait, the consummate defensive defenseman.
Another All-American, Kevin Shattenkirk (28 points), returns along with Colby Cohen (32 points), David Warsofsky (23), and defensive-minded Eric Gryba. Freshman Max Nicastro, who had been recruited to fill Gilroy’s roster spot but instead played another year of juniors when Gilroy came back for his senior year, will definitely be in the mix.
Depth will be a concern, however. Before the first practice, a season-ending knee injury sidelined Ryan Ruikka, who had been expected to be one of the top six.
“We won’t have [Gilroy and Strait], but we have four other guys that are back and are all terrific players who had great seasons for us last year,” Parker says. “One of them, David Warsofsky, nobody knows how good he is yet. David would have been running anybody else’s power play in the nation last year. Now he’ll be running one of ours.
“So when you’ve got those four guys coming back and you add a pretty good group of freshman defensemen coming in, we’re not going to be as experienced and or as talented as last year but we’re going to be as good as anybody around maybe with the exception of Lowell.”
Up front there are huge holes to fill. From the top two lines, only Nick Bonino returns. Since the junior totaled 50 points last year, that’s a great place to start but the rest of the returnees will need to take giant steps forward this year.
The leading candidates will be last year’s all-freshman third line — Chris Connolly (10-20–30), Vinny Saponari (8-9–17), and Corey Trivino (6-7–13) — and fourth-liners Zack Cohen and Luke Popko. Of this year’s freshman forwards, Alex Chiasson is expected to make the biggest immediate impact.
How well will that group fill all the holes?
“I don’t know. That’s why we’ll have the season,” Parker says with a laugh. “I know we’ve got one of the best forwards in the nation coming back in Nick Bonino. When he didn’t sign a pro contract this summer, I knew that we had a good chance of having a good power play.
“The real question will be, ‘Will the freshman line of last year be able to step up?’ They won’t play together so will they make even bigger contributions this year? Saponari and Chris Connolly both played every single power play and every single penalty kill last year, so they got an awful lot of ice time.
“Zack Cohen was on the fourth line last year and got 13 goals; he won’t be on the fourth line this year. Popko will probably get a much more offensive look this year than he has in the first two.
“There are some freshmen coming in that are pretty heralded. We’re hoping that one or two of them will step up and play on the first two lines. That will give us a good balance.”
Overall, BU’s outlook matches that of most Hockey East teams this year.
“We could finish first or we could finish seventh,” Parker says. “That’s how good this league is.”