BOSTON — Back in July, well before anyone ever thought about the Frozen Four, the TD Garden or the national championship, Boston University was hard at work.
The Terriers were in the process of a refocus, their summer spent in the weight room readying for a new day. Coming off a 10-21-4 season, they accepted the challenge and motto of “Never Again.” Determined to turn things around, BU began the process of reinvigorating the program under the sweltering summer sun and the watchful eye of strength and conditioning coach Anthony Morando.
Now in April, the Terriers are among the best in the college hockey universe. They’ll take the ice against North Dakota on Thursday night for a titan matchup in the Frozen Four.
One season after enduring winless streaks of eight and nine games, they now have a chance to hoist college hockey’s most coveted prize — the national title trophy.
Talk about burying the lead.
“It’s very rewarding and gives us a sense of accomplishment [to be in the Frozen Four],” said Morando, himself a native of nearby Malden, Mass. “But we know that we still have one accomplishment left, and what we want to accomplish isn’t yet fulfilled.”
As the players developed over the summer and through the season, so too have the training and practice methods at BU. It’s an in-depth approach based on the individualization of a program, something stressed at the time by San Jose Sharks strength coach Mike Potenza.
“This season, we’ve spent a lot more attention to detail for every player,” said Morando. “If a player is playing 16-17 minutes per game, we’re doing less workouts during the week and doing more to maintain them during the week. The mid-range players have a little bit more volume and strength, and we make sure the guys further down the lineup are getting even more volume so they can step in if we need them.
“Our biggest component has been longevity,” he continued. “We’ve been fortunate that nobody has missed any time. It’s really helped us individualize and focus on every piece of the training program.”
“Our practices are extremely competitive,” said Terriers coach David Quinn. “We have more depth this year, which puts our team in better shape. We added 10 freshmen into the mix, and it’s helped everyone become better through competition. You can really see that level when we go through our drills.”
Back in July, Potenza talked about how the NHL development camps focused on habit forming for training, eating, sleeping and physical regeneration. He discussed the reinforcement of the habits through the collegiate level and how that can help players work through the long haul of a grinding six-month season.
Now in April at the Frozen Four, the results are staggering. BU only skates to a plus-2 and plus-12 scoring margin in the first and second periods, respectively. In the third period and overtime, however, that number jumps to plus-48 (74-26). They’re outshooting teams by 122 in the same time period, including a plus-34 shot advantage in overtimes. When leading or tied at the end of two periods, they’re 21-0-2.
It’s a cliche but the legs are feeding the wolf. It’s not so much that BU is getting stronger at the end of games; the Terriers simply are not dropping off physically. The statistics back it up, and it proves the worth of a solid conditioning blueprint put in motion over seven months ago.
For the Terriers, however, the turnaround from last season’s disappointment is great, but the job doesn’t end by simply making it to the TD Garden.
They know they have a massive test ahead of them in North Dakota, a team nearly unbeatable if allowed to achieve a fast start. UND is plus-36 in the first and second periods, undefeated in games it has led at the end of one period (16-0-1) and at the end of two periods (25-0-2).
“We’re extremely resilient,” said Morando, “and nobody on this team gives up. When you look at this team from a physiological standpoint, everything is prolonged, and it all starts with the work ethic. But we know there’s still work left to do.”