Terriers’ summer conditioning refocus started run to Frozen Four

As the players developed over the summer and through the season, so too have the training and practice methods at Boston University (photo: Melissa Wade).

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.”

At the Frozen Four, a Grzelcyk family affair inside TD Garden

John Grzelcyk is part of the “Bull Gang” at TD Garden (photo: Melissa Wade).

BOSTON — With both Boston University and Providence advancing to the Frozen Four, there was the potential for some obvious local connection between residents of the area and the competitors on the ice.

For BU captain Matt Grzelcyk, however, the connection to playing in the arena on Causeway Street runs deeper than anyone else. His father, John, serves as a member of the fabled “Bull Gang” tasked with the care of the home arena of the Boston Bruins and Boston Celtics.

“It’s really great to play in front of everyone,” said Grzelcyk. “[My dad] works hard every day, and he really showed me the ropes. I haven’t really had a chance to fully think about it, but it’s something that I know I’ll reflect on at some point as being a great highlight.”

“I love watching hockey, and I love watching college hockey,” John Grzelcyk said. “I’m anxious for my son [to play well] and now I can watch these games with something at stake. I’ll get to watch the game as a typical dad. I realize how hard it is to get to this point and the amount of work he’s had to put in. It’s really big [for him], and it should be really big.”

The elder Grzelcyk is in his 48th year as a member of the Bull Gang with a career that started “right after Bobby Orr.” His first year at the Garden was in the old Boston Garden in 1967, one season after the famed No. 4 arrived in town.

“College hockey back then was much more regional,” he said. “You had Minnesota, Michigan and Minnesota. Now it’s all over, and there’s some great hockey.”

A third Grzelcyk, John (Matt’s older brother and John’s middle son), also works on the ice during Bruins games, making this weekend very much a family affair.

Video: Omaha fans go wild at Frozen Fest

BOSTON — It’s a gray, rainy, chilly day outside TD Garden, where Frozen Fest is taking place before the Frozen Four semifinals.

That didn’t stop Omaha fans, many of whom arrived on three buses after a nearly-1,500-mile trip from campus, from making some noise.

Line combinations for Omaha-Providence semifinal game

BOSTON — Here are the line combinations listed for Thursday’s Frozen Four semifinal between Omaha and Providence (5 p.m. EDT, ESPN2):

Omaha (20-12-6)

12 David Pope-20 Jake Guentzel-16 Austin Ortega
13 Jake Randolph-10 Tyler Vesel-25 Justin Parizek
7 Avery Peterson-14 Dominic Zombo-17 Luke Nogard
9 James Polk-19 Tanner Lane-18 Jono Davis

2 Brian Cooper-5 Joel Messner
4 Luc Snuggerud-28 Brian O’Rourke
24 Ian Brady-23 Grant Gallo

31 Ryan Massa
29 Kirk Thompson

Providence (24-13-2)

20 Shane Luke-14 Ross Mauermann-9 Trevor Mingoia
18 Nick Saracino-24 Noel Acciari-26 Brian Pinho
21 Kevin Rooney-10 Mark Jankowski-22 Brandon Tanev
15 Steven McParland-12 Stefan Demopoulos

19 Jake Walman-3 John Gilmour
5 Kyle McKenzie-27 Josh Monk
6 Tom Parisi-16 Anthony Florentino
4 Mark Adams

32 Jon Gillies
35 Nick Ellis
1 Brendan Leahy

For Omaha, Pope and Randolph swapped left-wing spots from the Midwest Regional final against Rochester Institute of Technology. Davis replaced James Polk on the fourth line, which, like the third line, was shuffled.

Gallo is in the Mavericks’ defensive lineup instead of Aaron Pearce.

Providence has the same lineup as in its East Regional final win over Denver.

With title to chase, nickname search hasn’t come up much with North Dakota players

North Dakota’s Drake Caggiula grabs Cam Johnson during Wednesday’s practice (photo: Melissa Wade).

BOSTON — The search for a new nickname for North Dakota is officially underway.

But with a championship to chase, a new nickname or mascot hasn’t been given much thought by UND players, according to goaltending coach Karl Goehring, who is serving on the official committee to facilitate the selection.

“A couple of players asked me earlier in the season,” said Goehring. “But everyone is so dialed in right now, it hasn’t come up.”

Wearing of the green

The 2015 NCAA tournament has a decidedly green theme — it’s the primary color of the logo and a green motif has been used by the NCAA in all of its social media posts and signage.

While UND fans will feel right at home with all the greenage, will they take it an omen for UND after 12 consecutive NCAA appearances without bringing home a title?

Merely a coincidence, said NCAA associate director of media coordination and statistics Mark Bedics.

“For the tournament, we went with a different template,” he said. “The primary color of the logo has been our primary color, which is green. It’s a Boston color.”

And a North Dakota color.

Pattyn on North Dakota’s block party: ‘Everyone’s buying in’

BOSTON — North Dakota blocked 51 shots in the West Regional, a key factor in wins over Quinnipiac (28 blocks) and St. Cloud State (23).

On the season, UND is 11th nationally with 565 shots blocked. Defenseman Gage Ausmus leads the team and is ninth in the nation with 84.

“Everyone’s buying in,” said captain Stephane Pattyn. “Everyone is doing what it takes to win.”

That’s going to be key against a quick and mobile Boston University defense in Thursday’s Frozen Four semifinal.

“We’re playing a team with a good defense,” said Pattyn. “They’re skilled and we need to do what it takes [to prevent scoring chances].”

Pressure packed

This season marks the seventh time in 11 seasons that North Dakota has made the Frozen Four, but UND has come up empty each time.

The players say it’s something they’re aware of, and a challenge they welcome.

“There are probably not many programs that are under as much scrutiny and pressure,” said senior defenseman Nick Mattson. “Players want to come to North Dakota to face challenges like this.

“We gain confidence and rely on one another because you know that you’ve been in these situations before.”

And UND knows it will have great fan support despite being in BU territory.

“It’s been that way in Denver, Omaha, Colorado College,” said goaltender Zane McIntyre. “Hundreds and thousands of fans travel and it’s pretty special. It’s pretty cool to be part of a program with that kind of tradition.

“Granted, it’s in BU’s backyard, but it’s going to be fun to see how many UND fans get here and show their colors.”

For North Dakota, it’s all about focus entering Frozen Four

North Dakota assistant coach Brad Berry scored to win the shootout at the end of practice Wednesday (photo: Melissa Wade).

BOSTON — Reflecting on last year’s heartbreaking loss to Minnesota in the semifinals, North Dakota made it clear that this time, it’s all about eliminating distractions and focusing on the task ahead.

“We’re not as wide-eyed,” said senior defenseman Nick Mattson. “It’s a more focused feel for sure. We’re not here for the events. We’re here for hockey.”

“It’s a narrow focus here,” said goaltender and Hobey Baker Award Hat Trick finalist Zane McIntyre. “We’re here for business.”

Captain Stephane Pattyn echoed his teammates. “We’re focused,” he said. “And ready for business.”

There was one distraction from the focus that North Dakota allowed.

In 2004, the last time Boston hosted the Frozen Four, teams got a police escort from the hotel to the arena for the first time.

It’s now a common practice and almost a necessity, especially in Boston, where it’s never easy to get around via automobile or bus.

“A shout-out to the Boston Police Department,” said North Dakota coach Dave Hakstol. “With all the important things they could be doing with their time, we really appreciate it. Five guys helping us get to the rink was awesome. The bus was hooting and hollerin’.”

Terriers’ Oksanen adjusts well to wing, but it wasn’t his preference

BOSTON — When Boston University coach David Quinn looked at his roster last offseason and saw a gaping hole on the left wing, he knew the solution was to move offensive defenseman Ahti Oksanen up front.

“After coaching Ahti for a year, I thought all his strengths were going to be highlighted up front,” Quinn said. “The way he sees the ice, his shot, his hockey sense, his strength around the puck. I don’t know if anyone has got a stronger set of hands or a stronger stick in college hockey.”

His idea went over like the proverbial lead balloon with its subject.

“He didn’t react with a huge smile,” Quinn said. “I had to do some convincing and some arm twisting. I told him, ‘We’re not going to put you on the third or fourth line. We think you’re going to be one of the top six forwards.”

Oksanen still didn’t like the idea. He thought of himself as a defenseman. And when Quinn noted that Oksanen might get a chance to play with Jack Eichel, that selling point fell flat.

“Who’s that?” Oksanen said. “Never heard of him.”

Hockey players being nothing if not stubborn, Oksanen headed back to Finland, practiced on defense all summer, then told Quinn that was still the position he wanted to play.

“Ahti, you’re never going to play another second of defense at BU,” Quinn told him.

Reluctantly, Oksanen made the move up front.

Just 20 minutes into his collegiate career as a forward, he’d scored four goals. On a line with Eichel.

“Jack gave me four nice apples,” Oksanen said.

Oksanen didn’t stay on Eichel’s line, at least not at even strength, but his production continued.

“It was a huge change for me,” Oksanen said. “But now I feel great playing forward. I guess I have to say, ‘Thank you, coach.’”

He stands at 24 goals and counting, a total that has him tied for fifth in the country with a guy named … Jack Eichel.

Does Oksanen know now who Jack Eichel is?

“Yeah,” Oksanen said. “I know.”

For Boston University, being at home nice but offers no guarantees

Boston University’s Cason Hohmann and associate head coach Steve Greeley share a laugh Wednesday (photo: Melissa Wade).

BOSTON — The TD Garden may not be Boston University’s home arena, but it sure feels like it.

“I’d be lying to you if I didn’t say it was a little bit extra special [with the Frozen Four] being in the city of Boston,” BU coach David Quinn said. “We’ve got a lot of local guys, and it gives our fans an
opportunity to come support us.

“[It also] made the ticket situation more complicated. But we managed through it.”

Earlier this year, the Terriers earned their 30th Beanpot title on Garden ice and then followed that in March with the Hockey East championship.

Not too shabby of a home away from home.

“We’ve had some pretty good success on this ice so far,” captain Matt Grzelcyk said. “I think that’ll help us really calm our nerves early.”

Indisputably true.

However, Quinn banished all thought that BU’s “home ice” was conferring an overwhelming edge for his team.

“People assume automatically that there’s going to be a huge advantage for us because of the home crowd and we’ve played in this building before,” he said.

“We probably will be able to respond to the crowd and the support they’re going to give us, but we know we’re playing a great team. If we’re jumping to any conclusions that we’re at some huge advantage because of the fact that we’ve played in this venue four other times and we’re going to have a huge advantage with the crowd, we’re sadly mistaken.

“I know we’re smarter than that. I know we realize the things we’re going to have to do for 60 minutes if we’re going to put ourselves in a position to win the hockey game.

“I’m not going to lie: It’s going to be a lot nicer playing here than out in Fargo or Grand Forks where they’d have a home-crowd advantage. But in hockey, a road team can do well, and we’re certainly aware of that.”

BNY Mellon Wealth Management