Although the terms “sophomore jinx” and “sophomore slump” are familiar to most sports fans, no one has coined a term to describe the opposite phenomenon.
Maybe the linguists better get cracking.
After showing only sporadic flashes of brilliance during their freshman seasons, five Boston University sophomores have been the key to the team’s dramatic turnaround this year.
Gregg Johnson, Frantisek Skladany, Kenny Magowan, and Mark Mullen combined for 16 goals and 19 assists in the Terriers’ 37 games last season. On their second time around in college hockey, those four players surpassed that point total before Thanksgiving and now have amassed 14 goals and 27 assists in just 11 games to date.
In addition to the sophomore line of Skladany, Johnson, and Magowan ranking one, two, and three, respectively, in points for the team, second-year goaltender Sean Fields has given the team stellar performances.
After compiling a 6-8-1 record last season, Fields has already tied that win total this year, a 6-2-1 record to go along with a .902 save percentage. Hockey East opponents have been shaking their heads frequently when facing Fields, whose save percentage is a Hasek-like .938 in league play.
— BU coach Jack Parker
As freshmen, these players suffered through a Murphy’s Law season for the scarlet and white in 2000-2001. When the Terriers got strong goaltending, they couldn’t seem to put the puck in the net. On nights when the offense gelled, the netminders let in a few soft goals. BU fans kept waiting for the team to have all cylinders firing simultaneously, and it never quite happened.
Now those dog days appear to be dog-gone. There is certainly plenty of credit to be shared: Senior co-captains Mike Pandolfo and Chris Dyment have given the team the leadership that some questioned last season, and many touted this year’s freshman class as the best in college hockey well before the puck dropped this season.
Yet the biggest X-factor had to be whether the sophomores would be able to make a leap along the lines of past BU stars such as Chris Drury and Mike Grier. So far, they have answered the call.
“I think there’s been a bunch of major differences between last year and this year,” Terrier coach Jack Parker said after Saturday’s 5-3 victory over Cornell. “It all intertwines into a better attitude, more feel for ‘We can do this and get it done.'”
“I think the people who have made the biggest difference have been our sophomore class,” Parker added. “I’ve said this all along, but they’re making huge jumps for us from last year to this year.
“Fields has played great — he’s been our number-one goalie; he’s played real well,” Parker said. “I was pretty sure what we had with the senior class, the juniors, and the freshmen. I thought the sophomores had to make a big jump from last year, and they’ve made an unbelievable jump.”
On Saturday, Kenny Magowan was one of the heroes, getting BU’s first goal just one minute, 21 seconds after the Big Red took a 2-0 lead.
“The sophomore line got another huge goal: It’s two-nothing; the biggest goal of the game was the 2-1 goal, and they’ve done that unbelievably this year,” Parker said at the time. “We’ve answered quite a bit, and it seems that every time we’ve answered it was always their line. They just seem to be able to jump on the puck and go.”
A closer look at the scoresheets proves Parker right: the sophomores have not only scored frequently, they have produced in a big way in the clutch. Consider the following:
Fields also has come up huge more often than not, flashing his glove dramatically in a 37-save effort in the 1-1 tie with UNH, and generally keeping the Terriers close in several dogfights this season.
“Sean had a great playoff [last season versus Providence], and I think that gave him a lot of confidence,” Magowan said. “He’s doing really well. And Mark Mullen’s playing a lot, killing a lot of penalties. He’s got a lot of speed, and he gets a lot happening. As a class, we’re doing really well this year.”
Mullen has certainly been a sparkplug and an underrated workhorse on power plays and in some otherwise dismal efforts last season. But it’s the third line that has been the most pleasant surprise for Terrier fans this year.
“I think a key to our success is that we all have different aspects that we bring along,” Magowan said. “For instance, Gregg Johnson is a great centerman, really fast. He creates a lot of open space for me and Frantisek.
And Faro [Skladany], he’s really crafty — a lot of European players are — and he creates a lot of room as well,” Magowan added. “I’m more of a grinder. I try and get in the corners a lot more. I think we just all complement each other, and we’ve all got a decent amount of speed: I think that’s what brought our success.”
Slovakian native Skladany also had plentiful praise for his linemates.
“Gregg Johnson is probably one of the best centers I’ve played with,” Skladany said. “His vision is very good on the ice; he can see us. Kenny Magowan, he’s a tough player: pretty good size, and he can hold the puck in the zone down low.”
“He’s a great linemate,” Johnson said of Skladany, shortly after the line combined for a whopping four goals and six assists in a 8-4 win over Harvard. “He sees the ice real well; he’s a great goalscorer. I love playing with him.”
So why have the sophomores managed to do so much this season after only the occasional flicker of excellence last year?
“I basically realized I’m coming to my sophomore year, and I realized I’ve got to make things happen,” Skladany said. “I knew I had to step up for the team and do my job.”
“We’ve all come a long way in the last year,” Magowan said. “As freshmen, we couldn’t get much going, and I don’t think we had much confidence.
“Coming into this year, we knew we had a lot to prove coming off a really bad year,” Magowan added. “We just wanted to prove to everybody that that wasn’t the kind of team we were — we just kind of underachieved is the best word for it.”
Perhaps senior leadership has helped this group live up to their potential this season.
“We’ve just tried to get everybody involved,” senior co-captain Mike Pandolfo said. “We’ve tried to make the freshmen and sophomores feel comfortable and know their roles, know that we care about them and that they’re a huge part of our team.
“We’re going to go out there and give 110 percent. We’re not going to try and win on skill — we’ll win on grit,” Pandolfo added. “Coach demands a lot of hard work — That’s always a mantra: hard work and discipline. That’s what we tell the guys: If we go out and work hard, we’re going to get some bounces.”
Perhaps last year helped the sophomores buy into this sort of work ethic. As Magowan pointed out, it’s hard to have a sophomore slump when your first year failed to make the headlines very often.
“Freshmen sometimes come in and put big points on the board, whereas we didn’t,” Magowan added. “If you look at our numbers combined, I don’t know if we had more than 40 points. So it’s not like we could get any worse, as far as a jinx goes. Now we’ve got confidence; we’re getting ice time, and it’s fun.”
That’s where Magowan might be mistaken. At least, the opposition is certainly having less fun with these guys this year.
As for the Terrier sophomores, they say it’s always better the second time around.