It’s hard to hide anything when you’re on a nine-game win streak. Opposing teams dissect your offense; the media picks apart your games; fans spend the morning after analyzing the amazing plays they saw the night before.
Yet, for all the attention the No. 6 Boston University men’s ice hockey has received during its amazing run through Hockey East (and as of Monday, the first round of the Beanpot for the 12th straight year), there’s been a subtle yet undeniable aspect of the Terriers’ game that has practically gone unmentioned — and more importantly, that has been unstoppable.
BU has the most balanced offense in Hockey East — and by far.
When comparing the Terriers’ explosive offense to the top five other attacks in the league, the numbers generally stack up. No. 14 University of Maine and No. 5 Boston College rank one and two in both goals scored (Maine with 94, BC with 89) and goals per game (BC at 3.47, Maine at 3.36). BU, meanwhile, ranks third in both categories.
No. 16 University of New Hampshire, No. 13 Providence College and No. 12 University of Vermont aren’t far behind either, each with at least 78 goals and one of the top three scorers in the league.
But BU — unlike many of its opponents — isn’t relying on one line or only a few players to carry the offensive load, and that fact alone makes them the most dangerous offensive club in the league.
• BU doesn’t boast one scorer in the top 13 league-wide. Its leading scorers, Peter MacArthur and Brad Zancanaro, are tied with two others at 14th with 24 points. Yet, the Terriers are tied with Maine for the most goals scored (66) in league play.
• All three of BU’s top scorers (MacArthur, Zancanaro and Brandon Yip, the league’s top scoring rookie with 23 points) play on three different lines.
• BU is one of just two Hockey East teams to have five players with 20 points or more, with Maine being the other. Yet the Black Bears only have four scorers with seven or more goals. The Terriers have seven.
• The Terriers also have two defensemen among Hockey East’s most offensive-minded blue liners: Dan Spang and Kevin Schaeffer. Spang is fourth in scoring out of Hockey East defensemen, thanks to his 15 assists that tie him with Yip for the team lead.
Stats are all well and good until you consider the one factor that determines them all: who’s doing the scoring. Senior captain David Van der Gulik pointed out following BU’s 4-3 win over BC on Jan. 27 that a team with three lines scoring “can go places in the playoffs.” With five five-goal games in its last seven contests, that’s exactly where the Terriers are heading.
BU’s spread offense was probably at its best in its 5-3 win over Harvard University in Monday’s Beanpot opener. Three of its four lines scored a goal while Schaeffer and Spang each had two assists.
During its nine-game win streak, the “white line” of MacArthur, Kenny Roche and Boomer Ewing has led the way with 16 goals and 31 points. But on nights they’ve scored one goal or fewer, both the first line or third line have scored multiple goals. Against Harvard, both accomplished that feat.
Yet, every other top offense in Hockey East is far from enjoying such balance. UNH, for example, has three of the top scorers in the league in Jacob Micflikier (31 points), Brett Hemingway (29) and Daniel Winnik (30). But all three play on the same line.
The same goes for both Maine and Vermont. The Black Bears’ top four scorers have all rotated on one line throughout the year while Vermont’s top three have played the majority of the season together.
Providence and BC are not as one-dimensional, but they’re getting there. The Friars’ top two scorers (Torry Gajda with 31 points, Chase Watson with 29) have played on the same line all season, while three of BC’s top four scorers make up the Eagles’ first unit.
The prevailing argument for these squads, however, is that some players just play better together. And most times, it’s true. BC’s Chris Collins (the nation’s leading goal scorer with 20 tallies) and Brian Boyle (29 points) work better together than perhaps any other duo in the league. When Boyle scored four goals against UMass-Lowell on Jan. 28, Collins assisted on all four.
The same continuity goes for UNH’s big three, Providence’s Gajda and Watson, and Vermont’s Torrey Mitchell (32 points) and Jeff Corey (27).
Yet, this can set a team up for disaster when its only dangerous line has an “off night.” With BU’s balanced scoring, that’s something the Terriers haven’t experienced in nearly a month and a half.
Throw in the fact that BU coach Jack Parker is banking on his defensive-minded fourth line to start scoring, and the Terriers may have an offense that can compete with those of the WCHA.
That league — which made up all of last year’s Frozen Four — is led by the No. 1 University of Minnesota (4.00 goals per game), No. 4 University of Wisconsin (3.46) and No. 8 Colorado College (3.43). But even each of those clubs has two of its top three scorers on one line.
Balance. It’s starting to tip in BU’s favor.