Sophomore forward Pete MacArthur and a few of his Boston University men’s ice hockey teammates were skating Monday.
But they weren’t thinking about the three championships they’d won this past season — the Beanpot, Hockey East regular-season and Hockey East Tournament titles. They weren’t thinking about their 11-game win streak that spanned most of January and February or their No. 1 national ranking — their first in eight years — either.
No, they weren’t thinking about everything good that came out of a 26-10-4 season that catapulted them, or so they hope, onto the right track to contend for a future national championship.
They were thinking about the fact that they weren’t playing for that fifth title this year. And it hurt like hell.
“We’re playing, just thinking, ‘Man, we really should be practicing in Milwaukee right now. Our season still should be going, and we should be trying to win a national championship,'” MacArthur said, lamenting his team’s crushing 5-0 loss to Boston College in last Saturday’s NCAA Tournament Northeast regional final.
“It’s kind of a funny time of the year,” he added. “The weather’s real nice so you want to have some fun. But at the same time, it’s also kind of depressing because you know that you let something that could have been really great slip through your fingers.”
That’s how they all feel, from the team’s six seniors, right down to the six freshmen.
“We had an unbelievable season — we won a lot games, a lot of championships and everything,” said senior Jekabs Redlihs, by phone from a Syracuse, N.Y. hotel room where he’ll live for the next few weeks as his new team, the AHL’s Syracuse Crunch, vie for their own title, the Calder Cup.
“But no matter what, in my mind, how we played that last game of the season will leave a mark and it definitely gets me thinking, ‘Why the hell did we not come out and play that game?’ Because we wanted it, you know?”
Needless to say, MacArthur said he doesn’t plan to watch any of this week’s Frozen Four, which first airs Thursday before the national championship game Saturday. The Terriers don’t need a reminder of what they didn’t do in a season that had many thinking, “What can’t they do?”
Early on, it didn’t look as if they would improve on that, either. First came the news that senior forward David Van der Gulik would be sidelined for the first half of the season with a pelvic injury. After a season-opening win over UMass-Lowell, BU quickly went in flux, losing two, and then winning two before alternating wins, losses and ties through the first half.
After a 5-1 loss to Providence College on Jan. 6, the Terriers were 7-8-2 and outside of the picture for home ice in the Hockey East playoffs.
Yet, they had hope. Van der Gulik and Redlihs (out 12 games with an illness) were back in the lineup. They only needed a spark — and 11 games later, they were quite literally on fire.
The team’s 11-game win streak — which culminated with a 3-2 win over BC for the Beanpot title, BU’s 27th — was its longest since the 1993-94 season. More importantly, it re-instilled an aura of confidence and invincibility that no one on the team had experienced before.
“Every game we went in there with the attitude that the only way we were going to lose is if we were going to beat ourselves,” MacArthur said.
“I really don’t know how to describe it,” said senior defenseman Dan Spang, who signed a two-year contract with the San Jose Sharks last week. “It was just magical.”
That magic continued through the regular season, into a 9-2 whipping of the University of New Hampshire in the Hockey East semifinals, through BC for the league title and amazingly culminating in another 9-2 win, this one over the University of Nebraska-Omaha in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
But after four straight losses to the Terriers, BC snuffed that out in a cloud of smoke, nabbing what BU thought was its bid to the Frozen Four. The Terriers, stunned by their own lack of energy, were visibly shaken. Unnerved, however, was the foundation they laid for the program.
“I wouldn’t swap our year with anybody else’s.”
— Jack Parker, head coach
In reflection, BU’s season was made possible by a slew of career years.
MacArthur (39 points), Zancanaro (36), Spang (31), John Laliberte (32), Kenny Roche (31), Boomer Ewing (26), Sean Sullivan (17), Brian McGuirk (9) and Tom Morrow (5) all scored more points this season than they had any other year. It could also be argued that Van der Gulik had a career season, considering he scored his 22 points in only 25 games. He also earned Hockey East Player of the Month honors in March.
The Terriers’ offense was reborn at 3.5 goals per game. Curry, in earning Hockey East first-team honors, perhaps cemented himself as one of BU’s all-time best goalies. The freshmen and their combined 77 points (not to mention, surprising amounts of poise) will all be back for at least another season.
Frankly, there was a lot to like about the 2005-06 version of the Terriers. There were no superstars and certainly no egos — just a well-balanced team that seemed (and still seems) destined for extraordinary things. The season-ending loss to BC may stick in people’s minds, but setbacks usually don’t adhere.
Great BU teams, however, do — and the way they respond may be what’s most remembered.
“This year was definitely a step in the right direction,” MacArthur said. “But it’s definitely not finished yet.”