They’re loose as a goose. Or more properly said, as geese.
The Boston University Terriers looked by far like the loosest, most relaxed team at practice on Wednesday. Things were going so well that head coach Jack Parker decided to cut short practice and let his team relax.
“We liked what we saw out there,” said Parker. “We liked the energy. At this stage of the game our job is to get out of the way and let the boys play.
“I know I can’t make my team loose, but I know I can make them uptight. So it’s my job to just kind of stand to the side and let the players play.”
The players themselves were open to admitting that, heading into Thursday’s national semifinal against Vermont, they feel pretty laid-back. But they’re also quick to say that once the puck drops, they’ll be good and focused on the task at hand.
“We’re getting ready to play and I think it’s important not to get too tight before a big game like this,” said co-captain John McCarthy. “We’re trying to keep things relaxed in the locker room but we’ll be focused and ready to play tomorrow.”
“We’re just enjoying the experience out here. We’ve gotten this far, we want to enjoy it,” said defenseman Brian Strait. “We know what’s at stake here and I think everyone will come with their ‘A’ game, but we’re trying to stay loose. Coach Parker says ‘fast and loose,’ and we’re trying to keep that mentality.”
Offensive star Colin Wilson even went as far to say that he likes being a jokester in the locker room in order to keep tension down.
“Ever player, every team prepares differently and we’re kind of a loose team,” said Wilson. “I know myself I like to joke around coming up to a big game. It takes a little bit of the nerves out.”
With no team having in this year’s field having recent Frozen Four experience, BU may be the club with the biggest edge based on its tournament success to date. The Terriers are six-for-six in capturing championships this season.
It began with an Ice Breaker championship, then the Denver Cup title. Then, of course, there was the Beanpot title, which is more like an annual ritual. After that, the Terriers had to win on the final day of the regular season to capture the Hockey East title. BU then won both the Hockey East tournament championship and the Northeast regional title.
With that track record, it’s no surprise the Terriers are the hands-down favorites heading into the national semifinal.
A lot of [the tournaments] have been in this format — four teams, one weekend,” said McCarthy. “It gives us a little bit of experience, but we’re going to have to play two solid games to come out of here winning.”
“Experience is a big part of this tournament I think the fact that we’ve won so many championships before shows we have the players to win the championships,” said Wilson, a member of the Hobey Baker “Hat Trick.”
“They know what it takes, which is definitely going to be crucial in the next two games.”
Parker found himself the focus of some angry glares on the rink that bears his own name recently. Donning a t-shirt with the team’s 2008-09 (inexplicably top-secret) slogan “burn the boats” emblazoned across the chest, the coach may have ticked off a few fans of another sport near and dear to local hearts.
“It’s kind of an in-house thing, and the boys didn’t want to get it out until the tournament’s over, so no, I can’t elaborate on it,” Parker said of the secrecy surrounding the phrase’s origins. “But I have one as well, and there was a day we weren’t practicing. There was something going on in our rink and I had it on, and I’m standing watching what was going on in our rink.
“And what was going on was a National Rowing Association indoor-rowing thing, and they were all rowing, and I saw people staring at me. I didn’t realize I had this t-shirt on that said ‘burn the boats’. So I wasn’t really welcome in that crowd.
“I was thinking of explaining it to people, but I was sworn to secrecy so I couldn’t explain. I had to get out of there and change.”
Parker doesn’t feel that his team’s top ranking is worth more than the pixels with which it’s published.
“When you’re the No. 1 team during the regular season, you can get the other teams jacked up that you’re playing. There’s the immediate gratification of, ‘Hey, we knocked off the No. 1 team in the nation.’
“I don’t think that has anything to do with this tournament, because nobody’s trying to knock off the No. 1 team. Everybody’s trying to become the No. 1 team. There’s no advantage to being the underdog, because it’s more important to be the champion.”
That said, Parker assessed that his team’s prominent national standing during the regular season probably helped it achieve many of its successes to date.
“We get named the No. 1 team in November, the first time, and we proceeded to lose three out of the next four games, including two to Vermont. Three days after we were made the No. 1 team in the poll we got beat by UMass 5-1.
“So we found out how not to handle the pressure or the notoriety. So once that happened to us, it settled us down a little bit better and then from then on, when we did get back to being high in the polls again, it was easier to handle. We didn’t get full of ourselves.
Wilson, on a hockey tradition: “Who has the best playoff beard? Obviously the guy sitting to the right of me (Brian Strait). He and his roommate, Eric Gryba, you know, a Canadian from Saskatchewan, they both have very thick beards. I was just feeling Brian’s — he just conditioned it so it’s feeling real nice right now.”
McCarthy, remembering the favored Terriers’ 5-0 defeat at the hands of Boston College in the 2005 Northeast Regional Final: “That definitely left a bad taste in my mouth. My freshman year, we lost to BC in the regionals and last weekend we were talking about that a little bit. The senior class, we just took a little bit of extra time in the locker room to be sure that talking to the younger guys, you know, you don’t take this for granted. You might not get this chance again, so definitely bring your A-game.”