It hasn’t exactly been a highlight-reel season for Boston University thus far.
For a team that began the year ranked No. 2 in the USCHO.com poll, the Terriers find themselves more than a third of the way through the season still below .500.
But a ray of sunshine may have appeared at Agganis Arena last Saturday night for BU when redshirt sophomore goaltender Max Prawdzik, making his first career start, shut out nationally-ranked New Hampshire in a 4-0 win.
Coach David Quinn called the win “well deserved” and emphasized how hard Prawdzik has worked to not just earn the start, but to get the result.
“Here at BU, he just keeps working hard and persevering,” said Quinn. “The guys are excited for him.”
The road to last Saturday has not been an easy one for Prawdzik.
Two seasons ago, he played third string to senior Sean Maguire and freshman Connor LaCouvee. Last year, when Jake Oettinger took Maguire’s place, Prawdzik was left in the third spot of the depth chart, leading to him leaving midseason to play in the North American Hockey League and helping the Lone Star Brahmas to their first Robertson Cup title.
Returning to campus this fall, Prawdzik was no longer the third-stringer thanks to LaCouvee’s decision to accelerate his degree and become a graduate transfer at Minnesota State. Given the opportunity to finally start a game in the scarlet and white, Prawdzik didn’t disappoint.
“I think Jake [Oettinger] needed a mental break,” said Quinn. “And I think Max has been playing well. It was the right time and he rewarded us on the opportunity he earned. He wasn’t just given that.”
Quinn feels one of the best decisions Prawdzik made was to leave midseason last year and play for a junior team, something he had never done before arriving at BU. Prawdzik came to BU directly from playing four seasons at the Brooks School. The volume of games Prawdzik appeared in between January and May was helpful, Quinn said.
“He went out last year and played a lot of hockey, which I think was the best thing for him,” said Quinn. “He came back and was excited about the opportunity that was presented to him here. He’s been chipping away at it.
“His work in practice and just how committed his is, I was really happy for him.”
Pradzwik, himself, opening admitted that the feeling of earning a shutout in his first start was really special, something he shared with his teammates.
“I was talking to [my teammates] in the locker room after the game,” said Prawdzik. “And it’s like, playing at BU is pretty special, especially for someone like me, a [Massachusetts] guy. You grow up wanting to play at BU.
“It’s been a long road. We had to work really hard to get her and it was just a really, really great night.”
Ebbs and flows are all that dramatic for River Hawks
What appears to be a roller-coaster first half has hardly been as dramatic as it seems, says UMass Lowell coach Norm Bazin.
After dropping three to start the season and rebounding with three consecutive wins, Lowell fell twice to Northeastern and then split with Maine a series that probably seemed worse that it was because of a lopsided 6-2 loss in the series finale.
So when asked about the highs and lows of the season after his River Hawks earned wins over nationally-ranked New Hampshire and Northeastern, Bazin was pretty neutral.
“It’s all part of a long season,” said Bazin. “Sometimes too much is made – from the media, and parents and whoever else – of a particular weekend. You want to inch your way forward and make sure your team is improving.
“The last few weekends, I know the points haven’t been terrific, but I feel we’re inching forward. Guys are slowing learning that without a high compete level, you’re just not going to have a chance in Hockey East. These teams are proving it night in and night out. But I think we’re giving ourselves a chance now.”
Two players who have proven their compete level has very few moments in the “off” mode are sophomore forward Ryan Lohin and junior netminder Chris Hernberg. Lohin’s 14 points in 12 games lead the team. His nine points in league play is tops.
More importantly, Lohin’s goal scoring has picked up. He was without a goal for the team’s fist seven games, but since then has scored five goals in five games. He scored both goals in Friday’s 2-1 win over New Hampshire and then opened the scoring for Lowell on Saturday night against Northeastern.
Hernberg’s numbers are very impressive. After making few starts in his first two seasons, Hernberg grabbed the reins when presented the chance and boasts a 1.64 GAA (sixth nationally) and a .941 save percentage (fifth nationally).
Seney’s position key to Warriors?
The Merrimack offense has struggled to begin this season.
So last Friday night, before the Warriors’ game against non-league foe Bentley, coach Mark Dennehy moved arguably his top player Brent Seney, with hopes of invigorating the offensive attack.
Prior to Friday, Seney has skated the previous nine games on left wing with center Derek Petti and right wing Sami Tavernier. On Friday, Dennehy moved Seney to the center position, a bit of a change for him, alongside Jace Hennig and Mathieu Tibbet.
For that night, at least, the combo worked with Seney potting two goals and an assist and Hennig adding a goal and two assists.
“It’s not so much to spark [Bret], but you can’t win if you don’t score,” said Dennehy. “You’re looking for some combos and that’s a combo that has been together before (Seney and Hennig), so yeah, we’re looking for some spark.”
The Warriors, indeed, have struggled to find offense, even if their overall goals per game doesn’t translate to the anemia this team has faced. Three times, including Friday’s win over Bentley, Merrimack has scored five goals (also in a 5-3 win over Massachusetts and a wild, 5-5 tie at Minnesota Duluth). But in all of the seven other games, Merrimack has scored two goals or less, hitting that two goal mark in just two of the seven games.
That offense, understandably, is unsustainable throughout any college hockey season.
Kariya to the Hall
I wanted to leave this week with a quick note about Paul Kariya’s induction into the Hockey Hall of Fame on Monday.
Personally, I have fond memories of Paul as he skated as Maine in my freshman season at Lowell. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a player who could dominate a game as much as Paul Kariya.
For those who aren’t familiar or don’t remember, Kariya scored 100 points his freshman year and won the Hobey Baker Award. His dominating performances culminated when he set up three third-period goals – all scored by now-Denver coach Jim Montgomery – to erase a 4-2 deficit against Lake Superior en route to Maine’s first national title.
I have since witnessed 25-plus years of college hockey, but for some reason, all three of those goals still remain engrained in my memory.
Kariya’s NHL career was an excellent one, though one that was cut short by head injuries. Personally, I was glad to see him go into the Hall with Anaheim teammate Teemu Selanne, someone who obviously meant so much to Kariya.
Maine had some wonderful teams and seasons after that magical 42-1-2 year of 1992-93. But I’m not sure any player has ever gone through that campus – or any other in college hockey – who stands out as special as Kariya was in Orono that year.