Welcome to Bizarro World.
Not because last week David Price, vilified ad nauseam for his lack of postseason success, took on Justin Verlander, arguably the most successful playoff pitcher of our time, and it was Verlander who gave up the crucial home runs while Price dominated for the series-clinching win.
Not because LeBron’s Lakers remain winless as of this writing, in no small part because of his failings. Heh, heh, heh.
Both of those are, as we say, wicked good news. But they aren’t the reason why the world feels turned upside down and inside out.
No, the reason we have entered Bizarro World is because Boston College and Boston University have both opened the season 0-3. Care to guess when the last time those two unlikely occurrences collided? (Exhibitions don’t count.) Take a wild guess, and don’t peek.
The last time those two perennial powers both opened with three losses was…
… the 1933-34 season.
It was a time when virtually no consumer owned a television set. Silent movies had just given way to “talkies.” The country was still in the midst of the Great Depression. Franklin Roosevelt was in the first year of his presidency. Adolf Hitler had just been named Germany’s Fuhrer.
Lou Gehrig still had another 1000 games to play before completing his 2310 consecutive game playing streak. The first NCAA hockey championship was still 14 years away.
BC legend John “Snooks” Kelley was in just his second of 36 years as coach of the Eagles. One of BU’s three losses came at the hands of MIT. M… I… T!
A few lifetimes ago.
In fact, 1933-34 is the only season the two schools have simultaneously opened with three losses.
It’s not as though the two schools have Frick-and-Fracked their way to this stunning achievement. BC, by its lonesome, has opened oh-for-three only four previous times in its entire history, with the most recent being 1937-38. (The years: 1924-25, 1928-29, 1933-34, 1937-38, and now 2018-19.)
It’s happened more recently and a bit more often at BU–seven previous times (once due to forfeits)–but still is a display of remarkable consistency. (The years: 1929-30, 1933-34, 1934-35, 1953-54, 1972-73 due to forfeits, 1976-77, 1998-99, and now 2018-2019.)
BC’s slow start this year comes as a major surprise. The Eagles brought back the entire team from the one that last year won the Hockey East regular season title. Teams loaded with rookies can be expected to struggle out of the gate, but veteran teams shouldn’t. And while all three games came on the road, BC was facing teams with sub-.500 records last year (Wisconsin and Quinnipiac).
“We haven’t been as cohesive as I’d like to see us play,” BC coach Jerry York says, “supporting each other, five-man units forechecking, five men defending our zone, and five men on the offense. We’ve got to get more involved, more in sync, especially on the offensive end, because we’ve been shut out twice now in three games.
“We’re defending pretty well. We’re pretty good defensively at this stage, which I thought we would be. But on offense, we’ve got to start clicking. It could be a greasy goal that gets us going.”
It won’t be easy to turn things around in this week’s game. BC hosts St. Cloud State, last year’s NCHC regular-season champion and tournament runner-up. The Huskies come in with a perfect 4-0-0 record, and are ranked second nationally. Even so, York has been guiding his team through challenges for 47 seasons. There’s zero reason for panic.
“Despite the record, I feel very optimistic,” he says. “I think we’ve got everything in place to contend for the league championship here. I feel good about us, and we’re optimistic about moving ahead, moving forward.
“Everything’s good. Status quo. We don’t try to practice any different when we’re 3-0 or 0-3. It’s a grind, and every day is trying to get better in practice.”
York and his veteran team understand the importance of these non-conference games. Last year, the Eagles won the Hockey East regular season crown with an 18-6-0 league record, but found themselves with a razor’s edge margin to make the NCAA tournament due to a shocking 2-8-3 nonconference mark. Although they advanced to the Hockey East semifinals, that razor cut them from the national tournament when BU defeated them in overtime, 4-3.
“We’re very, very conscious of that,” York says. “The nonconference games count just as much as the league when you’re thinking about NCAA championship tournaments. But we’re not going to look back. We haven’t been successful. We all know that. But we’re looking through that front windshield right now and this is the next opportunity we have.”
Boston University’s rocky start feels much less surprising. Although the Terriers proved themselves every bit as good as the Eagles and then some in the Hockey East tournament last year, they lost Jordan Greenway and Brady Tkachuk early to the pros, as well as several seniors. Chad Krys, a top defenseman, has also been sidelined.
Like BC, they’ve also taken all three losses on the road. Two of them came against Minnesota State, last year’s WCHA regular season champion, and an NCAA tournament team that lost to eventual national champion Minnesota-Duluth.
“We’re not happy with the results, obviously, 0-3,” first-year BU coach Albie O’Connell says. “But I like the way we played out at Minnesota State. Both games were winnable games. Our penalty kill was good out there, and we generated a lot of offense.”
The power play, however, has scored only once in 15 opportunities and clearly has missed Krys.
“Our power play breakout was not fantastic and was a bit disorganized,” O’Connell says. “The units got shuffled around a little bit. We were thinking Krys was going to play and then he wasn’t. Guys had practiced something different than what it was in the game.”
The Terriers are also taking an average of 19.0 penalty minutes per game, highest in Hockey East.
“We want to play a little bit more disciplined and smarter at the start of the game so we’re not putting ourselves in the box and allowing the other team to either generate momentum or potentially score a goal,” O’Connell says. “I don’t think we’ve ended the first period with the lead, so from a confidence standpoint we’ve got to get off to a good start.”
Just like BC’s tough challenge to turn things around against St. Cloud, the Terriers will similarly need to topple sixth-ranked Providence, 3-1-1 on the season.
“I think all in all we’re going to have a good team,” O’Connell says. “I believe in them, and I know they believe in themselves. The leadership group’s strong. They’re not deterred by the results.”