By Kevin Dillon/DFP Staff
|BU celebrates after one of its goals during Saturday’s
game against the University of Notre Dame.
Photo by Michelle Jay.
SOUTH BEND, Ind. — The meaning of the phrase “rebuilding year” can change depending on one’s outlook.
For the negative Boston University men’s hockey fan, a rebuilding year is one that featured a lot of losses. The Terriers came in fourth place in the Beanpot, went on an 18-game stretch in which it only won a single game and, thanks to Saturday night’s 3-2 loss at No. 11/12 University of Notre Dame, did not make it out of the first round of the Hockey East tournament.
There is a positive way to look at a rebuilding year for BU fans, however. The Terriers (10-21-4, 5-12-3 Hockey East) are only graduating two players who received significant playing time this season in defensemen Garrett Noonan and Patrick MacGregor, and have a whole bunch of underclassmen who used the season to get experience playing against some of the top competition college hockey has to offer.
“I think one of the bright spots about having a tough year is that our young players had to play a ton,” said BU associate head coach Steve Greeley. “And because of that they’re going to be better sophomores and they’re going to help this team going forward.
“Guys were put in situations – important situations in the last minute of the game or on the power play or penalty kill had a little extra time. They’ll all benefit from that, as will the team.”
One of those players was freshman forward Robbie Baillargeon. The center led the Terriers in points this season with 27 – including a power-play goal in the third period of Saturday night’s loss to the Fighting Irish (21-12-2, 9-9-2 Hockey East).
To Greeley, Baillargeon was one of the freshmen who benefitted most from the extra usage this season.
“When he came here he was an offensive kid and all of a sudden against [the University of Vermont] in a win he is playing 30 minutes in a game and he is taking important faceoffs,” Greeley said. “He is killing penalties for probably the first time in his life.
“All of these guys are getting put in situations that they haven’t played in before and Robbie Baillargeon – I think he grew a ton as a player and I think he is going to be a great Hockey East player next year.”
It’s not just the growth of the freshmen that will give BU a boost next season, but the addition of a large and strong recruiting class. The expected nine-man crew is highlighted by phenom Jack Eichel, who sources indicate will be coming to BU next year, contrary to rumors of him going to play Major Juniors in Canada.
Perhaps the most important thing about the class is that it will provide depth. BU played several games without a healthy scratch this season, which led to the nine freshmen getting more significant ice time than they would have gotten, ideally.
“I think you want competition in your lineup so you’re always trying to make sure you’re playing and you’re always trying to stay in the lineup,” Greeley said. “This will put kids in a situation where you’re just getting pushed and you’re trying to get your ice time.”
As BU head coach David Quinn pointed out, the Terriers had a rebuilding year in 1988-89 when it went 14-21-1. The following season, BU was 25-17-2 and back in the Frozen Four.
While that does not necessarily mean the Terriers will be back to glory and raising trophies next season, it does serve as a reminder that season-to-season turnarounds happen in college hockey. With the big recruiting class coming in and the large group of returning players, anything is possible with a little patience.
“Nobody wants to be 10-21,” Quinn said. “I certainly didn’t come here to coach 10-21 hockey teams, but everybody kind of knew the situation we were in this year and I think everybody has a good idea what we’re going to do moving forward.”
Moving forward, the young core of the team is getting older. BU’s top-three scorers will all be returning, and that doesn’t even include the team’s two returning juniors, forwards Evan Rodrigues and Cason Hohmann. With sophomore defenseman Matt Grzelcyk back from his shoulder injury, there is a lot of skill returning for BU.
While that group of returnees does not include Noonan, Quinn’s first captain expects big things coming up for BU hockey.
“They’re going to be a wagon of a team next year,” Noonan said. “They will be loaded in years coming. Sometimes it takes a year like this to get back to the way they want to be.”