By Scott McLaughlin/DFP Staff
The Boston University men’s hockey team plays its first of two regular-season games at marquee venues when it faces No. 7/8 Cornell University at Madison Square Garden on Saturday night (8 p.m.) in the return of Red Hot Hockey.
Two years ago, the Terriers defeated the Big Red, 6-3, in front of a sellout crowd of 18,200 in the first Red Hot Hockey. The showcase is certainly bigger than most regular-season games in the minds of fans, but is it bigger in the minds of the coaches and players?
“Absolutely,” BU coach Jack Parker said. “Because of the renewal of the rivalry, because of the venue. It gets everybody jacked up.
“And non-league games are real important in the selection process. We have a long way to go to get ourselves into that picture, but if we can get this win, that’ll really help us. But the most important thing is that we continue to play well.”
The Terriers (4-7-1) have not played well for much of this season, but on Tuesday night, they put forth one of their best efforts of the year when they defeated Harvard University 6-5 in overtime at the Bright Hockey Center.
One of the keys to that victory was a change in attitude following a lackluster practice on Monday that ended with Parker heatedly scolding his team for its poor work ethic. According to junior forward Joe Pereira and sophomore forward Chris Connolly, the team held a players-only meeting to discuss the issue, and came out of it with a better sense of responsibility and more determination to play for each other.
Parker said that attitude has continued in practice this week.
“Very much so,” he said after Friday’s practice. “We had a good practice today. We had a good practice yesterday. Considering it was Thanksgiving morning, too, it was a really good practice.”
Beating the Big Red (6-2-0), however, could prove to be a much more difficult task than beating the Crimson (1-5-2). Cornell is fueled by its explosive offense and lethal power play. The Big Red’s 4.12 goals per game are good for third in the nation, while their 31-percent conversion rate on the power play places them second.
Senior forwards Blake Gallagher (8 goals-6 assists-14 points) and Colin Greening (4-9-13) lead the way offensively. Their 1.75 and 1.63 points-per-game averages rank second and sixth in the country, respectively. Junior forwards Joe Devin (4-6-10) and Riley Nash (2-7-9) are both averaging more than a point a game as well.
“They get the puck to the net and they battle at the crease, whether it be 5-on-5 or 5-on-4,” Parker said. “They certainly have not been known as a big offensive team historically. They won on defense and goaltending. So, this is a little bit different type of operation for them.”
Opposing that offense in the Terrier net will be sophomore goalie Grant Rollheiser, who is 1-0-1 this season and 3-0-2 in his last five starts. Rollheiser has never started a game of this magnitude in a venue this big, though. Parker, however, doesn’t seem too worried about how his backstop will perform, saying he “hadn’t thought about it” until asked.
“I think he’ll be fine,” Parker added. “He’s a competitor.”
Parker expressed a little more concern when asked how he thought his freshmen would perform.
“I think historically, the first time freshmen play in a big game, usually the Beanpot, they get a little rattled,” he said. “But the last time we played [at Madison Square Garden], the freshmen played really well. [Nick] Bonino and [Colin] Wilson were freshmen, and they played real well. Pereira got a goal and an assist. Colby [Cohen] and [Kevin] Shattenkirk were freshmen, and they played well. So, it was a pretty good contribution from those guys. We’ll see how it goes this time. We’ll need the upperclassmen to cool things down, too.”
Game notes: The BU-Cornell rivalry dates back to 1925, and reached its peak from 1965-1984 when both schools were members of the ECAC. The Big Red lead the all-time series, 23-17-1. The teams have met in two national championships, with Cornell winning in 1967 and BU winning in 1972. … The Terriers are 6-2-1 all-time in Madison Square Garden. Prior to the first Red Hot Hockey, all but one of BU’s appearances there were in the ECAC Holiday Festival from 1961-1977. … Colby Cohen missed Friday’s practice because he had to go home to get a shot in the hip he had surgery on over the summer, but he is expected to play, according to Parker. … The flu, which has struck Bonino and freshman forwards Alex Chiasson and Wade Megan in the last week, is still running through the team, but shouldn’t keep anyone out barring a setback. “Everybody’s hacking and coughing, but everybody’s in the lineup,” Parker said. … Pereira will remain on the top line with Bonino and Connolly despite Chiasson’s return to the lineup. “He deserves that,” Parker said. Chiasson will play on the third line.