By Scott McLaughlin/DFP Staff
It would be easy for fans of the No. 2 Boston University men’s hockey team to overlook Saturday night’s game. Brown University isn’t exactly a college hockey powerhouse. It’s a non-conference contest sandwiched between rivalry series against No. 6 University of New Hampshire and No. 7 Boston College. And it’s over Thanksgiving break, so Agganis Arena won’t be nearly as full or as loud as usual.
Don’t expect the Terriers to overlook it, though.
“I thought we had a great practice yesterday and a great practice today,” said BU coach Jack Parker on Friday. “Today was a fabulous practice. So it seems like we’re ready to go. These guys know that this is the Merrimack of the ECAC. Nobody thinks they’re as good as they are, and they’re way better than everyone thinks they are.”
The Bears (3-2-2) got off to a slow start, going 1-2-1 to open the season, but they’ve been much better lately. They won games at Colgate University and at Cornell University last weekend, marking the first time they’ve swept those two teams on the road since 1993 and the first time they’ve swept any ECAC series on the road since 2005.
Then on Tuesday, Brown earned a 5-5 tie at UNH, the same team BU (7-1-4) split a series with last weekend. The Bears controlled play for most of that game and led 5-3 with less than two minutes to go before the Wildcats registered two goals in 11 seconds to force the draw.
“I think we know it’s an important game, especially after they go up to UNH and tie them,” said senior co-captain Joe Pereira. “That’s a tough place to play, so obviously I don’t think they’re a team we can take lightly. They’re going to come out hard. They’ll want to beat a Hockey East opponent, especially BU.”
Brown’s biggest strength is its power play, which ranks fourth in the country with a 28.1-percent conversion rate. The key to that success has been hard shots from the point off the sticks of junior Jeff Buvinow and freshman Dennis Robertson, who have combined for six of the Bears’ nine man-up goals.
“It’s a similar setup to Merrimack’s power play, where they’re just trying to get a couple passes and get it to the net,” Parker said. “But they have guys who can bomb it from the top.”
Up front, Brown is led by its top line of junior Jack Maclellan, senior Harry Zolnierczyk and sophomore Chris Zaires. Maclellan has 12 points (3g, 9a) in seven contests, ranking him fifth nationally with 1.71 points per game. Zolnierczyk and Zaires come in with nine and seven points, respectively.
BU, meanwhile, will be without one of its top-line players in junior Chris Connolly, who suffered a broken left pinky finger in the first period of Saturday’s game against UNH. Connolly, who is skating with the team in practice, said on Friday that there’s a chance he could be back before winter break if the bone heals straight and doesn’t need any pins, but that the likeliest return date is the Shillelagh Tournament in Chicago on Jan. 1-2.
“I think guys are just going to have to step up for these last four or five games before break or however long he’s out,” Pereira said. “We’ll just have to come together as a team, just like we did without Corey [Trivino] and Alex [Chiasson] out in St. Louis. Just play for each other and play for him, and when he gets back, we’ll be that much better.”
According to Parker, the lines for Saturday will be as follows:
Matt Nieto – Corey Trivino – Alex Chiasson
Sahir Gill – Charlie Coyle – Joe Pereira
Andrew Glass – Ross Gaudet – Wade Megan
Justin Courtnall – Ben Rosen – Ryan Santana
David Warsofsky – Ryan Ruikka
Garrett Noonan – Adam Clendening
Patrick MacGregor – Max Nicastro
Parker said sophomore defenseman Sean Escobedo is being benched because of the number of penalties he’s taken. Escobedo leads the team with 44 penalty minutes on the season, including two five-minute majors and two misconducts last weekend alone. MacGregor — a freshman from Hamden, Conn. — will make his collegiate debut in Escobedo’s place.
Parker said Megan is being moved from center to wing because he’s been having some problems with his knees. Parker said playing wing should put less strain on him because he won’t have to cover all 200 feet of the ice every shift.