BU prepares to open second half in Shillelagh Tournament

By Scott McLaughlin/DFP Staff

While the players were away during the holiday break, Boston University men’s hockey coach Jack Parker and his staff watched video of the first semester and discussed which areas they wanted to focus on the most when the team returned. They decided on three- defensive zone coverage, the penalty kill and the power play.

In the No. 10/11 Terriers’ first practice of the second half (which was delayed from Sunday night to Tuesday afternoon because of the blizzard that hit the Northeast), they worked on D-zone coverage and nothing else. On Wednesday, they devoted one session to the penalty kill and one to the power play.

That’s a far cry from a normal practice, which usually focuses on one area for 10-20 minutes before moving on to something else, but Parker said it was important to spend that much time on those areas before working on anything else.

Of those three target areas, Parker identified D-zone coverage as the most important. The Terriers switched from man-to-man coverage to a hybrid zone before the season, and it paid dividends early on. Although opponents were getting a lot of shots, the vast majority of them were coming from the perimeter and were easy saves for the goalies.

But toward the end of the semester, opponents started getting more grade-A chances as the Terriers’ coverage in front of the net broke down. That, combined with a slight decline in goaltending, caused BU to give up four or more goals in six of its last seven games after having given up that many just once in its first 10. Unsurprisingly, it went 2-4-1 in that stretch after starting the year 6-0-4.

“I think we were much stingier and much more efficient in our new D-zone [at the beginning of the year],” Parker said. “I think we got away from knowing where we should be and being thorough in our own end positionally, as well as being physical and intense in our own end. We got a little too casual. We got a little too unaware of our positions. And I think that really hurt us.”

The penalty kill mirrored the D-zone coverage in many ways. It started off great (BU killed 36 of 37 and had the best PK in the country in mid-November) but faltered as the semester went on. The Terriers allowed eight goals on 28 chances over their last five games of the semester, giving them a 71.4-percent success rate during that stretch that is well below their 84-percent clip for the season. Parker said the PK went downhill for the same reasons as the D-zone coverage- being too casual and unaware.

“I think we lost a little confidence in those areas,” Parker said. “We lost our way, so to speak, in killing penalties and in D-zone coverage, and we’ve got to get that back in our game and be really efficient at that like we were earlier.

“I think we did a better job down their end forechecking [on the penalty kill], but we didn’t do as good a job when they were entering our zone and when they had possession of the puck in our zone.”

The power play was the easiest area in need of attention to pick out because it’s been sputtering all season. The Terriers rank eighth in Hockey East and 50th (of 58) in the country with a meager 12-percent conversion rate. Parker said he’s trying to let the team take ownership of turning the power play around because it’s been at its best when the guys running it were playing loose.

“I think it’s being frozen up a little bit,” Parker said. “It isn’t what power play we’re running, it’s how we’re running it. I think we were overthinking it and overhandling it and not feeling like we could go play hockey on it. So we’ve got to get them back to that. I thought the best we played on the power play all year was the first three or four games. We’ve gone downhill. We shouldn’t be coaching it, we should just let them play.”

BU’s first chance to see if the renewed focus on those areas pays off will come this weekend in the Shillelagh Tournament in Hoffman Estates, Ill. The Terriers face Brown University in the tournament opener Saturday at 4 p.m. ET before taking on either No. 12 University of Notre Dame or Minnesota State University on Sunday. (Note: We’ll be live blogging all four games of the tournament.)

BU and Brown (3-4-4) skated to a 4-4 tie at Agganis Arena on Nov. 27. After the Bears jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the game’s opening minutes, the Terriers scored three straight, only to see Brown come back and reclaim a 4-3 lead. Sophomore forward Wade Megan netted the tying goal for BU with 7:09 left in regulation.

The game is perhaps most notable for a vicious knee-to-knee hit that Brown senior forward Harry Zolnierczyk landed on BU freshman defenseman Adam Clendening early in the third period that resulted in a five-minute major and game disqualification. After the game, junior defenseman and assistant captain David Warsofsky said, “Nothing you can do about it now, but I think come January when we play them again, we’ll remember that hit.”

Parker said he doesn’t expect his team to go out of its way to avenge the hit, though.

“It all depends on if that was a random occasion or if that’s how they play,” Parker said. “If that’s how they play, then I think there would be some more retaliation and we’d look to be more physical. I think it’s just a couple individual players that have that reputation on that team. I don’t think it’s the coach’s philosophy or the team’s philosophy.”

Game notes
-Junior forward and co-captain Chris Connolly will return to the lineup this weekend after missing the last five games with a broken left pinky finger. He was tied for the team lead in scoring with 12 points (5g, 7a) in 12 games at the time of the injury.

-BU will be without freshman center Charlie Coyle, who is playing for Team USA in the World Junior Championship in Buffalo. Parker said freshman Sahir Gill will move from wing to center in his absence. He also said he’s planning on keeping Gill at center even after Coyle comes back. The current plan is to move sophomore Ross Gaudet from center to wing when Coyle returns. Megan, who played center for most of the first half before shifting to wing, will remain on the wing. Parker said Gill has been “dying to play center” and Megan has been “playing better at wing.”

-Clendening, who was cut from the junior team along with freshman forward Matt Nieto, was injured in one of the team’s exhibition games while blocking a shot, according to a source at the game, but Parker said he hadn’t heard anything about it and that he’s expecting Clendening to play this weekend.

-A few players, including both Clendening and Nieto, still weren’t back as of Tuesday because of the blizzard. Parker said a few others took red-eye flights just to make Tuesday’s practice.

-Parker said the current plan is to start junior Kieran Millan in net both games this weekend, but that things could change.

Friends of Hockey holiday letter predicts Jan. 1 return for Connolly

By Arielle Aronson/DFP Staff

The Friends of Boston University Hockey holiday letter has arrived, and with it comes good tidings for junior captain Chris Connolly’s return from a broken finger.

“We lost our co-captain Chris Connolly to a freak injury,” Parker said in the letter. “He missed the last four games but will be ready when we travel to the Chicago tourney.”

The Terriers will travel to Chicago for the Shillelagh Tournament starting New Years Day.

Parker also addressed the Terriers’ recent slump. While a December 3rd loss to Boston College at Agganis Arena was, according to Parker, “the only real downer of the first half,” the team struggled to move on from that game and thus stumbled their way into the holiday break.

Parker acknowledged that the team needs both Kieran Millan and Grant Rollheiser to return to form in net and noted that the offense was not generating as many chances as it had early in the season. He saved his harshest criticism, however, for the power play.

“Obviously our recent lack of production has been exasperated by our continued ineptness on the power play,” Parker wrote. “We will not be a successful team in big games unless we can get that straightened out.”

Despite acknowledging the areas in need of improvement, Parker ended the letter with some optimism, noting that the Terriers are a young team but also have the potential to be a difficult team come March.

Keith Allain Conference Call Transcripts

I just got off the conference call with junior team coach Keith Allain. We weren’t allowed to ask questions about any of the players who were cut, so unfortunately I have nothing on Adam Clendening or Matt Nieto. Hopefully I’ll be able to get an update on Clendening’s injury before we head out to Illinois for the Shillelagh Tournament. Allain did comment on BU’s Charlie Coyle and BC’s Brian Dumoulin and Patrick Wey, though. Click on the jump to see those transcripts.

On Coyle
One of the things in the summer when we were talking about the team is that we’re going to be young down the middle. Charlie actually came to us and we weren’t sure if he was going to be a centerman or not at BU. We tried him down the middle at Lake Placid and he was just outstanding. He’s big, he’s strong, he’s extremely smart. He’s reliable defensively and he can make plays offensively. He had a great camp for us in Lake Placid, and then he went to BU and really kind of took over that first-line center role for Coach Parker. He’s had a good fall there. He’s a guy we’re going to rely on heavily, and we really like him as a hockey player.

On Dumoulin
He’s a guy that we think can play in all situations for us. In a short tournament like this, it’s hard to get by with guys that are specialists. He’s a guy that’s played at Boston College. He’s won a national championship. I think he’s got good mobility. We think he’s a good all-around defenseman who can contribute offensively as well, so he’s exactly what we were looking for.

On Wey
Patrick’s another guy just like Dumoulin that, first of all, has been a key guy on a winning hockey team at the college level, and that experience is something you can’t replicate. He’s a guy that we also think is a good, steady puck-mover. At BC, he plays in the last minute of games where they’re trying to protect the lead. And he’s not strictly a defensive guy. He’s got the versatility that we talked about with our hockey team. He’s a guy that’s going to be used in a lot of different situations for us.

Coyle named to World Junior team, Clendening and Nieto left off

By Scott McLaughlin/DFP Staff

Boston University freshman forward Charlie Coyle has been named to the US squad that will compete in the World Junior Championship in Buffalo from Dec. 26 to Jan. 5. Freshman defenseman Adam Clendening and freshman forward Matt Nieto were two of the seven players who were invited to camp but left off the final roster.

Clendening was reportedly injured in last night’s exhibition shootout loss to the Czech Republic when he went down to block a shot. It’s unclear how severe the injury is, but that likely factored into coach Keith Allain’s decision to leave him off the team. He was a plus-2 in the team’s first exhibition game against Rensselaer, also a shootout loss.

Nieto was believed to be a bubble player heading into camp. He was held scoreless against RPI and did not dress last night.

Coyle was expected to make the team from the get-go. He did not dress against RPI (neither did seven other players who ultimately made the squad) and registered an assist and two penalties against the Czech Republic.

To see the entire roster, click here. There’s a media conference call with Allain at 2 p.m. today, so I should have more info on the decisions to cut Clendening and Nieto after that.

Hockey East Midseason Power Rankings

By Scott McLaughlin/DFP Staff

1) No. 4/5 Boston College (11-5-0, 9-4-0 HE)
The Eagles might not have the best record in Hockey East, but the defending national champions are still the team to beat. They have the best offense (3.75 goals per game), best defense (2.12 goals-against average) and best special teams (+12 net) in the league. BC finished the first semester on a 5-1-0 run, with all five wins coming by three goals or more. Included in there were weekend sweeps of Maine by a combined score of 8-1 and BU by a combined score of 14-7. Junior forward Cam Atkinson leads the conference in goals (14), while senior goalie John Muse is tops in both GAA (1.87) and save percentage (.939).

2) No. 2 University of New Hampshire (10-2-4, 8-1-2 HE)
The Wildcats, who own the league’s best record, finished the first half with four straight wins, including a semester-ending 4-3 overtime triumph at Maine. Their defense has been remarkable in conference play, as it ranks first with a 1.64 GAA against Hockey East opponents. Anchoring that unit is junior goalie Matt DiGirolamo, who has emerged as one of the most reliable netminders in the league. The offense hasn’t been too shabby either, as UNH is tied for second with 3.56 GPG. Senior forwards Paul Thompson and Mike Sislo rank first and second in the conference with 25 and 24 points, respectively.

3) No. 9 University of Maine (8-4-4, 6-3-2 HE)
The Black Bears ended the semester with an unimpressive 2-3-1 stretch, but those three losses came to BC (2x) and UNH. They haven’t lost to anyone behind them in these power rankings, and their +1.00 goal differential per game is third behind BC and UNH. Everyone knows about the offense, which is tied with UNH for second in the league, but Maine’s team defense deserves a shout-out, too. Despite the fact that their goaltending has been shaky (freshman Dan Sullivan, who has started the majority of their games, ranks ninth in save percentage at .892), the Black Bears are tied for fourth with a 2.56 GAA.

4) No. 17 Merrimack College (7-4-4, 5-4-3 HE)
The Warriors finished the semester on a 5-2-0 run and they’re the only team that has beaten BC since mid-November (in fact, they’ve already won the season series against BC). Coach Mark Dennehy has been calling junior Joe Cannata one of the best goalies in the country for two years, and Cannata’s making it easier and easier to see why. He’s second in GAA (2.07) and tied for second in save percentage (.925), and he hasn’t given up more than three goals in a game since opening night. Merrimack’s offense has been surprisingly mediocre, though, as it ranks just sixth with 2.80 GPG despite returning nearly 90 percent of its scoring from last season.

5) No. 10/12 Boston University (8-4-5, 6-3-4 HE)
On Nov. 8, the Terriers were 6-0-2 and ranked No. 1 in the country. Since then, they’ve gone just 2-4-3, including a 1-3-0 stretch to close out the semester. Those final three losses were all blowouts- 9-5 and 5-2 to BC and 4-1 to Rensselaer. The win in the middle was a narrow escape against Northeastern in which they were more than doubled up in shots. The offense has been pretty consistent all season, as it ranks fourth in the league with 3.12 GPG, but the defense has fallen to pieces. BU has given up four or more goals in six of its last seven games after having allowed that many just once in its first 10.

6) Providence College (7-6-5, 3-4-4 HE)
Statistically, the Friars aren’t much better than the next two teams in these rankings- they’re seventh in offense (2.61 GPG), sixth in defense (3.06 GAA) and ninth in special teams (-7 net). But record-wise, they’ve certainly separated themselves from the bottom four. After a slow start, Providence has gone 5-2-4 since the start of November, although only one of those wins came against a good team (Merrimack). Senior forward Kyle MacKinnon is the leader up front, as his 10 goals are good for fourth in the conference. But even he hasn’t been able to save the power play, which is operating at a conference-worst 9.8 percent.

7) Northeastern University (3-9-4, 3-6-3 HE)
After losing five straight from Oct. 29 to Nov. 13, the Huskies finished the semester with a modest 2-2-2 stretch that included a win at Merrimack, the Warriors’ only home loss of the season so far. Sophomore goalie Chris Rawlings has given his team a chance in almost every game, as he’s tied for fourth in GAA (2.44) and tied for second in save percentage (.925). Northeastern’s offense is still inconsistent, though- its 2.19 GPG place it ninth in Hockey East. Steve Quailer, who missed all of last season with a knee injury, has just three points after tallying 25 as a freshman two years ago.

8) University of Massachusetts (3-7-3, 2-4-3 HE)
After a miserable 0-6-3 start to the season, the Minutemen won three of their last four to end the semester. It’s worth noting, however, that two of those wins were against the two teams behind them in these rankings and the other was against a mediocre-at-best Quinnipiac team. UMass’ offense, projected to be a weakness this season because of its inexperience, has turned out to be a strength. Led by freshman Michael Pereira, who paces all rookies with seven goals, the Minutemen rank fifth in the conference with 2.85 GPG. Special teams have been terrible, though, as they rank dead last with a -9 net.

9) University of Vermont (2-9-4, 1-6-3 HE)
Missing: Vermont’s defense. Last seen: March 2010. Seriously, what’s going on? The Catamounts returned five starting defensemen and goalie Rob Madore from last year’s squad that ranked third in team defense, but this year’s group is giving up an abysmal 3.60 GPG, putting them ninth in the league. Madore, who ranked fifth in save percentage last season, is dead last among qualifying netminders this year at .889. Vermont’s offense hasn’t been much better, as it ranks eighth with 2.20 GPG. Senior forward Jack Downing has just six points after recording 21 last year.

10) University of Massachusetts-Lowell (2-14-2, 2-10-0 HE)
Where to start? The River Hawks lost nine in a row to end the first half. Five of those losses came by three goals or more, including each of the last four. They rank last in the conference and second-to-last in the country in offense (2.11 GPG). They rank last in the conference and fourth-to-last in the country in defense (4.11 GAA). They have the second-worst record in the nation. They have been outscored by an average of two goals per game. And they have five players with a -12 rating or worse, while the rest of the league has none. On the plus side, they have the third-best power play in Hockey East at 17.4 percent. That’s pretty much it, though.

Vinny Saponari denied by BC admissions

By Scott McLaughlin and Jake Seiner/DFP Staff

Former Boston University forward Vinny Saponari has had his transfer application denied by Boston College admissions, according to U.S. Hockey Report. On Oct. 7, The Daily Free Press broke the news that Saponari had decided to play for the Eagles next season.

Saponari and his brother Victor were dismissed from the Terriers in May. BU coach Jack Parker cited “cumulative instances” of displaying “conduct unbecoming of a Boston University hockey player” in the school’s press release announcing the dismissals. The Daily Free Press reported that Vinny Saponari was involved in a team drinking incident on March 17 and then showed up late for a team bike ride that served as punishment.

Saponari currently leads the United States Hockey League in scoring with 30 points (8g, 22a) in 21 games and he has captained the expansion Dubuque Fighting Saints to first place in the Western Conference.

“He’s very disappointed,” Dubuque coach Jim Montgomery told USHR. “He had a long face in my office.”

“It’s too bad, because he’s been playing great. I think he’s the most dominant player in the league now. He’s ready to play in the AHL and develop into a professional player.”

Montgomery also told USHR that the BC coaching staff “was not happy” with the denial and that Saponari “is keeping his options open” and will start talking to other schools in February. Mike McMahon of The (Lawrence) Eagle Tribune is reporting that his sources say Saponari is considering a move to the American Hockey League. His hometown Atlanta Thrashers own his rights and could sign him immediately.

A phone call and text to Saponari have not been returned.

Joe Pereira’s post-game transcript: 12/11 at RPI

By Arielle Aronson/DFP Staff

On what happened at the end of the game
I think it was just a lot of frustrations on both parts. The game got away from the referees and the game got away from us a little bit. It’s over now so you can’t really do anything about it.

On whether he looks for the team to respond like that
No I think it was just a lot leading up to that, a lot of frustrating game. During the whole game, there were some tough calls both ways and I think some guys lost their cool a little bit.

On why the game got away

You can’t really blame the refs. Bottom line we didn’t play as well as we should have. Yeah, we played hard but we didn’t get it done, so you can’t really blame anybody but us.

On struggles on special teams

I think the PK was great for the longest time. We’re struggling a little bit now. Just two bad rotations and they scored two goals, which really set us back. When we get Chris back, he’s a good playmaker on the point or playing up front. He can play either one, so I think that could help our power play a lot too.

On the record going into break

It’s still, from what we were last year to this year, it’s still a great turnaround obviously. We’re still young, we’re still learning how to play, and every team is going to struggle a little bit, have their ups and downs. As long as we keep facing adversity, keep getting through it, I think we’ll be okay.

On what he would say to the team before they leave for break
Can’t really say one word, just kind of tell the boys we get away from each other now which is always good. We’ve been with each other all summer and all year so I think a good two, three weeks away from each other and everybody coming back recentered, refocused, I think that would be good too.

On what the ending of the game says about the team
It shows how close we are. We’re a group of guys where you mess with one of us, you’re gonna mess with the whole team. Obviously we’re going to fight and we’re going to battle with each other. We’re going to win together and we’re going to go down together, and that’s a good thing.

Coach Parker’s post-game transcript: 12/11 at RPI

By Arielle Aronson/DFP Staff

General thoughts on the game
I thought we played really well in a whole bunch of areas. I was happy with the way we competed. It’s hard to play when you get jobbed like we did tonight, and we got jobbed tonight. But other than that, I like how hard we played. I liked how competitive we were in every phase of the game. But it was not an even match.

On whether pulling Rollheiser sparked the team
I think we did it for that reason. Rollie, they got a shorthanded goal and two power play goals on him. I don’t think he had any choice. They weren’t bad goals that he gave up. We had no choice and I thought we just wanted to change momentum by putting Kieran in, and that certainly did do that for us. He made a couple of big saves later on, but we started playing better when we played in front of him. Actually, I thought we were playing well the whole game.

On how Rosen’s line played
They played well. They played well last game too. I think Ben Rosen is really coming on. He got some good opportunities playing really smart, and his wings are working hard for him. It was a good effort in a lot of ways by those guys. I don’t think we had a guy even come close to not playing well tonight.

On how they played in the second period
I think we just got after them a little bit more, and I think we thought it was more urgent now. We had chances in the first period. Like I said, at no time did I think we had a hard time in the first then we came back and played well in the second . . . I thought we played well all three periods. We didn’t play well last game when we won, we played pretty well tonight and lost, so that happens sometimes.

On how RPI’s speed compares with BC
Not even close. Not even close.

On an 8-4-5 record going into break
I told the team, our objective tonight was to get the W and to finish off playing real well. We got half of that done. We really played well tonight. If you would have told me before the season started that this would be our record at the break, I’d be pretty happy with it, especially our record in the league.

On whether the ending leaves a bad taste in their mouths going into break

No. I was glad to see our guys stick up for everybody. They realized what was happening to them, and you couldn’t not get frustrated. I should not because I’m older than those guys, but it’s hard to not get frustrated when you’re getting a bad deal. We got a bad deal and they knew it.

On what the team, aside from the power play, needs to improve on

Power play. Power play, power play. Other than that, we got to get more offense out of this team. We’re not scoring a lot of goals. We got five the other game, but we didn’t make a lot of plays through center ice today because the way they played, so we had to dump it in a lot. We made some plays back from the point. They blocked a lot of shots though too. Give them credit. They played very, very hard. You can see why they’re undefeated at home.

Terriers troubled by special teams

By Arielle Aronson/DFP Staff

TROY, NY – Boston University was not pleased with how chippy its game against Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute became on Saturday afternoon, yet when a team plays on special teams the way BU did on Saturday, it would be foolish for an opponent not to play rough hockey. After all, BU again failed to make its opponent pay for their penalties.

The Terriers were ineffective on the penalty kill and even less effective on the power play. BU went 0-for-5 on the man-advantage, gave up a shorthanded goal, and allowed RPI to score three power-play goals. Those numbers continued an alarming trend for the Terriers, who have now allowed three shorthanded goals in their last four games and allowed eight power-play goals for their opponents in the last five games.

When BU coach Jack Parker was asked what the team could improve on after the break aside from the power play, he merely laughed and then repeated “power play, power play, power play.”

The special teams night started on a sour note. At 3:17 in the first period, Engineers’ Joel Malchuk went to the box for tripping sophomore forward Justin Courtnall. RPI began their penalty kill by quickly clearing the puck out twice, and then it got a little help when BU turned the puck over in its defensive zone.

At 4:53, BU went on a 5-on-3 for 25 seconds when Guy Leboeuf joined Malchuk in the box on another tripping call. BU could not capitalize, but had another chance to score when RPI goaltender Allen York dropped his stick shortly after Malchuk’s penalty expired. The Terriers lost possession of the puck instead of getting a shot on the stick-less York.

That would not be the worst power play for BU on Saturday. A little more than halfway through the first period, RPI’s Pat Koudys was whistled off for interference. BU failed to get a shot on net for the first minute of the power play, as they simply passed around the perimeter and then lost possession of the puck. Engineer C.J. Lee walked into the BU zone unchallenged by the BU defense and dropped a pass for Malchuk, who blistered a shot past junior netminder Grant Rollheiser.

The Terriers’ only shot of the power play came with 14 seconds of the advantage remaining. That trend continued all night, as the Terriers managed only four shots on five power plays.

BU did not fare much better in killing off penalties. RPI had three more power plays than the Terriers, but tripled the amount of shots on goal. They scored a power-play goal in each period and made the BU penalty kill, which only four weeks ago was the number one penalty kill in the nation, look quite porous.

“I think the PK was great for the longest time, but we’re struggling a little bit now,” senior captain Joe Pereira said. “Just two bad rotations and they scored two goals, which really set us back.”

BU’s lack of self-control in the third period set the Terriers back as well. The Terriers earned 55 minutes of penalties in the third period alone, 12 minutes of which belonged to Parker. Three Terriers were ejected in the period, including junior assistant captain David Warsofsky, and RPI enjoyed four power plays.

According to the Terriers, the chippy play was simply a matter of sticking up for their teammates. The game was physical all evening, and a violent hit-from-behind from Lee on sophomore defenseman Sean Escobedo seemed to send BU overboard. With Escobedo doubled over in front of the BU bench, Parker shouted at the referees loud enough for his voice to carry across the entire arena.

In the less than two minutes that followed, the Terriers got revenge with a series of punches and tackles.

“You mess with one of us, you’re going to mess with the whole team,” Pereira said.

Sophomore forward Alex Chiasson was the first to go. After being brought down to the ice in a stranglehold by Lee, Chiasson tore away and then attempted to punch Lee but hit the referee instead. Warsofsky followed Chiasson to the locker room 1:04 later, slamming his stick in frustration against a bench on his way out.

Freshman defenseman Garrett Noonan, after getting caught in a melee with only 16 seconds left in the game, was the last Terrier kicked out of the game. Parker had a few words for the referees at the end of the game and earned a game misconduct for his input.

“Glad to see our guys stick up for each other,” Parker said. “They realized what was happening to them and you couldn’t not get frustrated with them. I should not because I’m older than those guys, but it’s hard not to get frustrated when you’re getting a bad deal.”