By Kevin Dillon/DFP Staff
In the waning days of 2011, the No. 10/11 Boston University men’s hockey team lost its top two centers, senior Corey Trivino and sophomore Charlie Coyle, in less than a week. Without them, the team suffered a 5-2 loss to University of Notre Dame on national television. The game forced many to wonder if the Terriers (11-6-1, 9-4-1 Hockey East) could be a playoff-caliber team without Coyle and Trivino.
In their first game of 2012, however, the Terriers defeated No. 6/7 Merrimack College 4-2 at Agganis Arena, proving that the team has moved past the tumultuous end of the previous year.
The Terriers had a new set of lines entering the game against the Fighting Irish (12-6-3, 8-3-3 CCHA), and based upon the result of the game it was not one that Parker was going to keep together. Sophomore Sahir Gill and junior Wade Megan took the top two center slots that had opened up with the recent losses, but struggled mightily in the game.
One of the biggest problems for BU that game was the play of the new centers who were adjusting to their new roles in the defensive zone and the faceoff circle. Faceoffs were a particularly weak area for BU that night, as they won only 19 out of 59 draws – less than one-third.
Against Merrimack (11-4-3, 7-3-1 Hockey East), the Terriers started Connolly and sophomore Sahir Gill at center, both of whom drew praise from Parker.
“Both of our centers, Connolly and Gill, both played extremely well in the defensive side,” Parker said. “I thought they played very, very well.
The team definitely improved at the faceoff dot, winning 28 out of 60 faceoffs – just under half of the draws taken. While BU did not out-perform the Warriors at the faceoff dot in the game, their showing was much more respectable than last game.
Part of the reason for the faceoff improvement may have been the use of Chiasson and Gill on draws. While Connolly remained at the center position, Chiasson replaced him at the faceoff circle frequently throughout the game, particularly on the power play.
“When I was younger I used to take draws on my strong side,” Chiasson said. “It wasn’t a problem with [Trivino] or [Coyle] because they are definitely good guys at faceoffs but I think it is important to get possession on the power play.”
Gill, on the other hand, took Megan’s spot in the middle of the second line and looked much more comfortable in the spot than Megan had. Gill performed well in his defensive zone, in the faceoff circle, and even scored a key insurance goal in the third period.
With the changes in the middle came a complete change of the line combinations from New Year’s Eve, in which Gill played with Connolly and redshirt freshman Yasin Cisse on the top forward line. Gill played on the second line Friday night with sophomore Matt Nieto and freshman forward Evan Rodrigues.
“Me and [Nieto] had talked about playing together a little bit. He is pretty fast and he is a goal scorer so it is fun to play with him and he makes good plays,” Gill said. “[Rodrigues] is a freshman but he has good poise out there so I thought things worked out pretty well.”
In addition to losing Trivino and Coyle before the Terriers faced Notre Dame, BU was also playing without sophomore defenseman Adam Clendening, who was participating in the World Junior Championships.
Clendening returned to the BU lineup on Friday night, and instantly provided a spark running the power play, which scored twice in its four chances against Merrimack. Clendening was on the ice for both tallies.
“Adam Clendening makes a big difference on our power play,” Parker said. “We put him out there and all of a sudden both groups looked different.”
BU went through a lot of adversity to end 2011, and its loss to Notre Dame showed a Terrier team that was not competing at a top-level. But the 2012 Terriers are 1-0 and have defeated the No. 6 team in the country.
With the win over Merrimack, the Terriers have taken the top spot in Hockey East, moving one point ahead of Boston College. If BU can continue to find production from the center position even after losing its top-two players at the position, they have a chance to hold on to first place.
“We had to find a new identity,” Parker said, “and hopefully we found it tonight.”