No. 6 Terriers to end 2012 with contest at No. 14 Denver

By Kevin Dillon/DFP Sports

The No. 6 Boston University men’s hockey team is spending a few days in Denver, Colo. during its winter break from school, but it is not for a team skiing trip. BU has travelled west and will take on No. 14 Denver University Saturday in the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame Game.

The Terriers (10–5, 8–4 Hockey East), will look to continue their good form and close out 2012 with a win, as they entered the break having won four of their last five games. The only loss came against No. 1 Boston College on Dec. 1.

BU coach Jack Parker got the team to Denver on Wednesday to give it some extra time to practice at Magness Arena and to get back on the same page after spending some time away from each other.

“It is a smaller rink and it’s like [the University of] North Dakota’s, and we are just trying to get their legs in and feel of the puck back,” Parker said. “We are doing a lot of skill drills, stuff like that.”

BU ran those practices without freshman defenseman Matt Grzelcyk, who was in Ufa, Russia with the U.S. National Junior Team. Grzelcyk was made the final cut from Team USA early Friday Morning and will not make it back to Denver in time to play for the Terriers Saturday.

“It was great to have him in the lineup. He is one of our most important players,” Parker said Thursday.

Parker said he was confident in his group of defensemen, though, as junior Patrick MacGregor will make it back into the lineup. He and senior captain Ryan Ruikka have been competing for the final defenseman spot, so Grzelcyk’s absence opens up an opportunity for both of them to play.

Denver (9–6–3, 7–4–3 WCHA) is looking to get back on track after going winless in its last eight games. The Pioneers tied the University of Wisconsin, No. 7 North Dakota, and Bemidji State University during that span.

Before that eight-game winless stretch, Denver had won nine of its first 10 games, only losing to No. 16 Saint Cloud State University. Despite the Pioneers’ recent struggles, Parker said he expects them to be a tough opponent on Saturday.

“I expect them to be a real good team,” Parker said. “In general, they are a scoring team. They will be a top-10 team in the nation for sure. They might even be a top-five in the final RPI stuff.”

Denver has started all three goalies on its roster at various points this season, but Saturday’s starter will likely be either junior Sam Brittain and sophomore Juho Olkinuora. Brittain has a 2.78 goals-against average this season with a .908 save percentage in eight starts, while Olkinuora has a 1.92 goals-against average and a .936 save percentage in seven starts.

Freshman goaltender Matt O’Connor will make his 11th start of the season Saturday in Denver. The 6-foot-5 netminder has a 2.22 goals-against average and .931 save percentage so far this year.

Parker said the decision to start O’Connor was simplified this week as the Toronto, Ontario native got one more day of practice than Maguire. Maguire, who is also feeling under the weather according to Parker, and freshman defenseman Ahti Oksanen arrived a day later than the rest of the team due to flight scheduling.

“We knew because of the way we booked our flights he was going to have a hard time. He was in an island off of Vancouver and he had a hard time getting off the island in time to get to Vancouver to get to Denver … He and Oksanen both missed practice last night coming from Finland, obviously.”

If Denver does finish among the top 10 teams in the nation as Parker expects, a win over the Pioneers could be crucial for the Terriers’ final RPI ranking.

BU already has at least one win over BC, the University of New Hampshire and North Dakota, who are each currently in the top 10 in RPI ranking, but a win over Denver could go a long way at the end of the season.

“They play in a real tough league,” Parker said. “They have won a lot of games, so if we can get a ‘W’ against them, it will be like getting a ‘W’ against North Dakota. It will be like getting a ‘W’ against BC when they were No. 1 nationally. It will be a significant win as far as the NCAA tournament is concerned.”