DENVER — The Boston University men’s hockey team entered Saturday’s game ranked fourth in Hockey East in penalty minutes per game. By the time their 6-0 loss to the University of Denver ended, they’d roughed, kicked and tripped their way to the league lead.
Despite a relatively disciplined start to the year, the Terriers averaged 17 penalty minutes per game in their three December contests, creeping up from the bottom half of Hockey East into the top five.
Then, against Denver, BU racked up 56 penalty minutes to the Pioneers’ 35 in what became an unruly mess by the final buzzer. They now average 15.9 minutes in the box per game, sixth most in the nation.
“We took some stupid penalties, and we’re going to pay for it,” BU coach Jack Parker said. “When I watch film, people will sit out the next game for sure, anyway.”
Ten of the penalty minutes on Saturday came on a disqualification penalty to sophomore defenseman Alexx Privitera, who kicked a Denver player in a scrum after the whistle. Privitera alone accounted for 19 minutes in the box before he was ejected late in the second period. Ten more came from a late game misconduct to junior defenseman Patrick MacGregor.
The Terriers’ defensemen recorded 40 of those 56 minutes in total. They might easily have had more, but junior defenseman Garrett Noonan – recently named an assistant captain – got away scot-free after he hit Denver freshman Quentin Shore from behind and continued to shove him into the boards away from the play late in the third period.
MacGregor took the punishment for that play instead when he jumped in next to Noonan, punching Shore and drawing three penalties: roughing, cross-checking, and a game misconduct. Freshman forward Matt Lane served the ensuing seven-minute penalty in his place.
Parker said he had no idea how Noonan got away with the play, and that frustration, with the game 5-0 at that point, was likely part of the reason he went after Shore.
“Guys were getting frustrated, definitely, because pucks weren’t bouncing our way, but we’ve just got to battle through,” said senior assistant captain Ryan Ruikka, one of only two Terrier blueliners who didn’t take a penalty on Saturday. “You can’t lose games like that.”
Privitera entered the game with a team-leading 32 penalty minutes on the year. He’s now up to 51. While his improved defensive play has been key to BU’s success this season, his lack of discipline has hurt the team repeatedly. On Saturday, his first penalty, for roughing, came 14 seconds after BU went on a five-minute power play. Denver scored twice on the ensuing 4-on-4 to take a 3-0 lead.
With freshman defenseman Matt Grzelcyk already missing because he couldn’t fly back from the World Junior Championships in Russia in time, the Terriers could ill afford to lose another defenseman. But when Privitera was ejected, they had no choice but to rotate five blueliners for the remaining 22 minutes of the game.
“I think we missed [Grzelcyk] a lot, with all the penalties and everything,” Ruikka said. “I was gasping for air, especially up here in the Mile High City.”
Of the other four least disciplined Hockey East teams – the University of Maine, Providence College, Northeastern University and the University of Vermont – only Providence has a winning record (7-6-3).
Meanwhile, BU’s main rivals for the top spot in Hockey East, Boston College and New Hampshire, are the two least penalized teams in the conference. They rank 45th and 46th in the nation, respectively, in minutes spent in the box per game.
BU’s penalty kill has also fallen off recently, succeeding just 81.2 percent of the time. Regularly losing players like Privitera, who’s become a significant part of the PK, only makes it harder on the players left shorthanded on the ice.
“We just need to keep those guys calmed down, because they’re good players for us,” Ruikka said. “They contribute for us on the power play and they create plays. We need them on the ice. We can’t have them in the locker room not playing for us.”