This article appeared originally on The Daily Free Press.
The rivalry is back.
For the 271st and 272nd times, the No. 5 Boston University men’s hockey team and No. 8 Boston College will square off, this go around via a home-and-home series. The first tilt is set for Friday night at Agganis Arena, with the second unfolding Monday evening at Conte Forum.
While the high-profile games are riddled with storylines, the Terriers (12-5-2, 5-2-2 Hockey East) carry extra motivation in knowing that the Eagles (14-7-2, 9-1-1 Hockey East) await.
“We don’t like them and they don’t like us,” said junior defenseman Brandon Hickey. “You feed off the energy in the crowd, and it’s a sold-out building wherever you play. It’s one of the best rivalries in sports, and it’s obviously one of the most intense ones. For sure you want to come out on top this weekend.”
BU head coach David Quinn, who stressed his squad must first take care of business at home, spoke of the rivalry in a similar light.
“It’s a game that when your schedule comes out over the summer, the first thing you probably look at as a player is, ‘When do we play BC?,’” Quinn said. “I’m sure the BC guys like at it and say, ‘When do we play BU?’ Both programs push each other, and BC hockey is great for BU and BU hockey is great for BC. I think coach [Jack] Parker said that for a long time, and it’s a heated rivalry with a lot of respect.”
That healthy respect Quinn referenced is another theme that arose in and around Agganis this week. Doyle Somerby, BU’s captain and a senior defenseman, said he and several players have taken the short trip to Chestnut Hill to scout BC, particularly when now-No. 9 University of Minnesota visited on Nov. 27.
On those occasions, Somerby said they got a glimpse into just how dangerous the Eagles can be. In net, head coach Jerry York’s team, which sits atop Hockey East, boasts Joseph Woll, the owner of a .920 save percentage and 2.43 goals against average.
Building on out, the names to watch become even more dangerous. BC’s star defensemen are Casey Fitzgerald and Michael Kim, while the threats at winger and center come in droves thanks to Colin White, Austin Cangelosi, Christopher Brown, Ryan Fitzgerald and Matthew Gaudreau. Altogether, that group has banged home 44 goals and handed out 74 assists throughout the 2016-17 season.
“They’re a really fast, skilled team,” said freshman forward Kieffer Bellows. “They have so many good players and great goaltending. We’re really going to have to bring our A game and step it up.”
The Terriers feel well prepared to do just that, largely because this week at long last let them catch their breath. In fact, BU practiced with its full roster on Wednesday for the first time since Dec. 12, with seven of its players recently missing considerable time for the 2017 World Junior Championships.
During that span, BU saw its American representatives – freshman forwards Clayton Keller, Patrick Harper and Bellows, freshman goaltender Jake Oettinger, sophomore defenseman Charlie McAvoy and sophomore forward Jordan Greenway – win gold alongside BC’s White, Woll and Casey Fitzgerald. Meanwhile, freshman defenseman Dante Fabbro won a silver medal with Team Canada.
“It’s great to be back with all the guys,” Bellows said. “Coming off a huge win at World Juniors is really exciting and something that we always dreamed about, all of us. Coming back our main focus right now is BU hockey.”
While BU’s focus in unwavering, it will be without two contributors. Sophomore defenseman Shane Switzer is still recovering from a concussion, while senior forward Tommy Kelley is suspended for the first game by Hockey East for a hit from behind last Sunday against the University of Massachusetts.
Other than that, the Terriers are at full health and will be looking to build off a four-game winning streak. On the other hand, BC is 3-4-1 in its last eight games.
Despite those trends and the magnitude of this conference set, Quinn said the task at hand remains the same.
“We’re going to continue to establish our forecheck, do a good job in transition defense and move the puck,” Quinn said. “It’s not who you play, it’s how you play. We want to stick to that approach.”