Terriers begin tough stretch with home series against Arizona State

Having lost just once in the last seven games, the Boston University hockey team has merely started its climb back into the national polls.

Despite not having to leave Massachusetts until February 15, the Terriers (9-9-3, 8-5-2 Hockey East) will be tested sufficiently over the next few weeks. A Beanpot rematch with eighth-ranked Northeastern University is sandwiched by a home-and-home series against second-ranked UMass Amherst in the first eight days of February.

But, BU can’t afford to peek past this weekend. The squad will have its hands full with two home contests against 17th-ranked Arizona State University on Friday and Saturday night at Agganis Arena.

This Sun Devils team is a lot different than the one the Terriers swept with ease a year ago.

Last January, BU clobbered Arizona State by a combined 12-3 in two games in the desert. The Sun Devils won just one of their subsequent six games after enduring the sweep to finish the season with an 8-21-5 record.

This year, Arizona State has turned it around. They boast a stout defense, ranking 16th with 2.65 goals yielded per game. It’s nearly impossible to score against its penalty kill. The Sun Devils penalty killing unit leaves the ice without allowing a goal 85.34 percent of the time, the 10th-best mark in the country.

Considering BU scored three power play goals in a 7-2 home win over Merrimack College on Monday afternoon, this should make for an enticing affair.

“Special teams is a huge factor so it was big to get our power play going,” senior forward Ryan Cloonan said. “Especially conference-wise. Hopefully, we can carry that into the future.”

It’s going to be difficult to transfer Monday’s success into these two tilts against Arizona State. They head to Agganis Arena sporting a 16-9-1 mark and have managed to come to the east coast and defeat some respectable hockey clubs. In November, they shocked Penn State University, currently the 15th-ranked team in the country, with a 4-3 overtime triumph in State College, PA.

Two weeks later, they traveled to Allston and escaped Harvard’s Bright-Landry Hockey Center with a 3-2 overtime win over the Crimson in the second game of a two-night series. A few weeks later, they ventured east yet again and swept Princeton University in New Jersey.

Arizona State’s journeys eastward have not been perfect, as they are coming off a pair of losses at 12th-ranked Cornell University two weekends ago. However, this a dangerous unit.

The Sun Devils rank 17th in the country with 3.12 goals per game. The team is also 21st in the nation with 18 power play goals.

Terriers fans will need to watch out for sophomore forward Johnny Walker. Walker’s father, Jeff, was a goaltender for Boston College in the late 1980s and his son will look to continue his legacy and inflict some harm on BU this weekend.

Walker is the primary source of offense for the Sun Devils. He finished 2017-18 second in the country in freshman goal scoring with 17 tallies and he has already eclipsed that mark in his second season in college. Walker leads the country with 19 goals and is the only player on his team with more than 10.

He is also 10th in the country with 27 points and the only Sun Devil with more than 16 points. If you are going to the game, Walker is the guy to keep your eye on.

The Terriers will seek to limit Walker and build on the momentum they garnered in Monday’s bashing of Merrimack.

“It was a good win,” BU head coach Albie O’Connell said. “We picked it up and got better and better.”