As we are now in the thick of the holiday break, both academically and athletically, the analysis of the Boston University men’s hockey team’s performance from the first half is sure to continue. In my last installment, I graded the team’s goaltending through one semester. This time, I will be taking a look at the defense. All opinions are my own.
After a shaky start, allowing four goals twice and three goals once through the first four games of the season, the Terriers have found their defensive groove in recent weeks. Perhaps the new-found consistency goes hand-in-hand with Sam Tucker finding his game in net, aside from the outliers in a 6-5 defeat at Providence and a 4-0 loss against Sacred Heart.
These lopsided losses and overall inconsistency have resulted in lackluster rankings for the Terrier defense. BU is tied for 36th in team defense across the nation, allowing 2.94 goals per game. Looking at special teams, BU is ranked 41st, working at a 78.57 percent clip on the penalty kill while averaging the 17th-most penalty minutes per game (12.76).
With his team-leading 22 points (10g, 12a), junior David Farrance has been the star of the Terrier d-core this season. His ten goals lead all division one d-men while the 22 points are tied for the fifth-highest total among all skaters. Farrance also shares the lead for the most power-play tallies in college hockey with eight. In his own end, Farrance has been a consistent, stabilizing veteran presence as one of the few defenders to not miss any time with injury, suiting up in all 17 contests.
Rounding out the list of upperclassmen on a very young defensive unit, junior assistant captain Cam Crotty and junior Kasper Kotkansalo have provided solid, shutdown defense to go along with heavy even-strength and short-handed minutes. Crotty holds the third-best plus-minus on the team with a plus-nine rating, and Kotkansalo’s 27 blocks are the most of any Terrier.
Of the four freshmen who have seen significant time – Alex Vlasic, Don Fensore, Case McCarthy, and Sean Driscoll – Fensore is the only first-year with a positive rating, posting a plus-two mark. There have undoubtedly been growing pains for this group as they develop into D-I defensemen, but the struggles are not without some bright spots, especially in the offensive end.
Fensore has been dynamic offensively, quarterbacking the second power play unit with 2-5-7 totals this season. Vlasic and McCarthy are still in search of their first collegiate goals despite logging similar time on ice as Fensore, but with six assists combined, they’ve found other ways to chip in. These freshmen have been particularly influential in the transition game, whether through helping to facilitate the offense in the breakout or booming shots from the point.
Coming out of the NAHL, Driscoll has brought an extra physical presence to the blueline, but is still trying to find his stride, having yet to record a point. Meanwhile, sophomore Hugo Blixt has been used infrequently and freshman John Copeland has only appeared in one game, so these underclassmen may be looking at the upcoming exhibition matchups as an opportunity to suit up and show what they can offer.
Overall grade: C+
While the eye-test in their own end has not always been kind to the Terriers, the offensive output is there, especially from Farrance and Fensore. The simultaneous improvement of BU’s overall defensive play and goaltending are certainly no coincidence; however, the second half brings many questions. Can BU’s defensive efforts stay on the upswing? Can the freshmen blueliners continue their development? Can Farrance keep up his torrid pace? Only time will tell.