After getting postponed last weekend, the Battle of Comm. Ave is back on. Boston University men’s ice hockey (5-1-0) will take on the Boston College Eagles (10-2-1) in a home-and-home series this Friday and Saturday. The puck will drop at 7 pm for both games, with BC hosting the first leg in Conte Forum.
With two wins over Maine two weeks ago, BU extended their winning streak to five games, and found themselves nationally ranked for the first time since Oct. 14, 2019.
After entering the USCHO National Polls last week, the Terriers remain the No. 15 team in the country despite not playing any games last weekend. They’ll be looking to build on their winning streak against the number one team in the country.
Boston College is coming off a 6-2 victory over Northeastern on a rare Tuesday night matchup on Feb. 2. Friday and Saturday will mark BC’s second and third game in a span of five days, while the Terriers will be coming back from a two-week gap. BU coach Albie O’Connell doesn’t see that difference as an advantage or disadvantage, and is just looking for his team to find their game quickly.
“Anyone can make an excuse this year. At the end of the day, whoever we have, whatever we have, how much we can practice, we just got to make sure we’re positive,” O’Connell said.
The Eagles are averaging 4.1 goals per game while allowing just 2.2 from opponents; both metrics rank among the top three in Hockey East. Forward Marc McLaughlin (8g, 6a) leads BC in scoring with 14 points, and fellow forwards Matt Boldy (4g, 9a) and Nikita Nesterenko (6g, 7a) trail behind with 13 points apiece.
McLaughlin in particular has developed a penchant for delivering in the clutch, as he has five(!) game-winning goals for BC this season, a mark that leads Hockey East by three. He had a hand in both of BC’s overtime-winning goals this season, scoring one and assisting the other. He will be a player to watch in the third period and beyond.
Last year’s leading scorer, star forward Alex Newhook, is working his way back from a shoulder injury, and according to BC coach Jerry York, is close to returning, however it’s not yet clear if he will be in the lineup this weekend. Between injuries and his participation at the IIHF World Junior Championships, Newhook has appeared in just one game this season, tallying an assist in a 4-3 loss to New Hampshire on Jan. 8.
BU is also dealing with a handful of injuries, but O’Connell kept details close to the vest.
“The lineup is not quite set yet, I’ll just say that,” O’Connell said when asked about players returning from injury, “We’re day-to-day, week-to-week with some others. We get a new set of information every day.”
While Newhook is questionable for this weekend, one of BC’s other star sophomores, goaltender Spencer Knight, has been thriving. With a 1.88 goals against average (GAA) and a Hockey East-leading .944 save percentage, Knight will give the Terriers quite the challenge.
“They’re very strong in all three positions, especially in net. [Knight’s] definitely a puzzle that not a lot of people figured out,” O’Connell said.
One of the Terriers trying to crack that puzzle will be 2021 Hobey Baker nominee David Farrance, who is on a red-hot scoring stretch of 2.33 points per game. The “Unstoppable Force vs. Immovable Object” trope tends to be overused, but it seems appropriate when referring to Farrance and Knight.
“Anyone that sees what Dave does on the ice, they understand that he’s got the ability to beat guys one-on-one,” O’Connell said, “I said it before, I think he’s one of the best players in the country, and it’s a luxury to have him this year.”
Of course, it isn’t just Farrance vs. Knight; the matchups all around the ice will be among the most compelling of the season. BU netminder Drew Commesso earned Rookie of the Week honors for the first time after his performance against Maine, and he continues to settle into his role in the Terrier crease. After facing ranked opponents in Providence and UMass to begin his collegiate career, BC will be his toughest task yet.
The special teams battle should be intriguing, with the defensive pair of sophomore Alex Vlasic and freshman Cade Webber faring well for the Terriers. Despite BC’s scoring prowess, the Eagles have serious trouble on the power play. With only four power play goals on 48 opportunities, the Eagles’ power play percentage (8.3) is the lowest in Hockey East by a significant margin, with the next-worst team, Merrimack, converting 14.9 percent of the time.
BC’s penalty kill, however, is the fourth-best in Hockey East (83.9 percent), and the Eagles have managed to score six short-handed goals this season, three coming from McLaughlin. To put that into perspective, no other team in Hockey East has more than three shorties on the year.
O’Connell is unfazed about entering this matchup without playing in two weeks, citing the 36-day pause earlier this year in which the team practiced just four times. He expressed excitement about facing a rival in what should be a challenging matchup for his team.
“You’re gonna have to shoot a lot and try to get to the net and score some rebounds, and hopefully get some traffic on them, so I just think the excitement for our guys outweighs any sort of negativity or pause we’ve been on,” O’Connell said.