All opinions are my own
College hockey had been trapped in pandemic regulations for almost two years and rinks only started to return to normal towards the end of last year. It seems like, at least so far, people are into BU Hockey again. Last year, most games saw around 3,000 people at Agganis with the exception of a Battle of Comm Ave or a Northeastern game. This year, the Terriers have hosted nearly 5,000 fans in some of their early matchups.
Even outside of the numbers, you can feel a difference around the team. The media coverage that we get as the BHB is unlike anything we saw under O’Connell, and I think that that stems from Pandolfo and his staff’s professional experience. The players are marketing the program themselves, and for the first time in a while, their play is reflecting their efforts.
Terrier Hockey is back and back in a big way. After four weeks and 17 games between the teams, here are some takeaways and thoughts on the start of a promising season.
1. THE PANDOLFO EFFECT
Going into a season with a new coach, you kind of expect to have a slow adjustment period. I know that when Pando was announced the whole BHB was excited, but in the back of my mind I anticipated a rocky year as the team figured out a new system.
I’m not going to say the team is amazing by any stretch of the imagination. What I will say is that there is a shift. The environment and mindset of the players is clear –– they’re playing for each other.
In the player interviews we’ve done and in every media call and post-game presser, you can feel a different level of commitment to the team. Matt Brown told us that he thinks everyone on the team has “bought-in” in a way that’s unlike we’ve seen in past years.
It’s really exciting to see this new kind of dedication, and I think it’s manifesting itself not only on the ice, but also in the way Pandolo is integrating the team into the community. We, as media members, have had more access to players than we’ve had in years, and Pandolfo is sending the team to events with the BU Band and Dogpound and encouraging them to give back to their biggest supporters.
2. FRESHMEN MAKE AN IMPACT
Like having a new coach, you anticipate your freshman class to have a transition period as they figure out the college game. What we saw was a transition-two-minutes when Quinn Hutson lit the lamp for the first goal of the season– followed by four more goals from first years.
Everyone knows that O’Connell was a great recruiter and it’s clear that he brought some top-tier talent to Comm. Ave, but I think everyone has been pleasantly surprised by how quickly these freshmen have made an impact.
I also can’t write this without giving kudos to the “freshmen line” of Jeremy Wilmer, Ryan Greene and Quinn Hutson. The three have a combined 13 points from five goals and eight assists in the six games they’ve played together.
Lastly, Lane Hutson. As we like to say at the blog, “kid can wheel.” His stick-handling, hockey IQ and just sheer talent is unbelievable and just so fun to watch. Pandolfo put it best after the UConn series: “Every time he has the puck on his stick, it looks like he’s gonna make a high-end play.”
3. ROOM FOR IMPROVEMENT
The Terriers are outshooting conference opponents 34 to 27, but they have also racked up more time in the box than other Hockey East teams and have more major penalties than most. Obviously I think that those Michigan majors were stupid, fluke, one-time mistakes, but we still saw Devin Kaplan take a major against Lowell in a call that could have been totally avoided.
Not only is the discipline an issue, it seems like the team still takes a while to adjust to every game. Pandolfo clearly holds the team to a higher standard, but I think that the team still takes too long to find their legs and are often outplayed in the first. I’m not sure what the solution to that is, but hopefully they figure it out sooner rather than later, as every Hockey East point matters.
4. ACTIONS SPEAK LOUDER THAN WORDS
On paper, this team is stacked. We have two solid and reliable goalies, D-pairs that make intelligent plays to push the game forward, and high-scoring offense that, for the most part, have been executing.
John Copeland talked about knowing your role on the team, and it seems like most of the bases are covered. There are your speed guys like Domenick Fensore and Nick Zabaneh who shift momentum, and your skill guys like Wilmer Skoog and Matt Brown who put the puck in the back of the net. Generally speaking, the Terriers have been the better team on the ice 5-on-5.
One of the most exciting facets, in my mind at least, is that these contributions are coming up and down the lineup –– your veterans and your underclassmen are all adding points. With the skill and talent this team has, there is a lot to look forward to. Now it’s just a matter of ensuring that these guys execute and that the points are captured on the scoresheet.
1. OFF TO A SLOW START
BU Women’s Hockey used to lead the league and was consistently ranked in national polls. In recent years though, it seems like the team’s commitment to the game has been lacking. I’d argue that the last solid season of women’s hockey at Walter Brown was in 2019-20, when they sat at No. 9 in the USCHO poll before the shut down.
What’s odd to me is that the Terriers have a ton of talent on this women’s team. Julia Nearis and Nadia Mattivi are solid leaders who have always been consistent for their group, but it seems like there’s a wall they just can’t break through.
2. BATTLE OF THE GOALTENDERS
Speaking of walls, Coach Durocher had high praise for his goaltending tandem. Callie Shannahan was coming off of a solid developmental season in net –– she was a unanimous selection to the Hockey East All-Rookie Team and posted a .925 save percentage and 2.34 goals-against average in 14 games as a freshman. So far this season, she has played in four games and averages 3.75 goals against and has a .898 save percentage.
Andrea Brändli is a grad transfer coming off of a national championship with the Ohio State Buckeyes. At OSU she posted a 1.89 GAA and a .927 save percentage and so far at BU, she has a 1.99 GAA and .938 save percentage.
On paper, Brändli should be the starter, but Durocher hasn’t picked his go-to yet, and it’s unclear if he will soon.
3. CONSISTENT PRODUCTION STILL LACKING
Looking at the team statistics through ten games, the Terriers are shooting 27.7 shots per game to their opponents 34.3. Lacey Martin is producing most of the Terriers’ shots thus far with 43 and has only been rewarded with one goal, while Clara Yuhn and Catherine Foulem have 28 and 25 shots each, and three and two goals, respectively.
When we spoke to Mattivi before the season began, she commented on her team’s lack of shot production, citing it as something she was hoping to see more of from her group. Four weeks into the season and we still haven’t seen much.
All in all, I think the women’s team has the potential to be really good. The players are skilled and have impressive Hockey-IQs as we saw with some high-end Nearis goals, but there seems to be something standing between them and the back of the net, and I’m not sure that it’s just the opponent’s goalie.
One month in and both Terrier teams have highs and lows. The good news is that it has only been four weeks, and the bad news is that four weeks have already passed. Part of what makes covering BU Hockey so fun is getting to interact with die-hard fans, so make sure to stay active on the Blog, and follow along on Twitter @BOShockeyblog and Instagram @boston.hockey.blog.