By Jake Seiner/DFP Staff
Friday morning, Jack Parker had an idea.
After Friday’s 5-4 overtime win against the No. 8/9 University of Massachusetts-Lowell, it looked like the No. 4 Boston University men’s hockey coach’s idea might change his team’s entire season.
Parker knew the Terriers would be playing shorthand for 3-to-4 weeks as junior Nick Bonino recovered from a separated shoulder suffered against the University of Michigan last Saturday. He also knew that his power play was struggling, capitalizing on just 3-of-19 chances –– a .158 conversion rate.
When Parker came up with the idea, the third-winningest coach in Division-I hockey history shared it with his assistants.
The idea: promote sophomore defenseman David Warsofsky to the top power-play unit –– and play him at forward.
“I said to my assistants, ‘You know what, with Bonino out, maybe we should go with our quote-unquote top five out there, see if we can’t go get something going on one half of our power plays at least,’” Parker said.
When UML senior Jeremy Dehner took a tripping penalty with 2:27 left in overtime Friday, Parker, considering his tired core of forwards and a lackluster 0-for-3 showing on the man advantage to that point, decided to make his move.
When the Terriers came out for the left-side offensive draw, sophomore Corey Trivino lined up at center with the regular top power-play unit, except Warsofsky, already two goals into his first-star night, was crouched at his right wing in the slot.
“We never practiced it and never told them about it,” Parker said. “I just said, ‘Hey David, go play up at the shooter’s position.”
On its last outing late in the third period, the top power-play unit struggled mightily to even set up in the attacking zone. After an initial clear off the faceoff, the Terriers tried three times to enter into the UML zone and establish possession. All three times, the River Hawks cleared the puck within a few seconds of its entry.
The line changed one minute into the man advantage without so much as sniffing a scoring chance.
In overtime, with Warsofsky at the right-side half-wall position, the unit clicked almost instantly.
A few passes off the opening faceoff, Warsofsky gave the Terriers their first scoring chance of the power play, detonating an explosive one-time slap shot from atop the right circle that was turned away by senior UML netminder, Carter Hutton.
About a minute of quick puck movement later, when junior Colby Cohen rocketed home the game-winner at 3:54, he did so with Warsofsky setting a screen in front. The defenseman was posted up atop the crease, back to the net like a basketball forward.
For the Marshfield native, the decision to set up in front was a natural one, and carried a potential message to teammates who had opted to hang around the perimeter on the power play in the past.
“It felt kind of good,” Warsofsky said. “You’re out there on the power play and some of your forwards aren’t setting you screens. Everyone takes it for granted how important that screen really is, so I just wanted to get in there and block the goalie’s eyes and create an opportunity to score.”
Warsofsky, who played forward as a youth and some in high school, said he’s “always kind of had that offensive instinct” in his game. With him, Cohen and junior Kevin Shattenkirk on the ice at the same time, the BU power play adds yet another dynamic to an already talented core.
“They’re three of our best players, no doubt about that,” Paker said. “I talked to David about playing him at center and start practicing him at center, just because, I hope we never have to play him at center, but with Bonino out, if somebody else gets an injury, it’s a thin area for us. He’s one of the few defenseman –– he’s the only defenseman who can go up and play forward for us.”
The right wing in BU’s power play might be the ideal position to suit Warsofksy’s dynamic skill set, according to Parker.
“[Warsofksy’s] a real clever player,” Parker said of. “I think he might be better off playing the half wall than the point because at the point he’s a little too clever. On the half wall he can drill it. He can really one-time a shot if he gets a chance to do that, but when he gets it he can close, he can beat people. He can retrieve pucks. He’s a very, very smart player.”
“We’ll probably use him there at least until Bonino gets back.”
After mustering just five goals in their first three games combined, the Terriers doubled their season total by dropping a five-spot on UMass-Lowell tonight. Four of BU’s goals involved guys driving to the net, something that has been lacking for most of the season. The first two goals, scored by Alex Chiasson and David Warsofsky, came on odd-man rushes that were finished with snipes over River Hawk goalie Carter Hutton’s glove. On his second goal, BU’s fourth of the game, Warsofsky jumped into the play late and took a pass from Andrew Glass at the top of the slot, where he fired a wrister threw a screen and into the net. Colby Cohen’s overtime game-winner found its way through a slew of bodies blocking Hutton’s view. The Terriers still struggled to set up at times on offense, and coach Jack Parker noted that his team was outworked down low for much of the game, but it’s tough to find too much to complain about on the offensive side of things after tonight.
The Terrier D allowed the River Hawks extended offensive-zone possessions throughout the game. UML recorded 10 of the final 12 shots in the first period and outshot BU, 19-10, in the second. But then the defense completely turned it around in the third period and overtime, allowing just five shots over the final 23:54. Despite the complete 180, though, it’s hard to ignore those first 40 minutes. Lowell continually got second- and third-chance opportunities as BU failed to clear away rebounds. Perhaps some of the early-game struggles can be attributed to two new defensive pairings –– Sean Escobedo was teamed with Kevin Shattenkirk and Max Nicastro was teamed with Cohen. Parker said he did this because Escobedo looked shaky against Michigan, and thought it would be better to pair him with the captain rather than another freshman. Parker added that he thought Escobedo and Shattenkirk played great together.
Kieran Millan made 32 saves, one shy of his career high. Yes, he gave up four goals, but only one of them could be considered “soft”. On the River Hawks’ fourth goal, he got beat five-hole on a shot that ultimately hit the post, and then failed to recover in time to block the rebound. On the first goal, UML was allowed two hacks at rebounds as the BU D did little to help Millan out. On the second, a shot wide took a hard bounce off the end boards and came right to Michael Scheu on the left doorstep. On the third, Lowell was again allowed two shots at a rebound as Scheu and Michael Budd stormed into the BU crease, culminating in Budd putting the puck home. But Millan stood tall when he needed to late, stopping two 2-on-1s in the final six minutes of the game. Parker said he told Millan in the locker room after the game that normally he wouldn’t be happy with four goals, but that he thought Millan played great.
Special teams: B
The Terrier penalty kill looked terrific for the second game in a row, holding UML scoreless on its five man-up chances. Coming into the game, the River Hawk power play was operating at a 28.6-percent clip –– the best in Hockey East –– and had scored at least one PP goal in each of its first four games. The PK was especially critical in the second period, when it killed off three straight penalties in the final nine minutes of the stanza. The power play, on the other hand, struggled for most of the night. In the first three periods, it was 0-for-3 with just two shots on goal. But it made amends in overtime. After Warsofsky and Shattenkirk doubled that shots total, Cohen ended the game with a one-timer from the left point that found its way through a screen in front. The most interesting part of that power play was the fact that Warsofsky was playing forward. Parker said he talked about moving Warsofsky up to forward on the top PP unit with his assistant coaches for the first time this morning because he thought Warsofsky was one of his five best players, but didn’t want to take Shattenkirk or Cohen off the top unit. He added that he might turn to the new look more in the future. After seeing how it worked in overtime, it’s hard to argue against it, especially since the power play struggled in regulation.
Rene Reyes recaps Thursday’s 2-1 loss to New Jersey.
BU takes on UMass-Lowell in what should be one of the team’s most important weekends of the regular season.
Columnist Craig Meyer discusses fans’ expectations for BU hockey this year, and whether or not they should reconsider after a less-than-impressive start to the season.
By Jake Seiner/DFP Staff
Offense – Grade B-
The Terrier offense benefited from the team’s noticeable jump in effort and hustle. Two of BU’s three goals were the direct result of pressure on the forecheck forcing mistakes by Michigan goaltender Bryan Hogan. There is still work to be done in the offensive zone –– BU is still not crashing the net for Grade-A opportunities beneath the circles enough. That said, the Terriers played much harder tonight than in their previous games, and the fruits of that labor were felt in the offensive zone.
Defense – Grade C
Michigan outshot the Terriers, 35-22, which says a lot about the puck possession the Wolverines maintained. That puck possession can be largely attributed to a buzzing forecheck that forced turnovers in the offensive zone for Michigan all night. In the third period, the Maize and Blue ripped an astounding 30 shots, 21 of which ended up on net. Granted, BU was tired playing down two men –– Nick Bonino left the game in the first period with a separated shoulder and Eric Gryba was escorted off the ice 2:15 into the third period on a game misconduct for hitting from behind. But BU needed to make better decisions breaking out of their own zone and not put so much pressure on Kieran Millan.
Goaltending – Grade A-
BU’s skaters were tired, and in the third period, Michigan attacked in full force. The Wolverines aforementioned 30 shot attempts in the third period came from all over the ice, and there was little the defense could do about it. BU won the game because Kieran Millan put his tired teammates on his back and carried them to the end of regulation. Yes, he gave up two goals in the third, and yes, he was in position to make the save on both of them. But for the first time this season, Millan looked like the same kid who carried BU to a national title a year ago.
Special Teams – Grade B+
The BU penalty kill was, for the second game in a row, outstanding. Playing without PK specialist Luke Popko (flu) and Bonino, BU killed a huge 5-on-3 chance early in the third, constantly taking away passing and shooting lanes while holding Michigan to just eight shots on six power plays, killing all six chances. On the power play, BU got the job done, converting 2-of-8 chances. That said, BU still struggled mightily with puck possession, and the pointmen continued to make poor decisions that, combined with lackadaisical puck movement, gave Michigan a number of easy clears off turnovers high in the zone.
X-Factor – Faceoffs
BU came into the game winning faceoffs at an abysmal .452 rate, and they were going against a Michigan team that had won draws at a .546 clip. Yet, without two of their best faceoff guys (Bonino and Popko), BU held the Wolverines to a meager 32-31 faceoff advantage. The performance was especially key as the Terriers faced a lot of faceoffs from their own zone, and Michigan didn’t need any more help possessing the puck in the BU zone.