Terrier Title Aspirations: Move Past “Almost” Seasons

by | Sep 12, 2017

Terrier Title Aspirations: Move Past “Almost” Seasons

by | Sep 12, 2017

Few college hockey programs are as decorated as the Boston University Terriers. Agganis Arena is filled with banners showing the great success of the team through the years. Playing on Commonwealth Avenue gives the players a swagger that is hard to match. It also carries expectations of grandeur that are hard to live up to. Head Coach David Quinn expects his teams to play for National Championships. The last few regular seasons have been good, but have not lived up to the lofty goals of the program and coach.

Last season’s Terriers were a young, talented, energetic, and fun team to watch. “I had a lot of fun coming to the rink and working with these kids. They were a fun unit to coach” Quinn explained with a beaming smile. They finished with a 24-12-3 record. They won a share of the Hockey East Regular season crown, and were the second seed in the Conference tournament behind UMass Lowell. They were edged by ancient rival Boston College in the Hockey East Semi-Finals. They still earned an at large bid to the NCAA Tournament and went to the West regional to play North Dakota, in what was essentially a home game for the Fighting Hawks. The teams staged a legendary game that saw big saves, a pane of glass shattered, an overtime goal overturned, and a double overtime winner for the Terriers. BU had to turn around and play the Minnesota Duluth Bulldogs the next night. Despite a valiant effort, they fell to the eventual National Runner-up in overtime.

“I actually thought we were better against Duluth than North Dakota” said David Quinn. “We had better chances and played with more energy for more of the game. Sometimes it doesn’t work out. We just didn’t have the maturity to make the big plays late. That was the only ingredient we were missing.”

While it was a great team last year, the Terriers did not win many trophies. “We’ve become a team of ‘almost.’ We almost won the Hockey East top seed, we almost won the Beanpot, we almost won the Conference Tournament, and we almost won the regional. We didn’t win any of those. All we’ve won in the last few years is a lot of hockey games” Quinn explained with frustration.

The last tournament BU won was the 2015 NCAA Northeast Regional. They then fell in the National Championship game against Providence College in Boston. Since then, the only trophy they’ve won was a share of last year’s Hockey East Regular Season Championship. They’ve lost the last two Beanpot Title games to Boston College and Harvard in 2016 and 2017 respectively. They almost made the 2017 Hockey East Title game; and they narrowly missed out on the Frozen Four in Chicago. The last two seasons have seen BU become the “Almost Champions” of college hockey in spite of the talent on the roster. Unfortunately, many Terriers are leaving before they can shake that moniker.

Nine members of last year’s team departed over the offseason. Seniors Tommy Kelley, Nick Roberto, and captain Doyle Somerby graduated. Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson and All-American Charlie McAvoy left to play for the Bruins. Clayton Keller also made the jump to the NHL, joining the Arizona Coyotes. And three players transferred to other amateur teams. Connor LaCouvee and Oskar Andren are staying in the NCAA, going to Minnesota State Mankato and Ferris State respectively, while Kieffer Bellows is leaving college to play major junior hockey with the Portland Winterhawks of the Western Hockey League. BU is certainly losing some major pieces.

As much as they’re losing, many more Terriers are back for one more year. Last year’s team was young and talented, but lacked the veteran guile needed to handle some key situations. The 2017-2018 edition promises to be a wiser team. Five seniors are back for their fourth tour of duty. These are the last remaining players from the special 2015 season. Brandon Hickey leads the charge on the blue line as the new captain of the Terriers. John MacLeod and Brien Diffley join him to give formidable physical presence and wicked shots from the blue line.

The returning forwards are Chase Phelps and Nikolas Olsson. These two provide physicality and gritty play that help on the penalty kill and can jump start the team if they need a boost. Olsson is a concerning player though. Injuries have kept him to only playing 31 games over the last two years. He has been working through rehab and will return to the ice for this year. Coach Quinn is optimistic for the senior from Escondido, California. “I think the law of averages will work out and he’ll be on the ice the whole year. His luck can’t keep up like that. And we need him for us to win this year.”

The junior class has three returning players. Jordan Greenway and Bobo Carpenter are two star players who’ve been linemates since their freshman year. They’ve been major parts of the BU offense the last two years, scoring 105 points over 153 games in scarlet and white. They were voted as assistant captains for the upcoming season and promise to provide more of the same. Ryan Cloonan is the other junior and he does not want to repeat last year. The East Longmeadow native had the worst puck luck on the team in 2016-17. He did not score a goal in a year that he was expected to provide more offensive punch. He also had fewer assists, going from ten to six. “I think he put far too much pressure on himself” said Quinn. “Hockey is a sport in which if you get a little snakebit, you start gripping your stick too tight and things start going wrong. Cloonan will be better for us this year.”

This year’s sophomore class brings back six players from last year’s highly touted troupe of freshmen. Chad Krys and Dante Fabbro return to the blue line to give some speed and shooting on the back end. These two will play big minutes with McAvoy gone to the NHL. Gabriel Chabot, Patrick Curry, and Patrick Harper round out the returning skaters. Harper led these three in scoring with 13 goals and 24 assists while playing major minutes. Chabot only got three goals and four assists for seven points, never getting multiple points in a game, but the Terriers went 7-0 with him scoring a point. Patrick Curry had flashes of brilliance, but did not get as much ice time as others in a talented unit. He is expected to make a jump. As explained by Quinn, “There’s a big jump in physical stature at that age. They’re gonna be 19 this year and they’re just coming into their physical maturity now.”

Of all the returning freshmen, none are more important than the starting net minder, Jake Oettinger. In a conference filled with freshmen goalies last year, Oettinger was among the best. He ranked 11th in the country with a 2.11 goals allowed average, tied for ninth with a .927 save percentage, and won the Eberly Award as the best goaltender in the Beanpot. The Lakeville, Minnesota, native was the first goalie picked in the NHL Draft this June, going 26th overall to the Dallas Stars. He returns as the penciled in goalie for the Terriers and is expected to be even better. The backup goalies this year are Max Prawdzik and Nico Lynch. Neither of them have played a game at BU yet, so more pressure falls on Oettinger without a proven backup.

Quinn knows how coach and how to play the recruiting game. He came away with ten new Terriers for the 2018 season. Nine freshmen and one graduate transfer join the program. Last year’s freshmen class was more highly touted, but this year’s crop is talented and balanced as well. Cameron Crotty and Kasper Kotkansalo bring size and defensive presence to the Terrier blue line. They should fit in well with John MacLeod in that role. David Farrance is the last new defenseman. He brings a decorated resume from Team USA’s Under 18 team. He can carry the puck and jump into the play from the blue line. He will pick up some of the slack left by McAvoy’s departure.

On the forward lines, two other Team USA players join Farrance: Logan Cockerill and Brady Tkachuk. Both have Boston hockey ties. Logan’s brother, Garrett, is a star player with the Northeastern University Huskies. Brady’s father, Keith, played on the 1991 BU squad that went to the National Championship Game against Northern Michigan. His brother, Matthew, plays for the Calgary Flames. These young pups combined for 81 points last year and promise to bring some offensive spark to the team. Ty Amonte, Shane Bowers, Hanke Crone, and Jake Witkowski round out the forwards. Bowers brings physicality that few on the roster have while Amonte, Crone, and Witkowski add skill, speed, and scoring prowess to an already skilled unit. Amonte also has Boston connections. His father, Tony, played at BU from 1989 to 1991, was a teammate of Keith Tkachuk, and was on the NCAA All-Tournament team in 1991. Bowers, Cockerill, Crotty, Farrance, and Kotkansalo were all selected in this year’s draft.

The last new player is Drew Melanson. He arrives in Boston as the first graduate student transfer in David Quinn’s tenure as Head Coach. The Paramus, New Jersey native played three seasons at RPI, making the ECAC All-Rookie team in 2014-15 with a 20 point season. He comes to BU with age and experience that the Terriers need. “It’s hard to predict exactly how big a role he’ll have with the team, but we expect him to be a meaningful piece” explained Quinn. “Maybe he can tell us how to beat Quinnipiac, Harvard, and Cornell.”

BU also adds a new coach to their staff. Len Quesnelle joins the Terriers after a long and decorated career. He played in the mid eighties at Princeton. Upon graduation, he joined the staff of his alma mater as an assistant coach, helping the team to an ECAC crown in 1998. After 12 years as an assistant, he became the head coach of the Tigers in 2000. He remained in that role until 2004, when he was fired and went to UMass Amherst as an assistant coach. In Amherst, he helped turn a struggling team into a contender. The Minutemen made the NCAA Tournament in 2007. They upset top seeded Clarkson in the East Regional in Rochester, and almost beat Maine for what would have been the first Frozen Four in program history. Quesnelle moved on to scout for the Detroit Red Wings in the New England area in 2013.

The expectations of the new Terrier coach and players are to merge with the existing pieces into a cohesive unit and contend for another national championship. After last season’s run, the team is predicted to finish high in the standings this year. No one wants to be an “Almost Champion” after the last two years. They have the pieces to avoid the fate of the last two Terrier teams. With practices starting, the Terriers are excited to get started on hanging more banners in Agganis Arena.

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