By: Dan Shulman
Boston University Men’s Ice Hockey vs. Denver (NCAA Tournament West Regional) March 26
ABOUT THE OPPONENT – All-Time Series: BU leads 15-13-2
Location – Denver, Colorado; Mascot – Pioneers; This Year’s Record – 23-9-6 (17-5-2 NCHC), 1-1-1 on neutral ice, 0-1-0 vs. BU this season; Fun Fact – This is the fifth meeting between BU and Denver in the NCAA Tournament, with both teams each winning twice.
Boston University Men’s Ice Hockey will head back to the NCAA Tournament for the second straight season as they face the Denver Pioneers in the West Regional at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minnesota on Saturday.
BU will be playing for the first time in two weeks after being swept by UMass-Lowell in the Hockey East Quarterfinals. BU is one of six representatives from Hockey East in this season’s tournament.
Denver is coming off a 1-1 tie with North Dakota in the NCHC Consolation Game last weekend. The Pioneers were defeated by eventual champions St. Cloud State in the Semifinal Round. One of four NCHC teams to qualify for the NCAAs, Denver is making its ninth straight appearance in the national tournament.
“I don’t know if I felt this good about our team in a long time,” said BU Head Coach David Quinn. “I’m really proud of our seniors and the way they’ve taken an ownership of the last two weeks.
“Obviously the last game we played wasn’t really a great night for us. We seemed to have moved past it and we continue to practice well.”
TERRIERS TRIUMPH ON HALLOWEEN
For Boston University, Denver is a familiar foe. The two teams took the ice at Agganis Arena on Halloween afternoon for the first time in three seasons.
The Terriers got off to a quick start as Ryan Cloonan scored less than two minutes into the contest. Denver tied the game halfway through the first period, but Robbie Baillargeon recaptured the lead for BU before the period expired.
Brandon Hickey’s third goal of the season midway through the second period was enough to chase Denver goalie Tanner Jaillet from the contest. BU nursed a 4-2 lead after two periods, but Denver’s offense was about to spring into life.
Two Pioneer tallies, including a shorthanded goal, tied the game 4-4 and sent it to overtime. But after 21 seconds of extra hockey, Ahti Oksanen scored picked out the top corner of the Denver net from the top of the faceoff circle to give the Terriers their third victory of the year.
“I know [Denver is] a better team,” said Quinn. “They’re well-coached. There are probably a few things you might take from [the last meeting], some things they were trying to exploit.
NCAA TOURNAMENT HISTORY
BU and Denver have met four times in the NCAA Tournament, and have split the meetings. The first came in the 1960 at Matthews Arena in Boston, with the Pioneers defeating BU 6-4. Denver again defeated the Terriers in the 1966 Tournament, winning 4-3 in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
The Terriers got in the win column in 1971, beating Denver in the national semifinals, 4-2, on their way to BU’s first NCAA title. Most recently, the two squared off in 1997 at the DCU Center in Worcester when the Terriers, via a Chris Drury overtime goal, beat Denver to advance to the Frozen Four.
HOW THE TEAMS STACK UP
This season, Denver is led by the trio of Dylan Gambrell, Danton Heinen, and Trevor Moore on the top line. Gambrell is one of the nation’s top freshmen, leading the Pioneers in points with 43 (15G, 28A). Heinen, a Boston Bruins draft pick, has scored a team-high 19 goals. Moore is the team leader in assists with 33.
“In order to defend great players, you’ve got to be committed to the body,” said Quinn. “When you have the opportunity to play through them, you have to be 100% committed to playing through them. That line always finds a way to impact the game so we need to minimize their chances.”
The Pioneers also have one of the NCAA’s top defensemen in Will Butcher. The Colorado Avalanche prospect has scored six goals and added 23 assists this season. Butcher is a team-leading +22 on the year and is one of Denver’s most experienced players.
“There’s no secret to playing good players,” said Quinn. “We’ve got to be cognizant of their defense jumping into the play. [Butcher] obviously is the leader back there, but all their defense get involved offensively.
“We’ve got to make sure we beat them up ice, establish our forecheck, and control the middle of the rink.”
In net for the Pioneers will likely be Tanner Jaillet. After a shaky start to the year, Jaillet earned the starting role and posts a .925 SV% and a 2.05 GAA. Winning 15 of his 28 appearances this season, Jaillet also recorded three shutouts.
On the other side, Boston University features a more balanced offensive attack. Eight Terrier forwards have registered more than ten points this season, with four of the six defensemen also in double digits.
Alternate captain Danny O’Regan leads BU with 43 points (16G, 27A) on the year. He has averaged exactly one point per game throughout his career, and is BU’s top forward.
On defense, Charlie McAvoy and Matt Grzelcyk comprise the top defensive pair for the Terriers. McAvoy, a projected first round draft pick, leads all defenseman with 24 points (3G, 21A) this season. Grzelcyk, injured for the first game against Denver, has 22 points in 26 games and is a +15 on the year.
In net for BU will be Sean Maguire. The senior net-minder earned the starting job following his stellar performance against an unbeaten Quinnipiac in December, becoming the first goaltender to beat the Bobcats in 2015-16. Maguire boasts a .924 SV% and a 2.27 GAA.
Puck drop on Saturday is scheduled for approximately 6:30 p.m. and can be seen live on ESPNU. The other game in the West Regional will pit WCHA Champion Ferris State against St. Cloud State. The winners will play on Sunday at 5:00 p.m.
Denver has one of the strongest lines in the nation and is currently one of the hottest teams in college hockey. BU’s balanced offense and tenacious defense bested Denver once this season, and should be able to help the Terriers advance in a close, hard-fought game.
BU’s THREE KEYS TO THE GAME
- Shut Down the Top Line
With Heinen, Gambrell, and Moore scoring over 40 points this season, the Terriers will have to tackle the tall task of neutralizing this trio. Following this line, there is a steep drop in points among forwards. BU needs to make sure they stop this line from controlling the game.
- Get Ahead and Stay Ahead
Denver has had trouble when playing from behind this season. BU must get on the board quickly and maintain the lead well.
“Obviously we want to get out to a fast start,” said Quinn.
- Crash the Net
The last time these two teams met back in October, BU chased Denver goaltender Tanner Jaillet from the net. BU should use this to their advantage by getting in the head of Jaillet and crashing the net to create traffic in front as well as fluster the goaltender.