By: Dan Shulman
BU Men’s Ice Hockey vs. University of Connecticut (Hockey East) November 18-19, 2016
ABOUT THE OPPONENT
Location – Storrs, Connecticut; Mascot – Huskies; This Year’s Record – 3-3-5 (1-1-1 HEA), 2-0-1 at home, BU leads all-time series 3-1-1; Fun Fact – UConn moved to Hockey East from Atlantic Hockey at the start of the 2014-15 season.
SATURDAY NIGHT GAME BROADCAST: Marisa Ingemi and Jarrett Leonard. Listen Live on mixlr.com/wtbusports
The Boston University Terriers will foray back into league play this weekend as the UConn Huskies await in a home-and-home series. BU will head to the XL Center for the opener before returning to Commonwealth Avenue for the finale.
The Terriers return from Ann Arbor, Michigan following a series split with the Michigan Wolverines. The hosts walloped BU, 4-0, last Friday before the resilient Terriers withstood an early goal on Saturday to salvage a victory, 4-2. Freshman Patrick Harper’s three points earned him Hockey East Rookie of the Week.
The Huskies took a trip to the Midwest as well to take on Big Ten frontrunners Ohio State. The Buckeyes were too much for UConn to handle on Friday, earning a convincing 7-3 victory. However, goalie Rob Nichols stopped a career-high 46 shots on Saturday in a 3-3 tie. The Terriers will need to find a way to get chances against one of the top shot-blocking teams in the nation.
“They play fast,” said BU Head Coach David Quinn. “They’re a team that likes to put pucks behind your defense and that top line is good. They’re dangerous.”
The last meeting between BU and UConn came back in October 2015. The Terriers took the first game of the series at home, 4-2 thanks to a dominant defensive performance in the third period. The finale went to the Huskies in Storrs, 5-2, as Nichols made 36 saves to silence BU.
This season, the Huskies offense features sophomore Maxim Letunov. The Russian was originally committed to BU but found himself playing for UConn last October. With four goals and seven assists in ten games, Letunov has become one of the top centers in Hockey East.
Defensively, junior Johnny Austin has been a mainstay on the blue-line throughout much of his career. Leading the Huskies with 25 blocked shots, Austin has only taken three penalties this season. With four points and 13 shots on goal, Austin has shown his ability as a two-way player as well.
“There’s a lot of things you can do [to find seams in the defense],” said Quinn. “Lift our head up, shoot from the sides, quick release, don’t let them get into the shooting lanes.”
In net for UConn, BU will likely see both Nichols and freshman Adam Huska. While Nichols has already earned two Hockey East Defensive Player of the Week Awards, Huska has basically split the time evenly with the seasoned veteran. Both have almost the same save percentage and have allowed nearly equal amounts of goal.
“In order to beat any goalie you got to get traffic,” said Quinn. “You’ve got to surprise him, be looking for rebounds. To beat [Nichols] is the same remedy to beat anybody else.”
For the Terriers, helping to replace the offensive production of Clayton Keller hasn’t been easy, but fellow freshman Kieffer Bellows has shown his scoring touch as of late. With three goals and 22 shots on net, Bellows has proven he can be an offensive threat for BU. Two of his goals have come on the power play as Bellows has been a key contributor on special teams.
Healthwise, Keller remains sidelined with a lower body injury while Ryan Cloonan is dealing with an upper body injury and will be out for this weekend. Nik Olsson, who also missed time with an upper body injury is questionable for this weekend as is defenseman John MacLeod.
On defense, freshman Dante Fabbro has made an immediate impact at the collegiate level. His 20 blocked shots lead the team as does his +7 rating. Fabbro’s shooting touch has also been valuable, with 21 shots on goal and two tallies for the Terriers.
Between the pipes on Friday night will be Connor LaCouvee. The junior will be making his first start of the season after making a cameo appearance two weekends ago when Jake Oettinger experienced an equipment malfunction. In his four minutes of action, LaCouvee made three saves and looked supremely confident.
The freshman Oettinger has posted an impressive .932 SV% and a 1.79 GAA. His +12 rating also speaks to his abilities of shutting down opponents. The freshman aims to be the first Terrier goaltender in history to keep a shutout in his first four home games if he plays on Saturday.
“[LaCouvee’s] had a good week of practice,” said Quinn. “I want to get him into a game because he deserves it. The hard thing is you can’t play everyone but you’ve got to keep everybody involved.”
Puck drop on both Friday and Saturday nights is scheduled for 7:05 p.m.
PREDICTION – BU Sweep
Friday night’s game will be tough but if the Terriers muster up the same effort as they did in the final two periods at Michigan last Saturday, it should be a dramatic, close victory. Saturday’s game will be a little more lopsided with the Terriers in complete control.
BU’s THREE KEYS TO THE GAME
It will be a literal dogfight this weekend as both teams rely upon speed and physical offense. The Terriers will have to stay out of the penalty box this weekend as UConn’s power play has been operating at 22.2% this season.
- Determined First Period
The Huskies are +6 in the first period. Much like many of BU’s other opponents this season, UConn is tough in the first period but tends to fizzle late in games. BU will need to come out in control of the game on both nights.
“We’ve got to be ready to play for sixty minutes,” said Quinn. “We don’t want to get on that bus afterwards and regret our effort.”
- Stop Tage Thompson
UConn’s first-round pick has been stellar since stepping on campus last season and has not lost a step in his sophomore season. Four of his seven goals have come on the power play while his 34 shots lead the team. BU will have to limit his opportunities.