Men’s Hockey: Daunting Test Ahead for Young Terriers at Vermont

By: Dan Shulman

 BU Men’s Ice Hockey at Vermont (Hockey East) December 9-10, 2016

ABOUT THE OPPONENT

Location – Burlington, Vermont; Mascot – Catamounts; This Year’s Record – 9-3-2 (4-2-1 HEA), 3-1-1 at home, BU leads all-time series 45-23-8; Fun Fact – BU and UVM met in the 2009 Frozen Four Semifinals, with the Terriers victorious, 5-4.

PREVIEW

The Boston University Terriers will look to keep their three-game unbeaten streak alive when they head north for a pair of games against the Vermont Catamounts.

The Terriers showed a great deal of fight and resiliency over the past weekend, earning three valuable league points against Providence. Despite being outshot 39-18 on Friday night in the Ocean State capital, BU prevailed 2-1 thanks to goaltender Jake Oettinger’s stellar play. Saturday, a late surge from BU gave the Terriers a hard-fought tie.

“I liked how we hung in there,” said BU Head Coach David Quinn. “As bad as we were Friday night, we did a nice job at our net-front. We blocked 27 shots and didn’t give a lot of second chances. We just got to play better from the get go.

Vermont was idle last weekend coming off a victory at the Friendship Four tournament in Belfast, Northern Ireland. After a come-from-behind, 4-2 win over UMass in game one, the Catamounts routed Quinnipiac, 5-1, in the final to capture the tournament title.

The last time BU and Vermont met was last December in Boston. UVM outplayed the Terriers over the whole weekend but only managed to salvage a split on the road. After losing on Friday, the Terriers got lucky on Saturday night, tying the game late before slotting home the game-winner moments later. UVM goalie Mike Santaguida exited the game with a lower body injury late in the game and BU put the winner past backup Pat Feeley.

This season, Vermont is led offensively by a pair of underclassmen at forward. Ross Colton and Craig Puffer, each with six goals on the year, lead the team in scoring. Colton is the team leader in shots on goal with 45 this season while Puffer has operated the power play, scoring four times on the man-advantage.

“You’ve got to take time and space away from him,” said Coach Quinn. “Make sure you have a good stick and not lunge for the puck. If we can do that we’ll have a chance.”

Defensively, Rob Hamilton has been a force all-over the ice, amounting eight points (3G, 5A) this season. The senior’s +15 rating is highest on the team as the playmaker provides an offensive boost along with stalwart defense.

In net for Vermont, Stefanos Lekkas has immediately stepped into the spotlight as the Catamounts’ number one goaltender. The freshman is the top goalie in Hockey East with a 1.72 goals against average and a .940 save percentage – good enough for fifth and fourth in the country respectively.

“You got to play fast, get pucks to the net” said Coach Quinn. “There’s a lot that goes into that. We have to have a desire to get to the net and make sure we have that urgency.”

For BU, junior Nikolas Olsson returned to the lineup this past weekend, scoring meaningful goals in both games – his first tallies since freshman year. The Terrier alternate captain is a +3 in his seven games this season.

The injury report is looking a lot better for the Terriers this week. Although Tommy Kelley remains sidelined with a lower body injury, Clayton Keller returned to full-contact practice on Wednesday. The seventh-overall pick remains listed as day-to-day but could be available this weekend if his recovery permits.

“Honestly, it’s day-to-day,” said Coach Quinn. “It really is. I have no idea if he’s going to play Friday night.”

Another issue regarding the Terriers has been penalties. On Saturday, Coach Quinn opted to bench Kieffer Bellows for the second and third periods after the freshman took a pair of penalties in the first period. After a meeting on Monday, Quinn noted he was feeling more optimistic about Bellows than ever.

“He took his punishment and I couldn’t have been prouder of him the way he handled it,” said Coach Quinn. “He was supporting his teammates and we have a good conversation on Monday.”

On defense, Brandon Hickey has stepped up his production this season on both ends of the ice. With two goals and four assists, the junior has shown his playmaking ability offensively. Hickey has also blocked 25 shots this season.

Between the pipes, the Terriers saw freshman Jake Oettinger turn aside 68 shots over the weekend while allowing just three goals. Oettinger’s .930 SV% and 1.92 GAA are solid numbers given the difficult, road-heavy schedule BU has faced this season.

Faceoff on both nights is scheduled for 7:05 p.m.

PREDICTION – Series Split

If there’s one thing the Terriers have been consistent with this season, it’s being thoroughly inconsistent. Weekend series’ have the team looking sharp one night and sluggish the next or vise-versa. Going up against a talented Vermont team, it wouldn’t be a shock if the Terriers come away with the split despite being outplayed.

BU’s THREE KEYS TO THE GAME

  1. DISCIPLINE!

This one should go without saying, but after taking 18 penalties last weekend against Providence, it must be reiterated. Vermont has a 17.6% power play, going 3/8 over their last two games. The Terriers need to play smart hockey and avoid taking silly frustration penalties.

  1. Don’t Fall Behind, Attack Early

Vermont has gone 6-0-0 this season when scoring first. While it’s never ideal to fall behind early in a game, doing so on the road against a top-15 team is a sure sign of disaster. Although the Terriers are making a habit of falling behind early, they’ll need to break out of it this weekend.

“We’re trying to play sixty good, hard minutes,” said Coach Quinn. “I’d like to get out to a lead to be honest, see what that feels like. So it would be nice to get the first goal.”

  1. Net-front presence

Lekkas has been known to get rattled when opponents set up screens or crash the net. That’s how Vermont has conceded most of its goals against this season. The Terriers should use the size of Greenway and Bellows to their advantage by setting up shot below the slot.

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