By: Dan Shulman
BU Men’s Ice Hockey vs. Notre Dame (Hockey East) February 24-25, 2017
ABOUT THE OPPONENT
Location – South Bend, Indiana; Mascot – Fighting Irish; This Year’s Record – 18-9-5 (11-5-4 HEA), 6-4-1 on the road, ND leads all-time series 7-4-2; Fun Fact – This will be Notre Dame’s final regular season series in Hockey East before its move to the Big Ten next season.
In the final weekend of the 2016-17 regular season, the Boston University Terriers will look to win the league as Notre Dame pays a visit to Agganis Arena.
The Terriers currently sit in second place in the conference, two points behind league-leader Boston College. Notre Dame sits in third place while the Eagles’ opponent, UMass-Lowell, occupies fourth.
Boston University gained ground on BC this past weekend after taking three of a possible four points against New Hampshire in a home-and-home. The Terriers rallied in game one with a pair of third period goals, finishing in a 4-4 tie. On Saturday, after falling behind 3-1 early in the second period, BU outscored UNH 7-1 in the final 36 minutes for its highest scoring output of the season in an 8-4 win.
“I thought we made some good progress last weekend,” said BU Head Coach David Quinn. “We played with a mental toughness, we showed some urgency. We obviously have to tighten up. Guys are eager to drop the puck tomorrow night.”
The Fighting Irish gained ground in the league as well in a home series against Providence. Notre Dame won the opening game 4-1 to snap the Friars nine-game winning streak. The next night ended in a highly-contested 3-3 draw, with both teams getting valuable scoring chances in the latter stages of regulation and overtime.
“They got great forwards, got a great goalie, a good d-corps,” said Coach Quinn. “I don’t see many weaknesses. We’re going to have to be at our best.”
The last time BU and Notre Dame met came in the final weekend of last season at Compton Family Ice Arena in Indiana. Although BU earned a 3-2 win in the Friday game, the Terriers lost the series finale on Saturday, 1-0, and fell out of the top four in Hockey East to miss a first-round bye.
This year’s series garners similar importance for Notre Dame. While BU has already earned a first-round bye, the Fighting Irish need to earn points to stay in contention for a top-four finish. The Terriers will look to exact revenge by knocking Notre Dame out of a first-round bye.
The Irish have built a solid core over the last few years, led by leading scorer Anders Bjork. The junior and Boston Bruins draft pick has 43 points (19G, 24A) on the season and is tied for second in the nation with five game-winning goals.
On defense, Jordan Gross is the top blue-liner for Notre Dame. The undrafted junior has eight goals and 19 assists and leads the team 128 shots on goal this season. Sophomore defenseman Dennis Gilbert leads the team with a +24 rating and 65 blocked shots.
In the crease, Cal Petersen has been Notre Dame’s go-to goalie since his freshman season in 2014-15. He continues to excel at shutting down opponents this year, posting a .926 save percentage and a 2.09 goals against average. With an 18-9-5 record, Petersen has five shutouts during his current campaign.
On the other side, Boston University saw an offensive surge thanks to juggled lines last weekend. The primary benefactor of the new offensive look was freshman Kieffer Bellows. With three points in three games last week, Bellows seems to have finally found his comfort level.
“He’s played well,” said Coach Quinn on Bellows’ stellar performance last week. “He’s done a great job over the past few weeks. He’s doing all these little things that are allowing him to be productive offensively.”
“I think it’s just woken everyone up,” said sophomore forward Bobo Carpenter. “Getting a little change here-and-there and making sure you’re ready to play with whoever.”
Health wise, BU will still be without Nikolas Olsson who remains sidelined with a broken leg. Junior defenseman Brandon Hickey remains sidelined with a lower body injury and is coming along with his recovery. Hickey is hoping to be back at practice next week but nothing has been decided yet.
Defensively, the Terriers saw senior captain Doyle Somerby make the move to forward last week, while junior Brien Diffley and sophomore Shane Switzer slotted in at the blue-line. Both have seen spared minutes this season but have shown they are more than capable of playing against top competition.
In net for BU, it’s no surprise that freshman phenom Jake Oettinger continues to impress. Projected in the top 40 of the 2017 NHL draft, Oettinger has proven to be a solid option in the crease. He has put up a .926 SV% and a 2.07 GAA this season, both on track to be in the top five all-time in single season figures.
Puck drop on Friday is scheduled for 6:05 p.m. and on Saturday at 7:05 p.m. for senior night. Both games can be heard on mixlr.com/wtbusports.
PREDICTION – BU Takes 3 Points
The Terriers have only swept three teams in Hockey while going unbeaten against six league foes. While BU has proven it is hard to beat in league play, series sweeps have been hard to come by lately for the Terriers. With a talented Fighting Irish team coming to Boston still in contention for a first-round bye, they will prove to be tough to beat. Though with the Terriers coming back into form, it is likely we’ll see at least a tie and a win to close out the year for BU.
BU’s THREE KEYS TO THE GAME
- Get Off to a Good Start
The Terriers have struggled in the first period over their last four games, and cannot afford to fall behind a team like Notre Dame. The Fighting Irish are +36 over the last two periods and are 7-2-1 when leading after a period. If BU falls behind, it will be tough to crawl out of a deficit in the later periods. “You always want the lead,” said Coach Quinn. “We just want to play well, we just got to keep playing.”
Notre Dame has an 18.2% power play and forces opponents to take 13.8 PIM per game this season. The Fighting Irish are 4-9 (44.4%) on the power play in their last three games. The Terriers have been haunted by penalties in their last three games, going 9-13 (69.2%) on the penalty kill. Heading into the playoffs next week, BU should use this series to practice staying disciplined.
- Get Pucks to the Net
BU has experienced a lack of scoring chances lately due to not getting enough pucks to the net. The problem was corrected in the third period of last Friday’s game and seemingly solved in the game last Saturday. Against one of the top goalies and top scoring defenses in the nation, BU will need to maximize scoring chances.