By: Dan Shulman
BU Men’s Ice Hockey vs. Northeastern (Hockey East Quarterfinals)
ABOUT THE OPPONENT
Location – Boston, Massachusetts; Mascot – Huskies; This Year’s Record – 18-13-5 (9-10-3 HEA), 6-8-2 on the road, BU leads all-time series 162-58-9; Fun Fact – BU hosted Northeastern in the 2010-11 Hockey East playoffs, losing the series 2-1.
The start of the 2017 Hockey East Postseason for Boston University marks the beginning of the Terriers’ quest towards a national title. For the first time in six seasons, BU will host Northeastern in the Hockey East Quarterfinals.
The Terriers took three of four points from the Huskies this season back in an early November home-and-home series. Northeastern rallied to tie BU, 4-4, in game one at Matthews Arena on a Friday before the Terriers shut down their cross-town rivals in a 3-0 shutout at Agganis Arena on Saturday.
BU hasn’t played since the last weekend in February, splitting a home series with Notre Dame. Despite a good showing on Friday, Notre Dame earned a 3-1 victory over the host Terriers. But on Saturday, it was all BU as the Fighting Irish fell, 4-1, giving BU a share of the Hockey East regular season title.
Northeastern, the reigning league champions, earned a berth to the quarterfinals following a sweep of UConn in the first round. Northeastern escaped game one with a narrow 3-1 victory. But in game two, Northeastern potted three goals in the third to run away with the series in a 6-2 rout.
This season, Northeastern is paced by a trio of top-six point-scorers in the nation. Zach Aston-Reese sits atop the NCAA with 62 points (30G, 32A). Adam Gaudette and Dylan Sikura aren’t far behind, with 52 and 56 points respectively.
The Northeastern power play has been stellar all season long, operating at 28.9% – second in the nation behind Ohio State. Gaudette, Sikura, and Aston-Reese have combined to score 37 of the Huskies’ 55 goals on the man-advantage.
On defense, junior Garrett Cockerill has performed on both ends, recording 33 points and blocking 79 shots on the season. However, Cockerill is a -1 and has been on the ice when opponents score an even strength goal 34 times – a team high.
In net for the Huskies, sophomore Ryan Ruck has done enough to keep the Huskies afloat, despite putting up abysmal numbers. His .894 SV% is among the worst in all of college hockey and his 2.94 GAA is much higher than his career average.
On the other side, BU enters the weekend with the 18th best scoring offense in the nation at 3.18 GPG. Much of that is thanks to Clayton Keller and his team-best 19 goals. Keller injured his leg in BU’s shutout win over Northeastern and missed seven games, but upon returning continued to tear it up. His +15 is best among Terrier skaters while his 121 SOG is second on the team.
Defensively, Brandon Hickey has been out of the lineup since going down with an injury against Harvard in the Beanpot Final. The junior is expected to be back this weekend and his contribution will be needed. With four goals and ten assists, Hickey also has 53 blocked shots this year.
Between the pipes for BU will be Jake Oettinger. The freshman has been a major contributing factor to BU’s success this year, sitting in the top ten nationally for both save percentage (.927) and goals against average (2.07). Oettinger had a hand in five Terrier shutouts and took 18 wins in his rookie season.
Faceoff on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday if necessary, are slated for 7:05 p.m.
PREDICTION – Terriers Advance
Despite Northeastern offensive firepower, there is a lack of depth scoring and a porous defense corps. While the Huskies’ big three may be capable of stealing one game, BU should ultimately ware down the Huskies in a three-game weekend to earn a spot in the Hockey East semifinals at TD Garden.
BU’s THREE KEYS TO THE GAME
- Limit Space on ZAR
Aston-Reese has created a bulk of the scoring chances this season for Northeastern and leads the nation in points. By taking time-and-space away from Aston-Reese, BU will have a better chance of shutting down a Northeastern offense that flows primarily through its top scorer.
- Dictate Pace
Being the home team has many advantages and for the Terriers one of those is playing on fast ice. BU is already a fast team and coupled with the rink at Agganis, it’s extremely hard to keep pace with BU at home. The Terriers need to use speed as a weapon against a big, physical Huskies’ team.
- Bodies to the Net
Although Northeastern’s offense stands sixth in the nation scoring 3.78 GPG, the defense is an abysmal 36th allowing 2.97 GPG. Ruck has been the go-to goalie for the Huskies despite his poor stat-lines and if BU can ruffle his feathers early it may be tough for him to react on the road. BU can do this by setting screens and getting bodies to the net.