By: Dan Shulman
It was extremely clear coming into the 2016-17 hockey season that Boston University had won the summer with its 9-member recruiting class and success at the NHL Draft.
Three incoming freshmen were taken in the first round of the draft along with sophomore Charlie McAvoy, marking the first time a school had four first-rounders in the same summer. A fifth, defenseman Chad Krys, was taken in the mid-second round meaning all six of BU’s starting defensemen would have been selected in the draft.
With all this preseason success, several questions still remained. Who would be the next goaltender replacing Sean Maguire? Would the youngest team in college hockey be able to mature and develop in order to contend for a national title? And how would BU be able to replace its scoring depth after the departure of Danny O’Regan and Ahti Oksanen due to graduation?
All tough voids to fill, yet the Terriers and head coach David Quinn seemed to have it under control. 17-year-old Jake Oettinger, the second-youngest player in college hockey, stood between the pipes on opening night in Hamilton, New York against Colgate after a pair of stellar showings in abbreviated preseason games.
It was in the preseason opener against Prince Edward Island we saw two themes emerge. First, the Terriers banded together in a penalty-filled affair, showing that they’d be willing and courageous to stand up to adversity in any form. Secondly, two of BU’s three freshmen first-rounders found the scoresheet – Dante Fabbro and Clayton Keller. The third, Kieffer Bellows, was pointless and had an even rating.
Bellows was overshadowed by a fifth-round afterthought starting on the first line, Patrick Harper. Harper scored five times and added two assists in a 10-2 stomping over the guests from Canada. Harper scored three more goals in the team’s second exhibition against the USA Under-18 Team. On opening night against Colgate, Harper added two more and was poised to be one of the Terriers’ top scoring threats.
As for Oettinger, he earned the starting job after posting two individual shutouts in the Terriers’ first two games. He would’ve gotten credit for a third against Northeastern in early November, but a skate blade malfunction forced him out of action for four minutes and junior Connor LaCouvee made three saves during a third period flurry.
The Terriers’ triumph in their 4-2-1 start to the season quickly turned to concern as Clayton Keller exited the game against the Huskies with a lower body injury. He would miss over a month before finally returning to action in early December at Vermont. Without the star freshman, BU went 4-2-1, getting shutout twice and seeing a drop-off in offense.
During that stretch, BU earned a road win at Michigan to rally the team together. Before Thanksgiving, the Terriers got another big victory, beating Harvard 5-3 and continued that success by taking three points from Providence after a road win and a home draw. It was BU’s first victory over Providence since Halloween of 2014, finally avenging their loss in the 2015 National Title game.
Keller’s return was marred by defeat at Vermont, but BU would shake off the cobwebs in their offense and shutout the red-hot Catamounts in Burlington. A win over Yale the following Tuesday saw the Terriers close out the first half with a 10-5-2 record.
For seven Terriers, winter break wasn’t exactly time off as the World Junior Championships in Canada occupied their time. Six Americans and one Canadian trekked all the way to the final in Montreal on January 5. Team USA earned a shootout win and all seven BU players medaled.
That same night, the Terriers began the second semester with a bang, earning a comeback win over Union, 5-4 in overtime. Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson scored a hat-trick, including the game winner, marking an historic night for BU hockey.
Out of the gate in the second semester, BU rattled off six consecutive wins led by JFK’s 7 goals in four games. In the middle of that win streak was a sweep over archrival Boston College for the first time in 15 years. Coming back from a sweep of Maine, the Terriers youthfulness and immaturity finally showed through.
BU earned the number one ranking in the poll for the first time in nearly two years. Facing a three game week which would solidify BU’s top ranking, the Terriers stumbled and were swept by Merrimack. Looking to rescue the week against UMass-Lowell, the Terriers captured a 4-2 win thanks to Bobo Carpenter’s three third-period points.
The Terriers would end the season going 4-3-1 in an inconsistent month of February hockey. Immaturity was a factor as the Terriers struggled with discipline and came out flat all four Fridays, going 1-2-1. The biggest loss came in the Beanpot final to Harvard in a 6-3 rout. The Terriers led 2-1 and had several chances to lead, but the gun-shy underclassmen fell to an experienced Harvard club.
BU’s longest winless run of the season – three games – reached its peak in a 4-4 tie with UNH. But in the second period of that game, BU clicked into gear, outshooting the Wildcats 38-15 over the final 45 minutes and rallying to tie the game late. The following night, BU scored five unanswered goals to earn another comeback victory at UNH, 8-4.
The Terriers closed out the regular season with a split over Notre Dame at home, putting in a rather convincing effort on Saturday in a 4-1 win. While success was had by BU, the Terriers had a problem with scoring first. Between February 10 and March 24, the Terriers played ten games, all of which saw the opponent score first.
In the quarterfinals of Hockey East against Northeastern, BU finally proved they had developed a maturity. The Terriers dug a hole both nights, down 2-0 after a period. But BU persevered and earned an overtime win on night one and a late third period victory to clinch the series and end Northeastern’s reign atop Hockey East.
But falling behind has its risks, a fact BU discovered all too well against BC in the Hockey East semifinals. The Eagles flew to a 3-0 lead late in the third before BU got a pair of goals with the extra attacker. The comeback fell just short and the Terriers became poised for its biggest test of maturity yet – a date with North Dakota at the West Regionals in Fargo to open the NCAA Tournament.
The reigning National Champ Fighting Hawks and their fans packed all 5,227 seats in Scheels Arena for a virtual home game 80 miles south of campus. After falling behind after a period, the Terriers scored three straight to hold a 3-1 lead midway through the third.
North Dakota rallied to tie it after a big hit sent Kieffer Bellows through the glass. The first overtime period saw BU record no shots after being outshot 21-5 in the third period. Oettinger stood tall, making 56 saves. Over halfway through double-overtime, BU’s maturity came through again. A poised Keller sent a pass through the slot to feed Charlie McAvoy back door for the game-winner.
The next night against Minnesota-Duluth, BU got the first goal but still found itself in a 2-1 hole late in the third period. Harper, who scored the first goal of the season for BU, fittingly would get the last, sending the West Regional Final to overtime with a tally off the back cross-bar.
BU had been fortunate all season by drawing late penalties in games as well as holding one of the nation’s top penalty kill units. So justly, the Terriers’ season ended on a Duluth power-play goal in OT and kicked off an offseason sure to be filled with inward examination and improvement.