By: Jarett Leonard
BOSTON — With a program like Boston University men’s hockey, roster turnover from season to season is inevitable. Top players depart early for the professional ranks, but a new wave of talent is always on the horizon. That formula holds true for the 2017-18 Terriers, who once again boast one of the top recruiting classes in the nation.
Following a heartbreaking overtime loss to Minnesota-Duluth that ended BU’s season one win shy of the Frozen Four, the Terriers lost their top defenseman, best two-way forward, and the Hockey East Rookie of the Year to the NHL. Charlie McAvoy and Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson joined the Boston Bruins after their sophomore seasons while Clayton Keller signed with the Arizona Coyotes after just one year at BU.
Luckily for the Terriers, another talented incoming class will fill those voids. Freshman Shane Bowers and Brady Tkachuk are likely to provide the type of offense that Keller and JFK brought to the table while fellow freshman David Farrance can offer the same offensive-mindedness as McAvoy on the blue line.
“I really feel good about our freshman class,” BU Head Coach David Quinn said. “I think that they bring a lot of maturity for such a young class. There’s a little bit of everything in that class, from skill to size to speed. I think we have the pieces in place to have a successful season. What we do with all of these pieces and all the talent collectively is up to us, but we think we have an opportunity to have a pretty good season.”
Surprisingly, offense was not a strong suit for BU a year ago, as the Terriers ranked 19th in the nation with 3.15 goals per game, a category they are usually near the top in. But the Terriers should score more this season, as Bowers (37 goals, 47 assists for the Waterloo Black Hawks of USHL last year) and Tkachuk (25 goals and 29 assists for the U.S. National Under-18 Team last year) will provide plenty of offensive firepower. Juniors Jordan Greenway and Bobo Carpenter and sophomore Patrick Harper will return to the lineup as well and should contribute offensively.
The power play, which was effective in just 19.4 percent of its opportunities last year, should improve as well, and could rely on the likes of sophomore defenseman Dante Fabbro and senior captain Brandon Hickey to lead the unit from the blue line.
“I don’t think our guys are starting the year thinking about last year because we have different personnel and it’s a whole new year,” Quinn said. “A power play is hard to coach. Sometimes guys get out the fact that it’s still hockey and they get into power play mode. The things that allow you to have success offensively 5-on-5 are the same things that allow you to have success 5-on-4, and too often guys lose sight of that.”
While the Terriers were uncharacteristically lackluster on the offense end, their defense was consistently among the best in the nation and finished as the ninth-ranked defense, allowing 2.31 goals per game. The blue line should lock down opponents once again this season, as key returners in Hickey, Fabbro, sophomore Chad Krys, and senior John MacLeod will anchor the defense while newcomers Farrance and Kasper Kotkansalo will offer size and physicality. Farrance recorded 37 points for the U.S. U-18 team last season while Kotkansalo tallied a goal and 11 assists for the Sioux Falls Stampede of the USHL.
Perhaps the most important piece to the Terriers’ success this season will be sophomore goaltender Jake Oettinger, who returns to BU after an excellent freshman campaign. He posted a .927 save percentage, 2.11 goals against average, 21-11-3 record and four shutouts last season and was named to the Hockey East All-Rookie team. His poise in net was highlighted by a 56 save performance in a 4-3 overtime win over North Dakota in what was practically a home game for the Fighting Hawks in the NCAA West Regional in Fargo, N.D. While goaltender Connor LaCouvee left to join Minnesota State, Max Prawdzik returns to BU after spending a semester leading the Lone Star Brahmas to a NAHL championship.
“I know I’m going to have to be a leader and step up and give my best every night,” said Oettinger, who was selected 26th overall by the Dallas Stars in this year’s NHL Draft. “Last year was more about learning and growing and this year is about performance.”
The college hockey season is broken up into weeks, often consisting of two game weekend series. But when you analyze BU’s 2017-18 schedule, you notice that the Terriers will have two key four-game stretches during the season.
The first will come just under a month into the season when BU hosts defending National Champions Denver before starting a home-and-home series with Hockey East rival Providence College. The Terriers dropped both of their contests against the Pioneers in Denver early last season, a team that returns many of its stars from a year ago. U.S. World Junior team shootout hero Troy Terry, forward Henrik Borgstrom and goaltender Tanner Jaillet will anchor the Pioneers once again this season. Providence will also be a strong team this year, relying on its defense and goaltending to be a contender in Hockey East.
After that tough stretch early in the year, the Terriers will close out the first half of the season with home-and-home series against two top Hockey East teams, Boston College and UMass-Lowell. Lowell will have a bit of a new look this year without top scorers Joe Gambardella and C.J. Smith but will be backstopped by a talented sophomore goalie in Tyler Wall. The Eagles also lost high-end talent in Colin White and Ryan Fitzgerald, but sophomore goaltender Joe Woll should keep BC in the picture.
Before the Hockey East playoffs begin in March, BU will get a taste of tournament action in the 66th Beanpot Tournament on Feb. 5. Terriers will meet Harvard in the first round this year, a team that routed BU 6-3 in the championship game last season, and the winner will face either BC or Northeastern in this year’s final. Also, the Terriers will once again compete with Cornell in Red Hot Hockey at Madison Square Garden on Thanksgiving weekend.
A major key for BU this season will be the first period of games. Last year, the Terriers tended to come out flat, scoring just 29 goals in first periods. But they would rebound strong in the third period, recording 54 goals in the final frame. The Terriers need to consistently play a full 60 minutes, and Quinn believes his team is already in that mindset.
“I think our guys realize that this is a high level of hockey and its competitive and there’s a lot of good teams,” Quinn said. “They understand that every game is going to be a battle, and when you’re ranked number two in the country and preseason number one in the league and you have guys that are drafted you’ve got a target on your back. Everybody you play gets geared up to play you and you usually get everybody’s best.”