By: Jarett Leonard
BOSTON — The No. 7 Boston University men’s hockey team will look to rebound from a weekend sweep to Minnesota State when it begins Hockey East play this weekend. The Terriers will begin a home-and-home series against the University of Connecticut on Friday before heading down to Hartford, Conn. on Saturday.
This weekend’s series with UConn (2-2, 1-1 Hockey East) will provide a young BU team with its first opportunity to respond to adversity, but there will still be valuable conference points on the line in the Terriers’ (2-2) league opener.
“Every game is important when you play the season we play,” BU coach David Quinn said. “Every game is impactful, whether it be from a national tournament standpoint or a Hockey East standpoint. Obviously last weekend was extremely disappointing and surprising, but we’ve got to move past it. We had a good week of practice and I’m very confident that we’ll see the team we saw the first two games.”
The Terriers jumped out to leads of 1-0 and 2-1 before allowing four straight goals to Minnesota State in a 6-3 loss in game one. The Mavericks continued their success into the series finale, grabbing a 3-0 shutout win and completing the sweep. Quinn said he views the result as a learning experience and he is confident his team will bounce back this weekend.
“We’re working on the areas we need to get better at,” Quinn said. “We’re a work in progress just like everybody else, but I think we got our eyes opened last weekend. I think part of our problem was we might have believed we were really good. I knew what we were in store for last week, I don’t know if our players did.”
The Huskies enter the weekend coming off of a split in a pair of non-conference games. Sophomore Alexander Payusov’s hat trick paced UConn in a 6-4 win over American International on Friday, before suffering a 3-1 setback to Sacred Heart the next night. Sophomore goaltender Adam Huska made 17 saves in relief of Tanner Creel to earn the win Friday, but allowed a trio of goals on 22 shots to the Pioneers.
The two teams split last season’s series with the road team winning each contest. First period goals from Jordan Greenway and Gabriel Chabot were enough for BU to escape the XL Center with a 2-1 win in the first game, as Connor LaCouvee made 28 saves in net. The Huskies were the aggressors the next night, however, as Huska’s 37 save shutout led UConn to a 4-0 win at Agganis Arena.
The goaltending matchup will likely feature Huska against fellow sophomore Jake Oettinger, and while Oettinger and BC’s Joseph Woll were widely praised for their freshmen seasons in net, Huska had a quietly successful rookie campaign as well. He posted a 2.87 goals against average and a .916 save percentage in 21 starts last year, and will have a larger role this season with Rob Nichols graduated.
“If we don’t get in front of him and take away his eyes, we’re going to have a hard time,” Quinn said of Huska. “We’ve got to get at the net-front, we’ve got to screen him, we’ve got to win battles at the net and we’ve got to be ready to shoot quickly and get rebounds, because rarely does he get beat by the first shot.”
The early departure of Tage Thompson to the St. Louis Blues removed a chunk of the Huskies’ offense from a year ago. Thompson recorded 32 points in 34 games last season, while Evan Richardson – who was lost to graduation – accounted for 22 points.
Still, UConn returned a solid core this season, including forwards Max Letunov, Karl El-Mir, Spencer Naas and Kasperi Ojantakenen. On the defensive end, Johnny Austin and Miles Gendron return to Storrs for another season. The Huskies also added a pair of USHL forwards in Brian Rigali and Zac Robbins, while Adam Karashik joins an experienced defensive unit.
“We’ve got to be physical on them,” senior captain Brandon Hickey said. “That’s the most tiring part of hockey, so if we’re physical on them and wear them down up front they won’t be able to sustain their level of play through the weekend. So we’ve got to make sure we’re leaning on them and making them battle and not giving them anything easy.”
The teams will open the series on Friday night at Agganis Arena at 7:30 p.m. before traveling to the XL Center in Hartford for the final on Saturday at 5 p.m.