The 2019-20 BU men’s hockey season begins Saturday, Oct. 5 at Union College, but head coach Albie O’Connell has been actively preparing for this weekend since late March, when his team lost in the Hockey East semifinals.
The Terriers lost a lot more than just that game, though, as all six of that team’s starters turned pro, leaving a second-year head coach to rebuild a team that just posted its first losing record since 2013.
O’Connell is very comfortable with the upperclassman foundation of his team, even though he’s dealing with a mostly different group. Four new players will be skating with letters on their jerseys this year – senior Patrick Curry will wear the C with classmate Patrick Harper and juniors Logan Cockerill and Cam Crotty serving as assistant captains.
“It’s about understanding all the great players that have come before us,” Curry said. “You have the ability to set the tone for the team. … And I’m making sure I do everything in my power to make sure we’re successful this year.”
An important part in setting the tone is making sure there’s a clear, consistent message being sent by the team leadership.
“I think with all the new guys coming in, no one’s really trying to reinvent the wheel here,” Harper said. “The biggest message we’re trying to preach is just to take care of our daily process and to work toward getting better every day. Because really, when you look in the mirror, there’s no reason that you can’t be better tomorrow than you were today.”
“All the new guys” are the 11 freshman (six of whom were drafted into the NHL this past June) and three transfers that BU gained this offseason. There’s a lot of talent in that group, headlined by No. 9 overall pick Trevor Zegras, and it registered as Neutral Zone’s top-ranked recruiting class of 2019.
But with so many new faces on the team, can they really expect to compete this year? As always, Coach O’Connell thinks so.
“We’ve got a lot of new pieces,” the coach said, “but it’s the same goal every year: We want to win. We want to win Hockey East, and we want to win the whole thing. Do we have a team that can do it? Yeah, if it comes together the right way. We’ve got a lot of talent, and we’re hoping for a bounce-back.”
As with every team, there are bound to be obstacles to overcome. For this year’s Terriers, they’ll be playing the entire season without junior Ty Amonte, who centered the line with Curry and Harper last season. The role of top-line center now falls to Zegras, who’s been taking those reps for most of the offseason.
“With Zegras on our line,” Curry said, “it’s exciting to work with him every day and see the mindset he brings to the ice. … It’s important to make sure that [the freshmen] understand that they’re going to be here this year and the importance of staying in the moment and building a winning culture that will last.”
Curry alluded to some of the distractions that they team may face this season. With all of the raw talent on this roster, it’s understandable for some of the players to want to look past this season and onto what may lay ahead for them in the professional circuit.
But their captain doesn’t want to hear any of that. And neither does their does. The only season that matters is this one, and the only team that matters is Boston University.
“[Our main message] is for everyone to have two feet in,” O’Connell said. “Worry about BU. Worry about this season. Focus on playing for this team. It’s not about who scores and who doesn’t. It’s not about who’s getting the glory or the outside noise. It’s about winning hockey games and doing it as a group.”