BOSTON – The No. 20 Terriers (1-0) will open their home schedule this weekend when they host Northern Michigan (1-1) in a two-game set. BU popped into the USCHO.com rankings after a sound 7-3 beating of Union on Oct. 5, while the Wildcats split their season-opening series with Michigan State.
BU hasn’t played Northern Michigan since the 2002 Ice Breaker Tournament, and the Wildcats haven’t visited Comm Ave since 1988. In more recent history, the Terriers are 6-2-1 in home openers this decade.
“You always want to be good at home,” head coach Albie O’Connell said. “If you win all your home games, and you’re good on the road, that’s a pretty good recipe for success. We’re looking to try to establish our game in the first period, you know, try to get the crowd into it. Hopefully we’ll give the hometown fans something to cheer about.”
The Terriers had eight freshman make their college debuts against the Dutchmen. Four of them recorded points, but East Islip-product Robert Mastrosimone made the biggest impact. His goal, assist and seven hits earned him Hockey East Pro Ambitions Rookie of the Week honors. The 2019 No. 54 overall pick broke a 2-2 tie early in the second period, giving his team a lead they would not give up.
As for Northern Michigan, they played two completely different games behind disparate performances in net by sophomore Nolan Kent (16 saves, 4 goals allowed) in a 5-3 loss and freshman John Hawthorne (15 saves, 0 GA) in a 2-0 win. The latter became the first Wildcat netminder to open his career with a shutout in over a decade.
Coach O’Connell’s scouting report has to include their leading scorer, sophomore Vincent de Mey (2 goals, 1 assist, 7 shots), as well as junior blue liner Ben Newhouse (2 assists, +4) and his D-partner, senior defenseman Philip Beaulieu (2 assists), who was an All-American last season.
“They’ve got a good group. They’ve got a good blend,” O’Connell said. “They’re a team that shoots the puck really well as a group. … They’re well-coached. They know how to break the puck out of the zone. They play real hockey; they’re not a dump-and-chase team. We’re going to have to play good defense to withstand some of their offensive attacks.”
Part of that defense for O’Connell’s squad is the question mark that remains in net. Graduate transfer Sam Tucker earned the starting job in the Terriers’ opener in Schenectady, stopping 10 of 13 shots en route to earning the win in a blowout. Tucker inked his name plenty of times over in Yale’s record books before he came to BU, but his past won’t earn him the starting job.
Right on his heels is sophomore Vinnie Purpura, who joined the team in January before starting two of the four games in which he played. He recorded a .911 save percentage, highlighted by a 36-save performance in his first collegiate start.
O’Connell has been tight-lipped about his goaltender situation, but it seems very likely that each goalie will get a shot in this series. And while it’s not a recorded stat, the Wildcats have only played right-handed goalies this season, so the lefty Purpura could have some success as a change of pace in Game 2.
Goaltenders aside, O’Connell’s main focus is to win these games. A sweep would give the Terriers their best start to a season since 2014. Even splitting the set would be BU’s first 2-1 start since 2017.
“Hopefully we can just get out to a good start,” O’Connell said. “They played two competitive games last week, and we didn’t. Hopefully we can get through the first 5-10 minutes of trying to get a couple groups onto the ice and get them comfortable and into the game. As the game wears on, I would think we would get better and better.”