Men’s Hockey Notebook: O’Connell excited to see what growth, experience can do for young roster

Wilmer Skoog (32) and Dom Fensore (23) follow the play against Boston College during the Beanpot semifinals at TD Garden on Feb. 3, 2020. Photo by Ryan Gregory / WTBU Sports Staff.

By: Patrick Donnelly

The Boston University men’s hockey team has been back on the ice in recent weeks ramping up for the season ahead. After an up-and-down 2019-20 season that saw the Terriers churn out a 13-3-8 record (10-9-5 HEA) and come a bounce away from winning the Beanpot shortly before the COVID-19 pandemic cut the season short ahead of the first round of the Hockey East playoffs, head coach Albie O’Connell is looking forward to the steps that his young team can take this season.

“I’m excited to see the jump that an enormous sophomore class has made,” O’Connell said. “One of the most important things is that those guys who had great minutes last year can make a big jump. They all look significantly better.

“Coupled on top of a big freshmen class, we’re excited about the group and the direction of the program. Not that it was bad last year, but it was a growing year. With all those young guys and new bodies, we stuck with guys in situations because we have a long-term plan. We’re trying to hit the ground running. We’re excited about where we’re at with all three positions.”

The Terriers graduated four seniors and two graduate students last year, including captain Patrick Curry, top forward scorer and assistant captain Patrick Harper, and goaltender Sam Tucker. Would-be senior defenseman Cam Crotty and rising sophomore Trevor Zegras also departed the team to sign with their respective National Hockey League clubs.

Among the 27 players on the roster this season are 13 sophomores, six freshmen, four juniors, three seniors, and one graduate transfer. O’Connell is particularly excited to see the steps that the Class of 2023 can take.

“I think you can look at that entire sophomore class [to make a jump],” O’Connell said. “We’re going to need them to really mature and rely on their experiences from last year to enhance the team because they’re basically half the group.

“You’ve got the three defensemen in Dom Fensore, Case McCarthy and Alex Vlasic, who played a ton and all look terrific right now. There’s Sean Driscoll – from Day One last year to Day One this year, it’s night and day for him. Up front Robert Mastrosimone, Ethan Phillips, Wilmer Skoog, Jamie Armstrong, and Markus Boguslavsky all had huge summers. You just go through that entire class – those are the guys we’re expecting to step up and take a step.”

McCarthy and Fensore, who both clocked top-four minutes on a consistent basis last year, as well as Vlasic are expected to see increased opportunity this season. With seven goals and 10 assists for 17 points, Mastrosimone finished his freshman campaign fifth in team scoring, while Fensore’s 16 points put him sixth. As a mid-season addition, Skoog burst onto the scene with five goals and seven points in 17 games, including a dazzling lacrosse goal against Dartmouth, the game-winner against Brown, and the double-overtime-winner against Boston College in the Beanpot semifinals.

Beyond a talented sophomore class, O’Connell is optimistic in regards to the other upperclassmen, especially with the top end of the roster buoyed by returners in captain Logan Cockerill and assistant captains David Farrance and Ty Amonte.

“I’m excited for the entire team, and I’m most excited for our older guys,” he went on. “Not that I’m not excited about our freshmen, though. I’m thrilled for Farrance, coming back and opting not to sign [with Nashville]. I’m excited to get Ty Amonte back – he and Cockerill are kind of the heartbeats of the team.

“When Amonte went down before last year, and Cockerill went down in the third game, we lost unbelievably selfless team players who have highly competitive spirits.”

Amonte as well as other juniors who have injury histories are among the most intriguing pieces on this year’s roster. O’Connell is happy to see what they can finally do with clean bills of health.

“I’m excited to see some of the progress that some of the juniors have made, like Jack DeBoer, Matt Quercia and Jake Wise – guys who have had substantial injuries over the last few years,” the third-year Terrier head coach said. “I’m excited to see them all healthy and in great shape.”

Some other notes from O’Connell…

Losing Kasper Kotkansalo is a tough blow, but the Terriers can handle it

It was certainly a shock when assistant captain Kasper Kotkansalo announced that he would forgo his senior season and remain in Finland to play professionally due to the pandemic. With a young group on defense, the sturdy defenseman was expected to carry a good amount of the load this season.

“Obviously it’s a loss,” O’Connell said. “Kasper is a great kid, a good leader, a big, strong guy, and a good player.”

“It gives us less experience, size and strength, but it opens an opportunity for somebody else. We don’t have as many numbers, but I like the quality of guys that we have. All the guys bring a little different dimension. I think we’re pretty balanced, but instead of having eight or nine, we have seven [defensemen]. That’s what it is right now, and we always have the opportunity to bring someone in at Christmas. We haven’t thought about that yet.”

Optimism to be able to pull off conference-only play

With Hockey East announcing plans to have a season centered around league play, and the Hockey Commissioners Association releasing a statement delaying the season, the 2020-21 campaign, whenever that happens, is sure to be different than previous runs. There is speculation out there among folks like Jimmy Connelly of USCHO.com and Mike McMahon of College Hockey News that games could begin sometime in November, perhaps by Thanksgiving.

“I think the league and the new leadership have done a good job trying to navigate some uncharted waters from the start of the summer, to now,” O’Connell said. “One of the biggest challenges is how do you return to play and how do you go to other people’s campuses?

“The nice thing is our geography with everyone pretty close and a lot of same-day travel. There’s a smart, logical reason for only playing our league. Geographically we can do it better than anyone in college hockey.”

Terriers hope to maintain full health heading into season

After injuries marred BU for most of last season, O’Connell said the team is trying to get ahead of the curve by implementing as much injury-prevention training, like yoga, as they can leading into the season.

“So far so good. We’ve done a good job over the summer with guys who needed to get things taken care of and do the rehab they needed to do,” he added. “They’ve put in the work. We’re letting them shake the rust off. We want to put in the time now, the right way, so we can build towards actually playing.

“Our strength coach did a hell of a job, getting guys to come back here in great shape, and I think the guys did a great job of pushing it too, all things considered.”

A veteran addition is sure to help an already strong leadership core

The Terriers added sophomore transfer Jay O’Brien, a 2018 first-rounder to Philadelphia, as well as graduate transfer Max Kaufman from Vermont. O’Connell sees the chance for Kaufman to be quite the reinforcement for this year’s leaders.

“I would imagine he would have been the captain in Vermont,” O’Connell noted. “He’s got some great leadership skills. A couple of older guys mixed in with the young guys can really enhance a group. Max has helped Cockerill, Amonte, Farrance and Jake Witkowski a bit.”

O’Connell also noted that Cockerill is already a strong leader in his own right, especially with the energy he brings on the ice, which can rub off on the entire group.

“I think Cockerill’s not afraid to speak his mind,” he went on. “Wearing the ‘C,’ he has done a good job dealing with me and managing the group. Curry was such a good captain, so Cockerill was able to watch how he managed things.”

Recruiting has an entirely different look these days

This summer was different in so many ways for O’Connell and his staff, especially with regards to scouting and recruiting during the offseason. The “normalcy” with these duties has been missing since the season was cut short in March, with almost all of the processes being conducted virtually.

“It’s a very strange dynamic in that regard,” O’Connell went on. “Normally, September and July are unbelievably busy. We usually have USHL camps in May and June, then camps and showcases we go to as well as our own camps that we run. August gets a little quieter, and it’s been the most relaxed September that I’ve had, in some ways, in like 17 years. You’re not going from New York to Pittsburgh to British Columbia back to here to on the ice to off the ice.

“It’s more just focused on practices and making sure guys are being compliant. It’s been great that we’ve been able to get on the ice and meet with the guys. It’s just been slower, but it’s exciting that we’re going and we’re moving.”

Whatever the conditions may be, WTBU Sports looks forward to providing in-depth coverage of BU Men’s Hockey throughout the 2020-21 season.

Author: Patrick Donnelly

Patrick is a junior majoring in journalism and minoring in public relations at Boston University’s College of Communication. Patrick is a co-director and the hockey editor at WTBU Sports. He aims to cover the NHL and the Boston Bruins for a living and to become a hockey insider. From Lynn, Massachusetts, Patrick is a graduate of Malden Catholic High School (’18) and is a huge Boston sports fan, avid golfer, and hockey fanatic. His favorite teams and athletes include, the Bruins, the New England Patriots, Tiger Woods, and Mark Scheifele. Co-host of the podcast, The Duck Boat Report, at WTBU Sports, and writer for Black ‘N Gold Hockey. He writes columns on the PGA, Bruins, and NHL for WTBU Sports. Patrick is also a Francis Ouimet Scholar. Find his author page at WTBU Sports, follow him on Twitter @PatDonn12, and check out his portfolio (patrickdonnellyportfolio.wordpress.com).

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