Thursday, March 23, 2017

North Dakota Preview - NCAA Tournament Round One

The waiting, the mock brackets, the constant checking of the PaireWise and league standings is finally over. As you know, 7th seeded BU will be headed west to play 10th seeded North Dakota, the host of the Fargo-West Regional in the NCAA tournament.

Brandon Hickey onetimes a Cason Hohman pass for a first period
power play goal against North Dakota in the 2015 Frozen Four
in Boston. 

This marks the fourth time since the field expanded to 16 teams in 2003 that BU has been shipped west. They went in 2007 to Grand Rapids, Michigan, and St. Paul, Minnesota in both 2012 and 2016.

The North Dakota Fighting Sioux Hawks had a late season push, winning six of their last eight games. This helped them to get off the bubble and shore up a three seed. NoDak swept St. Cloud in the opening round of the NCHC tournament and dropped top-rankled Denver in the semis, before falling in dramatic fashion to Minnesota-Duluth 4-3 in the NCHC championship game. The Bulldogs, who play the late game in Fargo on Friday night against Ohio State, scored the game-winning goal with just 51 seconds left on a five on three.

The Hawks started the year on a tear, winning five straight out of the gate, before slumping and failing to find the win column in their next six games. A year ago, North Dakota won the national championship with a 5-1 win over Quinnipiac in the title game.

A key for BU will be starting well. The Terriers have given up the first goal in their last nine games, going 4-4-1. Coach Quinn has said a few times over the stretch that even though his team gave up the first, he liked the way the team was playing.

Last week was a different story. “The past few weeks we’ve playing with fire and we played with an inferno tonight,” said Quinn after the 3-2 loss to BC in the Hockey East semis. A quick start will help reduce some of the noise level and atmosphere inside Scheels Arena that will undoubtedly be packed with green and white.

Scouting The Fighting Hawks
Sophomore Shane Gerish leads all skaters in points scored with 37, by way of 21 goals and 16 assists, but has been relatively quiet as of late, registering only four points in his last ten games. Freshman standout Tyson Jost, along with Dante Fabbro were the only two collegiate representatives on the Canadian World Junior Team. This year at North Dakota, Jost has posted 16 goals and 19 assists for 35 points in 32 games played. Brock Boeser, another WJC representative, this time for the US, is third with 16 goals and 17 assists for 33 points.

In total, there will be 13 players who have participated in the WJC tournament in this game. BU has ten of them.

In goal Cam Johnson, who was marvelous in North Dakota’s title run a year ago, has seen a bit of a dip in production. Last year, the Flint, Michigan native boasted a .935 save percentage with a 1.66 goal against average and was a finalist for the Richter Award. Johnson comes into this game with a .904 save percentage and a 2.38 goals against average.

History
BU and North Dakota have played six times in the NCAA’s, with BU’s 5-3 win in the 2015 National Semifinal being the most recent. The teams have only met once in the regionals, that was 2005 in Worcester with North Dakota winning 4-0 on their way to the national title game in Columbus, Ohio where they lost to Denver.

The two teams met in the 1997 national championship game. BU jumped out to a quick 2-0 lead on goals from Peter Donatelli and Chris Drury, but they were overmatched in the second period as North Dakota scored five goals in the frame. BU scored once with the goalie pulled, but ND picked up an empty net goal and winning 6-4 in Milwaukie.

BU, and the then Fighting Sioux also clashed in a three-game series at Walter Brown in the 1990 NCAA tournament. The Sioux won game one 8-5, but the Terriers rallied winning the next two (5-3 and 5-0) and advanced to play Michigan State in the second round.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

No Dice; BU Comeback Too Little To Late

Despite pumping 22 shots on BC goalie Joe Woll in the third period and scoring two extra attacker goals in the last two minutes, BU was unable to overcome a sluggish second period that saw the Eagles scored twice on their way to a 3-2 win and a birth in the championship game.
Bobo Carpenter is stuffed on a second period power play
shot by BC goalie Joe Woll
(Photo by Matt Dresens)
BC’s two goals in the second both came from a bit of a distance. First, Julius Mattila wristed home his eighth goal of the year from above the circle to Jake Oettinger’s glove hand 1:58 into the period. By all accounts, it was a rather weak goal for Oettinger to allow.

Midway through the frame and with BU on the power play, BC turned the tables and took a Terrier turnover in the neutral zone and went the other way. From the top of the dot, Ryan Fitzgerald ripped home his first of two on the night, shorthanded.

“I thought the shorthanded goal really changed the complexion of the game,” said Coach Quinn. “ We had a good first period, we played well, we had some great scoring chances. The second period starts, we give up a goal we’d all like to have back and to me, the back-breaker was the second goal, the shorthanded goal.”

BC scored just 58 seconds into the third period on Fitzgerald’s second of the game from Chris Brown and Matty Gaudreau on a nice passing sequence.

The Terriers finally came to life midway through the third and played with a bit of deprecation and effort, something that was clearly lacking in the second period. They had a pair of power plays that generated some good looks, but still, nothing was getting past Woll, who made 42 saves on the evening.

Finally, Jordan Greenway poked home a chance from the top of the crease to cut the BC lead to 3-1 with 2:24 left and Jake Oettinger off for the extra attacker. Clayton Keller seemed to lose the handle on the puck at the side of the cage and the puck centered to Greenway in a scrum, where he was able to force it past Woll for his 10th of the year.

1:02 later, Keller cashed in on a dagger to Woll’s blocker side, making it a one-goal game with 1:22 left. It would be the closest the Terriers would come.

“We did some crazy things there with the goalie pulled twice,” added Quinn. “We had chances to tie it, but again, I mentioned this the past few weeks, playing with fire and we played with an inferno tonight.”

With 9.8 left, BU had and offensive zone draw that BC center Ryan Fitzgerald turtled on, completely covering up the puck, but no whistle was blown for delay of game and the clock ran out. Following that, a complete line brawl broke out that had Brandon Hockey and Casey Fitzgerald getting into the closest thing to an actual fight I've seen in a college hockey game.

Tomorrow night, BC will be playing for their lives against Lowell in the Hockey East Championship game. They must win to make the NCAA’s. BU is safe and will in all likelihood be shipped west to Fargo.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

BC Preview -- Hockey East Semifinals

BU is back in the Garden after missing out a year ago, after falling to UMass Lowell, and will take on Boston College Friday at 8:00. The Terriers and Eagles both finished in a first-place tie in the league standings and both swept their respective quarterfinal series’ to set up a clash on Causeway Street.

From The Vault
Justin Maiser scores in double overtime in first ever semifinal matchup 
between BU and BC back in 2003, sending the Terriers to the finals to 
face New Hampshire. 

Boston College made quick work of Vermont in the 3-6 matchup. BC started out hot, scoring eight seconds into game one, and they didn't let up. In total, BC outscored the Catamounts 14-4 over the two nights.

Head to head, unless you live under a rock, you know that BU is 3-0-0 against BC this year. The Terriers swept a January home and home series with 2-1 and 3-0 wins. BU also won the opening round of the Beanpot with a 3-1 victory.

Special teams have played a huge role in the three prior meetings. BU has held BC to just one power play goal in 11 opportunities over three games. The Terrier PK has continued to be strong and was a large part of advancing past Northeastern last weekend. BU held the second most efficient power play in the country goalless on seven chances.

Last weekend, BU went 4 for 8 (50%) on the power play, while BC was equally impressive, going 5 for 11 (45.5%).

Scouting the Eagles
Austin Cangelosi and Matty Gaudreau both are tied for the team lead in points with 34. Cangelosi leads the team in goals scored with 20 and has added 14 assists. Gaudreau has just eight goals but has notched an impressive 26 assists. The ever dangerous Colin White is right behind those two with 33 points by way of 16 goals and 17 assists. Bruins Prospect Ryan Fitzgerald, Scott Savage, Mike Kim and David Cotton are other players to watch.

In goal, Joe Woll continues to be steady, holding a .913 save percentage and 2.61 goals against with a 16-12-3 record in 32 appearances.

History

The Terriers and Eagles have met four times before in the semifinals, with BU owning a 3-1 record. The first meeting was in 2003 and in this instant classic, Justin Maiser compiled a hat-trick, scoring late in the second, again in the final three minutes to tie the game, and once more in double overtime to win send the fifth-seeded Terriers past #2 BC 6-5. In addition, Sean Fields made 46 saves in 85 minutes of play. BC’s lone win came in 2007 when the Eagles dispatched the Terriers with a convincing 6-2 win while a heavy March snowstorm blanketed Boston. Thanks to three goals in 43 seconds from Zach Cohen, Brian Strait, and Colin Willson, BU slipped past BC 3-2 in 2009. Finally, BU was able to dig themselves out of a 2-0 hole to win 6-3 in 2013. Danny O’Regan notched a pair of goals and Sean Maguire was phenomenal in net.

The Early Game
Lowell and Notre Dame will face-off in the early game. This year, the final four features the top four teams in the league based on points and the only real surprise out of last weekend was it took top-seeded Lowell three games to get past 10th-seeded New Hampshire. In fact, It was the only series to go the distance, but Lowell advanced with wins in games two and three. I was on hand in Lowell for a game three massacre of the Wildcats, an 8-2 one-sided affair.

I think this game has the potential to be a defensive struggle. Both teams have exceptional goalies in Tyler Wall and Cal Peterson, but it's hard to pick against the River Hawks this time of year in the Garden. Lowell has advanced to the championship game the last four seasons and I don’t see this year being any different. Lowell by a goal, 3-2.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Brackets One Week Out

We are less than a week out from selection Sunday, so here’s my projected bracket, acting as if the season has ended and this is the final PairWise.

1. Denver
2. Duluth
3. Harvard
4. Western
5. Minnesota
6. Boston University
7. Union
8. Lowell
9. Cornell
10. Notre Dame
11. North Dakota
12. Providence
13. Penn State
14. Ohio State
15. Air Force
16. Boston College

25. Canisus (AHA)
28. Michigan Tech 37. Bowling Green (WCHA)

Conference Leaders based on win% (projected tourney winners): Canisus (AHA), Minnesota (B1G), Union (ECAC), Lowell (HE), Denver (NCHC), Tech and Bowling Green are the final teams left in the WCHA tournament.

Every league in the NCAA must have one team in the field and that is determined by league title winners. So here we are assuming the conference leaders (above) have won their respective conference championships. That means Air Force and Boston College are out and Canisus and either Bowling Green or Michigan Tech are in.

1. Denver
2. Duluth
3. Harvard
4. Western

5. Minnesota
6. BU
7. Union
8. Lowell

9. Cornell
10. Notre Dame
11. North Dakota
12. Providence

13. Penn State
14. Ohio State
15. Canisus
16. Tech/BGSU

Regionals
The field is then broken into four groups or the four regional with the goal of "bracket integrity", i.e 1vs16, 2vs15 and so on. There can not be inter-conference match-ups in the first round and hosts of regionals must be placed in their host city no matter what their ranking is. Brown hosts in Providence, North Dakota in Fargo, New Hampshire in Manchester, and Miami in Cincinnati. Teams can also be moved to "boost attendance" (see Providence playing in Providence two years ago.).

Fargo
1. Denver vs 16. Tech/BGSU
8. Lowell vs 9. Cornell

Cincinnati
2. Duluth vs 15. Canisus
7. Union vs 10. Notre Dame

Providence
3. Harvard vs 14. Ohio State
6. BU vs 11. North Dakota

Manchester
4. Western vs 13. Penn State
5. Minnesota vs 12. Providence

North Dakota must play in Fargo, so they are flipped with Cornell. Other than that, there are no other necessary moves, but we all know the committee will move teams for attendance reasons, so here’s what I got: Minnesota to Cincinnati, BU to Manchester, Union to Providence, Providence to Providence, and Cornell to Manchester

Fargo
1. Denver vs 16. Tech/BGSU
8. Lowell vs 11. North Dakota

Cincinnati
2. Duluth vs 15. Canisus
5. Minnesota vs 10. Notre Dame

Providence
3. Harvard vs 14. Ohio State
7. Union vs 12. Providence

Manchester
4. Western vs 13. Penn State
6. Boston University vs 9. Cornell

The idea of bracket integrity is completely thrown out the window in the system. In addition, the other idea that the tournament has a “national flavor” is a joke. Teams are shuffled around so much to boost attendance that it practically becomes and east vs west tournament. Solution? you know where this is going if you have followed for a while… first round (at least) games on campus.

It shouldn’t be that hard to line up teams 1-16, play a first round best of three series on campus and then the next weekend play a “super regional” before the Frozen Four. Attendance will inevitably go up by virtue of there being more games. The NCAA will still get it’s money (we all know that’s the most important factor) from the super regional at a neutral site. Have one in the east and one in the west. First round followed by the super regional and then the Frozen Four in back to back to back weekends and get rid of that dumb weekend off between the regionals and the FF. It would be the best way to find the best team and boost attendance.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Going Gardening, BU Completes Sweep of Huskies

BU will be back at the Garden for the first time since 2015 after dropping Northeastern 3-2 in game two and completing a two-game sweep of the Huskies in almost identical fashion to last night’s game… Just without the overtime.

Coach Quinn jokingly opened his press conference by asking “Should we just replay last night’s press conference?”

BU fell behind 2-0 on goals by Biagio Lerario and Nolan Stevens in the first. From the left-wing dot, Lerario ripped home his first goal of the year off the crossbar, up over Jake Oettinger’s shoulder to give the Huskies a 1-0 lead 2:23 into the game. Later in the frame, Matt Fillipe threaded a pass to Stevens in the slot and from there, the junior forward poked it past Oettinger to make it 2-0.

“I thought we played much better in this first period than we did last night,” added Quinn. “I wish we’d start better, I thought we were really sloppy with the puck. It was turnovers that were really causing us problems and I thought as the game went on we managed the puck better.”

Again, it was a strong night of special teams for BU, scorring twice on the man advantage and a perfect 3 for 3 on the kill.

“We have a great goalie,” said Quinn on why his team was so successful on the kill. “Listen, they had chances. It wasn’t like we hemmed them in and they didn’t have chances. You need a little puck luck too.”

Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson found pay dirt on a nice redirection of a Clayton Keller pass to get BU on the board with 5:22 left in the second on the power play.

NU once again held a 2-1 lead going into the third, but 3:01 into the final period, Nick Roberto tied things up. From the far side dot, JFK found Roberto at the top of the near side circle, where he was able to collect the pass and torch NU goalie Ryan Ruck blocker side for his fifth goal of the year.

It once again looked like things might go to overtime, but JFK drew a hooking call with just 1:34 left to send BU back to the power play.

Charlie McAvoy started the power play setup with the puck at center point before moving it to Chad Krys at the top of the left circle. Krys then worked it down to JFK along the goal line, where the Swede tried a stuff attempt on Ruck that was stopped. The ensuing rebound kicked out to Krys in the low circle and the freshman defenseman was able to hammer home his fifth goal of the year with just 24.9 seconds left to give BU a 3-2 lead.

“It's been a good couple days for us on the power play,” mentioned JFK. “It’s gonna be important in these games to have a power play that’s working and be able to score goals like this one and last night.”

NU coach Jim Madigan had a 40-second press conference following the game and was clearly frustrated with the late penalty call, saying “I really can’t talk much more about the game. I can’t talk about this series without two calls that really didn’t go our way and for me, that was the difference in the game and in the series.”

BU will play either Boston College or New Hampshire depending on the Lowell-UNH result tomorrow night. A Lowell win and BU and BC will be the late game. A UNH win will pit the Wildcats and Terriers in a rematch of the 2015 semis.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Greenway OT Winner Caps BU Comeback; Terriers Take Game 1

The game had everything anyone could want from a playoff game including a dramatic comeback, unlikely goal scorers and above all an overtime game winner.
BU celebrates after Jordan Greenway's overtime game
winning goal.
(Photo by Matt Dresens)
3:11 into overtime with BU on the power play, Jordan Greenway buried a shot from the left wing dot past Ryan Ruck’s blocker to give BU a 1-0 series lead. Clayton Keller started the rush through the middle and from the mid slot, dished off a pass to Greenway who did the rest.

“It was certainly a great hockey game, playoff hockey right from the start,” said coach Quinn. “Obviously they [NU] got out of the gate fast and furious and we looked like a team that hadn’t played in a while. We did a really good job of keeping it 2-0, Oettinger made some really big saves and towards the end of the first, we started showing some life. I thought we played a really good second period, got a big power play goal. I really loved the way we played in the third.”

As Quinn eluded to, it was a slow start for the Terriers. NU jumped on the board a little over seven minutes in on Zach Aston-Reese’s 31st goal of the year. Dylan Sikura doubled the Husky lead two and a half minutes later on a nice passing play where Jeremey Davies was able to connect with Sikura backdoor for an easy finish.

NU nearly made it 3-0 minutes later, but BU goalie Jake Oettinger was there to make a sprawling save and keep the Terriers in punching distance.

Ryan Cloonan had a strong game after moving up
to fill the hole left by Bobo Carpenter's injury 
in the first period. Here, he drives the net hard
on one of a few solid rushes by the sophomore
forward still looking for his first goal of the year.
(Photo by Matt Dresens)
BU finally struck back on a power play goal by Dante Fabbro midway through the second. Kieffer Bellows won an in-zone faceoff that sent the puck up top to Brandon Hickey at the left point. From there, the junior defenseman worked it over to Fabbro on the right side and from beyond the circle, wristed home his 6th goal of the year.

The Terriers still needed one more and it came from one of the more unlikely sources. Pat Curry won a battle in the near corner that freed him up to make a centering pass to Chase Phelps who was uncovered in the slot. With no one even remotely close to him, Phelps received the pass and wasted little time depositing his third goal of the year past Ryan Ruck five-hole with 10:32 left.

“It was a great goal to tie it by Phelps,” added Quinn. “Curry did a great job forechecking, makes a great pass, Phelps doesn’t stick handle it and just gets rid of it.”

Down the stretch, BU had to kill off two NU power plays with less 8:00 to play. All night, BU had held the potent Husky power play in check, but never was that more apparent than the two kills late in the third. In total, BU limited the nation’s second best power play to just four shots on four power plays.

“That power play is as good as you will see and I thought we did a fantastic job killing,” said Quinn.

BU lost both Bobo Carpenter and John MacLoud in the first period and neither returned to action.

On the final goal, BU was on the power play after Clayton Keller drew a hooking call from Jeremy Davies with a strong rush through the middle. NU coach Jim Madigan was none too pleased with the call, saying “three things in life are certain: death, taxes, and BU getting a power play in overtime.”

Clearly, it was a reference to the call in the 2015 Beanpot championship game that led to Matt Grzelcyk’s game-winner on the man advantage. Earlier this year, though, NU was given a power play in overtime in NU’s come-from-behind 4-4 tie in November.

Game two is tomorrow night back here at Agganis.

NU Preview -- Hockey East Quarterfinals

For the first time since 2011, BU and Northeastern will square off in the Hockey East quarterfinals with BU looking to advance to the Garden after missing the semis when Lowell bounced them in the quarters a year ago. NU, on the other hand, is trying once again trying to make a miraculous run to the NCAA tournament. To do so, they will again have to win the league title.

From The Vault
Patrick Harper celebrates after scoring the game-winning goal
against NU in November, a 3-0 BU win.
(Photo by Matt Dresens) 
A week ago while BU was off, Northeastern advanced past the first round with two convincing wins over UConn in the 8vs9 match-up. On Friday, NU won 3-1 and then closed out UConn 6-2 at home.

Coming into this weekend, NU is riding an 11- 3-0 hot streak since January 20th, with their only losses coming at the hands of Lowell and Harvard in back to back games. A large part of the Huskies success stems from their power play that is currently working at a 28.95% clip, good for second in the country only behind Ohio State at 31.65%.

Earlier this year, BU took three points from the Huskies in November. The Terriers looked to be in control of game one holding a 4-3 lead late before NU pulled the goalie and tied things up with 55 seconds left. The next night, BU shut out the Huskies 3-0 at home.

Scouting the Huskies
Where does all the offense come from? Well, having the top scorer in the nation certainly helps. Zach Aston-Reese has a Division I high 62 points by way of a very balanced 30 goals and 32 assists in 36 games. In two game against BU this year, he notched three points. While Aston-Reese may get the attention for setting the high water mark in scoring, he is one of three Huskies with more than 50 points. Dylan Sikura currently has a line of 20-36-56 and Adam Gaudette has notched 26 goals and 26 assists for 52 points.

The downfall of the Huskies maybe in net. Ryan Ruck is 18-12-4 with a 2.94 goals against and an 8.96 save percentage.

BU Notes
Brandon Hickey will back on the blue line for the Terriers this weekend according to the Daily Free Press.

Monday, March 6, 2017

Week Off Thoughts

With a share of the league title, as you know, BU had the weekend off as they secured a first-round bye in the Hockey East Playoffs. Next weekend they will be hosting eighth-seeded Northeastern in a best of three series, thanks to a UNH series win over Merrimack least night.

Me being me and having nothing better to do with myself on the first weekend of spring break, I was at Lawler Rink last night for game three of that series. Merrimack cruised to a 4-0 win and it looked almost certain that the Warriors would be coming to town next weekend. UNH had other plans.

The Wild Cats flipped the score around in game two, winning by an identical 4-0 score and advanced to play top-seeded Lowell with a 5-2 win last night. UNH struck early and took advantage so some brutal Merrimack turnovers to complete the comeback of an identical first round matchup from a year ago.

Elsewhere around the league, it was all chalk. Vermont swept Maine with two non-competitive games, Providence did the same over UMass and Northeastern rolled over the other “Husky” team in two games.

Outside the Merrimack vs UNH series (7 vs 10), the first round was a total snooze-fest, begging the question, why even have the first round?

Hockey East used to do it right when the league had only ten teams. The top eight made the Quarterfinals with the top four hosting a best of three series and the bottom two broke out the Lemon Pledge and dusted off their Callaway’s.

It was a phenomenal system that led to real drama in the last weekend of the season. Take 2004 for example. BU had to win at UNH on the final day of the year to claim the eighth spot in the tournament. In thrilling fashion, David van der Guilk shoveled home a game winner in overtime to land BU in the tournament. A loss or tie would have had Merrimack as the eighth and final seed. BU went on to upset top-seed Boston College in the Quarterfinals and fell to Maine 1-0 in the Semis.

Sorry, but if you finish ninth in the standings, you don’t deserve to make the playoffs. It completely devalues the regular season.

Moving on to a little preview of Northeastern…

Even though they are technically a lower seed and BU took three of four points vs NU opposed to being swept by Merrimack, I still think that NU is the tougher matchup for the Terriers.

The Huskies have one of the nation’s best power play units in the country at 28.95% and Zach Aston-Reese is the nation’s leading scorer with 62 points.

On the plus side, since NU’s pairwise is nine ticks higher than Merrimack at 21, two wins against the Huskies could potentially help more than two wins over Merrimack in keeping BU in the East come selection Sunday.

A full preview will be up Friday

Around The League - Predictions
Unlike the opening round, the Quarterfinals do have some intriguing matchups. Lowell-UNH being the outlier, I wouldn’t be surprised if the other three series go three games.

Looking first at 3. BC vs 6. Vermont, both teams are right on the bubble for the NCAA tournament. BC, despite tying for the league title, is on the outside looking in with a current PWR of 19. Vermont is right on the cutline at 15. Both may have to win Hockey East to get and without a doubt have to make the Garden to have any shot at the National Tournament. Three weeks ago, the two teams played to back to back ties at Conte. I see the Cats in three. BC is just going in the wrong direction at this point.

Moving to Notre Dame and Providence. Again, both teams are on the bubble of the NCAA’s. Providence should make it as they currently sit at 11, but ND is certainly not a lock at 13. The Irish host this best of three series in the 4vs5 matchup. Two weeks ago Notre Dame took three points from the Friars in South Bend and looked strong against BU. Cal Peterson gives ND a huge edge in net, I’m taking the Irish in three.

1. Lowell vs 10. UNH will not be a series. Lowell is once again on a roll going into the Hockey East tournament and currently is riding a seven-game win streak that dates back to their loss at BU on January 28th. Lowell in a sweep and it could be the final two games for Dick Umile at UNH.

Hate doing BU predictions, but I think this series will look a lot like the PC-ND one. BU has a huge advantage in net with Jake Oettinger over Ryan Ruck and with the potential of getting Brandon Hickey back on defense, I think that is enough to slow down the NU offense. BU wins game one and three.