After a 12 year absense the Terriers of Boston University, led by veteran Coach Jack Parker, are headed to the Frozen Four in Washington, DC. The Terriers have been the team to beat this season, amassing an impressive 33-6-4 record in the most competitive league in college hockey; Hockey East. Not only did they lose only six games, but four of those games were with the back up goaltender in net, as Freshman starter Keiran Milan has only lost two games all season. The team is led by two Hobey Baker finalist Matt Gilroy, a senior defenceman and three time All-American, and Colin Wilson, sophmore forward with over 50 points this season. They have a great supporting cast as BU has fourteen NHL draft picks (not including Gilroy) and over 11 players who scored over 20 points this season, four of which are defenseman. Nick Bonino (47 pts) leads the country in plus/minus and Jason Lawrence (37 pts) is one of the top power play scorers in the nation (14 power play goals) and second in the country in game winning goals (8). Up front the Terriers get a lot of production from senior forwards Brandon Yip (41 pts: 20 goals),Chris Higgins (43 pts) and co-captain John McCarthy (29 pts). On the blue line, Gilroys supporting cast includes and first round draft pick Kevin Shattenkirk (26 pts), Colby Cohen (31 pts) and freshman speedster David Warsofsky (22 pts). They also have a great group of under classmen in Rookie of the Year Keiran Milan (1.84 GAA, .923 SV%) and First Team All-Rookie Hockey East Chris Connoly.This team from top to bottom is potentially the most talented college hockey team ever assembled. There talent was demonstrated in winning three of the most prestigious tournament in college hockey including the Denver Cup, Beanpot and Hockey East Championship as well as regular season champions.
In Washington D.C. the Terriers will face the Catamounts of Vermont led by their top scorer Victor Stalberg. The catamounts pose a ligament threat to BU as they are the only team to beat BU back to back the entire season. They are also the only team in the country that has a better record head to head against BU as they lead the series this year 2-1. UVM is a team that takes pride in their speed up front and strong goaltending, and their best skill as of late has been hiding their weaknesses on special teams and on the blueline. In single elimination talent is much less important than execution and smart play. For the Terriers to win their first National Championship since 1995 they must beat UVM and the keys to doing that are the following:
1.) BU has the most talented team in the country by a significant margin in both star players and overall depth. As a result Jack Parker must roll all four lines as he has been doing all season long. Teams cannot play their bottom two lines for a lot of minutes against the Terriers because they are greatly over matched so to run a team down, BU must roll their fourth line throughout the entire game. This will be very important against UVM who will try and strike first and set the pace of the game early on, BU must weather the storm by continually rolling four lines to keep the team fresh for the full 60 minutes. The fourth line needs not only to get minutes but produce as they have two excellent defensive forwards in Steve Smolinsky and Luke Popko and a high end goal scoreer in Zach Cohen (11 goals). The third line, known as the freshman line, will be as important as the first two lines in establishing the pace of the game, setting the tempo and taking advantage of UVM's mistakes in the offensive zone.
2.) BU has to attack UVM's defense and generate their offense off the forecheck. UVM will be watching tape on BU all week and like most teams, in an attempt to neutralize their speed, will play a lot of neutral zone traps meaning that BU will have a hard time generating offense coming through the neutral zone. They must attack the defense with conviction as all Jack Parker teams have done before them, and once they get possession cycle down low to wear out UVM's defense. This is the weakness of the catamounts. Not only are they weak on defensive firepower but their forwards are small and subpar in their defensive end. This is all the more reason why BU has to forecheck hard, take the body along the boards and pound them in their own end. This will lead to UVM mistakes which BU must capitalize on.
3.) BU gets a lot of press for having the best net special teams in the country as well as an abundance of top flight talent. However, the most underated talent of the Terriers this season is their strong sticks and tough play along the boards. This is a very important characteristic among winning teams in hockey at all levels. However, last game against UNH, the Terriers were not positioning themselves on the defensive side of the puck in scrums along the boards, thus leading to a few odd man rushes by UNH. BU has to do a better job against UVM by playing on the defensive side of the puck along the boards and taking the body, to cut down odd man rushes. The catamounts generate their offense off of the transition game, which means the Terriers have to dominate the neutral zone to cut their legs out from under them and there is no better way to play good neutral zone hockey then to think defense first. If UVM is able to cause a BU turnover in the neutral zone, then BU forwards need to but the breaks on (stops and starts) and back check.
4.) As Barry Melrose said in the last game against UNH, it will not take BU as many chances to score as its going to take UNH. Therefore, BU should not get cute with the puck along the blue lines, be patient and wait for their opportunities to score. At the same token however, there is little reason to play a risky brand of hockey, especially against a fast, under sized transition team like the Catamounts because the risk is not worth the reward. Stick to the basics! They must take advantage of their size in this matchup, it will allow for them to be more patient along the boards, and not make risky or even ill advised passes into lanes that are not there because that plays into UVM's transition game.
5.) The players need to know that the only team that can beat them is themselves. At times this season there effort has not matched that of their opponents and to win at this time of year they have to make sure that does not happen. They have superior ability to any division one hockey program this season; they average scoring nearly goals a game and give up less than 2 (Milans GAA is 1.84). They have defeated the best teams in the country by overwhelming margins (Michigan 7-2, UVM 7-2, North Dakota 5-1, etc.) and they have arguably the best coach in the history of college hockey. They have the second best powerplay (22%) in the country and one of the top 10 penalty killing teams.
6.) Matt Gilroy and Colin Wilson need to play to their potential as they are both coming off quiet performances against UNH. Gilroy is an elite skater, playmaker and offensive defenseman who can jump into the rush at will as well as defend the one on one. For him to be at his best he has to be aggressive, generate speed off the breakout and take what the defense gives him. Most likely once he gets possession behind the net, UVM will drop into a 1-2-2 fore-check where he can skate the puck out of the zone. Colin Wilson in my opinion is the most dominate player college hockey has seen in a long time. He has the physical skills to be an All Star in the NHL with a 6'2'' 215 lbs frame to go with great hands and vision. Every time he has the puck on his stick his head is up, he protects the puck and is looking for the open man. When he shows up to play, which is not every game unfortunately, there is not a defender in college hockey that can stop him. He can dominate opponents in all three facets of the game as he plays sound in the defensive zone with sticks in passing lanes and a take the body mentality. In the neutral zone he protects the puck well, can muscle his way over the red line and has impressive vision for players streaking down the middle of the ice. In the offensive zone, his 52 points and 37 assists do all the talking for him. If he is on his game, UVM will not be able to stop him and that will bode well not only for him but for his two line mates Jason Lawrence and Chris Higgins both 5v5 and on the powerplay.
Overall, they are the team to beat in this tournament and have been since the brackets were released. If the Terriers stick to their game plan, think defense first in the neutral zone, attack the weaker UVM defense, generate offense off the forecheck and out work their opponent than there is no reason that the Terriers should not walk all over UVM. They are a better team than UVM in every statistical category, power play, shorthanded, Goals Against, Goals For, face-off wins, etc.
Jack Parker will have these guys ready to play as UVM ended their season last year in the Hockey East playoffs; a bitter memory that Wilson and Gilroy must respond to.