Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Know Your Enemy: Boston University

Our final non-conference entry in the "Know Your Enemy" series is a school with which the Engineers are intimately familiar with, perhaps the most commonly recurring non-conference opponent that RPI has faced since the Hockey East split in 1984. The casual observer would likely scoff at the idea that a rivalry exists between BU and RPI given the gulf in the achievements of these two programs over the last 25 years, but the all-time series is relatively close and BU-RPI always seems to produce an entertaining contest no matter when or where it happens.

Boston University
Nickname: Terriers
Location: Boston, MA
Founded: 1839
Conference: Hockey East
National Championships: 5 (1971, 1972, 1978, 1995, 2009)
Last NCAA Appearance: 2009
Last Frozen Four: 2009
Coach: Jack Parker (38th season)
2009-10 Record: 18-17-3 (13-12-2 HEA, 3rd place)
Series: BU leads, 33-28-3
First Game: March 14, 1953 (Colorado Springs, CO)
Last RPI win: December 11, 2009 (Boston, MA)
Last BU win: January 2, 2009 (Denver, CO)

2010-11 game: December 11, 2010 (Troy, NY)
Key players: F Chris Connolly, jr.; F Charlie Coyle, fr.; D David Warsofsky, jr.; D Max Nicastro, so.; D Sean Escobedo, so.; G Kieran Millan, jr.

After BU broke from the ECAC as part of the Hockey East split, the Terriers and Engineers did not face each other for six seasons, but since their first non-conference tussle on October 27, 1990 (a 9-7 barnburner in Troy in which the Terriers came out on top) to kick off the 1990-91 season, there have been only two seasons in the intervening 20 years in which there wasn't at least one BU-RPI confrontation. Every year, it's a clash between two programs deep in history at schools in which their positions as the premiere athletic attraction are unrivaled.

BU is one of the few early hockey playing schools which has been able to sponsor hockey relatively uninterrupted. The first season of hockey on Commonwealth Avenue took place in 1918; the program has run continuously with the exception of a two-year lull during the height of World War II since the 1922-23 season. The program's popularity proved able to survive the Great Depression, which a number of other programs (including RPI's) fell victim to in the 1930s, thanks largely to the contributions of coach Wayland Vaughan.

When the Terriers took to the ice after World War II, they did so with a new coach, Harry Cleverly, who would begin the process of etching Boston University as one of the titans of college hockey. Almost immediately upon his arrival in 1945, the Terriers became one of the best teams in the nation, and were instantly among the top contenders, along with hated cross-town rivals Boston College, for the new national championship established in 1948. After BC's national championship win in 1949, Cleverly guided the Terriers to three NCAA tournaments in four years, losing to Colorado College by a lopsided 13-4 score in the 1950 national championship, the closest BU would come to the national title during his tenure.

BU struggled a little bit in the early 1960s, but in the third season under Cleverly's replacement, Jack Kelley, the Terriers started to hit new heights again. Kelley rattled off seven 20-win seasons in eight years from 1965 to 1972 (the Terriers won 19 games in the one "off" year). During that time, BU made four NCAA Tournament appearances, including their first two national championships in 1971 and 1972, which would be the last time any team would win back-to-back national titles until the 2000s, when Minnesota and Denver both accomplished the task in a four year span.

Kelley departed after his second national title in 1972, and he was replaced by RPI head coach Leon Abbott, who did not stay in Boston long. After the Terriers limped to a losing record in 1973, Abbott left BU six games into the 1973-74 season, when a young BU alum would take over as head coach. That alum has been at the helm ever since, and has won more games with a single school than any other coach in the history of college hockey - Jack Parker.

After the Terriers had opened with a 4-2-0 record under Abbott, Parker finished off the season with a 19-6-0 run that ended with an ECAC championship and a Frozen Four appearance. Parker's next four teams would all reach the Frozen Four, with BU's third national title coming in 1978, anchored by names like Mike Eruzione, Jack O'Callahan, and Jim Craig, who would all be instrumental in the Miracle On Ice victory just a few years later.

Another early-decade lull came in the early 1980s, but by the time BU left the ECAC - having claimed six ECAC regular season championships, five ECAC titles, and three national titles during their run in the league - to become a charter member of Hockey East, the Terriers were right back in the thick of things. The 1990s, however, is when BU truly became a titan of the fledgling league. From 1990 to 1997, the Terriers appeared in seven Frozen Fours, missing out only in 1992. The run included three straight 30-win seasons from 1994 to 1996, and a fourth national title in 1995. During the Terriers' dominant '90s, BU picked up five Hockey East regular season titles, four Hockey East tournament titles, and only missed the NCAA Tournament one time, in 1999, and Chris Drury won the team's first Hobey Baker Award in 1998.

That string of success was not as strong in the 2000s, but Parker's teams were still always outstanding. Seven NCAA appearances in the last decade included the school's fifth national championship in 2009, setting a school record with 35 wins as defenseman Matt Gilroy took home the Hobey.

Last year, BU came back to earth despite still having a number of top names from that 2009 championship team. They struggled out of the gate, going 4-9-3 in the first three months of the season, including a 5-3 loss at home to RPI. The Terriers finished strong, going 14-8-0 the rest of the way and managing a 3rd place finish in a crowded Hockey East race, but they crashed out of the playoffs in the semifinals with a loss to Maine.

BU still has juniors and seniors who were part of the 2009 triumph, but their numbers are steadily decreasing. Three key players, Nick Bonino, Colby Cohen, and Kevin Shattenkirk, all gave up eligibility to sign pro contracts during the offseason. Bonino led the Terriers in scoring last year, while defensemen Cohen and Shattenkirk were third and fifth respectively. Additionally, forwards Vinny and Victor Saponari were dismissed from the program, Vinny was fourth on the team in scoring last season.

But there's always something to the BU arsenal. Connelly and Warsofsky are solid scoring threats and the team's top two returning scorers, and blue-chip freshman Charlie Coyle, a first-round selection of the San Jose Sharks, looks to add to that threat. But the challenge is going to be in replacing five of last year's six leading scorers, four of whom had eligibility remaining at the end of last season.

Defense was the bigger problem on Commonwealth Avenue last year. The Terriers had a team GAA of 3.26 last season, ranking them just 42nd in the nation on D. Kieran Millan doesn't have anything to prove to anyone - he did backstop BU to a national championship in his freshman year - but he does need to rebound from a stupefyingly bad season which saw his final save percentage dip below 90%. Unfortunately, the guys in front of Millan seem to be getting younger, not older. Which defense will we see, the one that lost only 6 games en route to a national championship or the one that was torched by Erik Burgdoerfer and Christian Jensen last season?

The Terriers probably aren't high on the list of teams that'll be contending for the Hockey East title, but you can never count them out. Jack Parker, more often than not, manages to wring the very best from his players, and as mentioned, one can never be quite certain what way a BU-RPI contest is going to go. As far as non-conference home games go, the BU game is easily the premier matchup on the Engineers' calendar, and it should produce one heck of a contest no matter what.

1 comment:

  1. Nice job, Tom. I'd like to make two points:
    1, Re BU limping to a losing record under Abbott in 72-73. On the ice they were 22-6-1, but had to forfeit 11 games due to supposedly ineligible player. Had BU taken the ECAC to court, he'd probably have been allowed to play. College hockey really shafted the player, Dick Decloe, whose brother Jack played for RPI.

    2. Re "which BU defense": Neither. BU's defense will be very young with no seniors and just one junior, Warsofsky, I expect better results than last season, but not up to the 08-09 standard.

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