College Hockey Ramblings: What’s Wrong With BU, And Why I Doubt Merrimack’s Doubters

I decided I wasn’t going to write a heck of a lot about college hockey this season for a variety of reasons that I won’t delve into here. I gave up my college hockey column for SBNationBoston. So far this season, I have only reported harmless media deals on this site, not delving into any real analysis.

And now that we’re a month into the season, I immediately and totally regret this decision. I’ve got too much to say. So here are my pent up college hockey thoughts from this weekend- edited and sanitized of course.

Of course, most of this will be about Boston University, and how much physical pain (from banging my head against the wall out of frustration) the Terriers caused me after Saturday evening’s 7-1 loss to UMass Lowell. The Riverhawks chased around the Terriers around the Tsongas Arena ice like my old lab-retriever mix would chase a poor squirrel facing impending doom.

What’s wrong with BU? Here are two of the issues.

Lines, Lines, Everywhere A Line - There has been little consistency to the forward lines from game to game. Surpising? No. BU head coach Jack Parker line changes with the regularity that I drink coffee. Tinkering with lines is Parker’s cure to any and all that may ail his team.

When is the last time that Parker let forward lines gel for a few games? The Terriers national championship season in 2008-09. His top three lines largely remained unchanged from game to game. Lines were allowed time to grow together as a unit. If a line performed poorly, he demoted the entire line instead of changing up its make-up.

I am not saying a coach should set lines the first week of the long college hockey season and then never touch them again. That would be impractical. But Parker himself has admitted in years past that he’s guilty of changing up lines too much (I am trying to find the exact quote, but I believe he said it in 2007-08), and this year is no exception. No one is playing with the same guys from game to game, let alone day to day. In a home and home again UMass Amherst two weekends ago, the lines changed overnight.

The Terriers saw Charlie Coyle and Alex Chiasson paired together for a while, which is a mistake because both are Colin Wilson-esque – they’re long wingspan guys with a lot of natural talent but who need to give more consistent effort. Sahir Gill gets bounced from line to line, and while he’s a good player, he doesn’t have the consistency to be relied to boost lines in that way. Taking the two strong freshman forwards in Evan Rodrigues and Cason Hohmann and changing their lines every game doesn’t help ease them into play or help them get a rhythm going (and both have shown glimpses of being decent contributors.)

The Past Is Calling - This summer, I interviewed Parker for a feature in the Red Hot Hockey game program (coming soon to Madison Square Garden, so be a dear and pick one up on game day.) We spoke at length about the BU championship teams of 1971 and 1972. During the Terriers’ first ever national championship season, Parker was a coach for the freshman squad (in that time, freshmen were not allowed to play on varsity squads.) In his coaching at the time, he was a fan of using a goaltender rotation. Then BU head coach Jack Kelley was a fan of the opposite – naming a number one goaltender and sticking to it.

Kelley chose Tim Regan to be his starting goaltender in 1970-71, until a particularly poor outing by Regan. Parker recalls Regan’s tough game being against Cornell at Lynah Rink. That would point towards the Terriers’ 5-1 loss to Cornell on January 23, 1971. After that game, Kelley decided to start Dan Brady in net. Brady would go on to start the rest of the season and be named the NCAA title game MVP.

The exact quote from Parker in my interview notes: “I think Jack Kelley had the opinion that he wanted a starting goaltender, and Timmy was our number one guy for quite a while. Then he faltered, and it might have been at Ithaca, I think, and Danny had the chance to play.”

Mr. Parker, I think Saturday night was the equivalent of that “perhaps in Ithaca” moment for this year’s squad. Kieran Millan has faltered, and you can no longer lay all the blame on the defense. It’s time to give Grant Rollheiser a greater chance as “the guy” in goal.

Gripe of the Week - It amazes me that some of the most talented members of the college hockey media are still acting like Merrimack College’s recent success was completely unpredictable and unexpected. Merrimack is an example of how long it can take for a recruiting strategy and coaching philosophy to take hold. Head coach Mark Dennehy is in his seventh year in Andover, and thus has five or so years of teams made up of primarily his recruits.

Also, don’t underestimate that the last two years brought an administration at the school who have made Division 1 hockey a priority (for better and worse) – that wasn’t a case in prior years. It was not long ago that Merrimack was on the verge of possibly leaving Hockey East because their facilities were not up to par. While their Lawler Arena still isn’t ideal, it’s as renovated and gussied out as it is able to be.

So to say, “if you saw two years ago that Merrimack would be the last unbeaten team in the nation/a top team in the nation/the top team in Hockey East” is a bit disengenous. Sure, it was touch or go for this program for a while from a facility and schedule stand point. But to say you didn’t see this success coming just means more that you weren’t paying attention to who Merrimack was recruiting three years ago than their rise being truly surprising.

Predicting that the Warriors would struggle without Stephane Da Costa was also a mistake many college hockey media members made early this season. While talented, Da Costa was ineffective for several multi-game spells last season, during which Merrimack won games regardless. Goaltender Joe Cannata and big man Kyle Bigos are back and Ryan Flangian (as College Hockey News’ Joe Meloni points out well in his Monday blog post) is currently one of the best players in Hockey East. So is it shocking that Merrimack is currently the hot hand in the league? No. These are all the next steps in Dennehy’s and his program’s building process – one that’s been in action since 2005.

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