Thursday, January 27, 2011

BU finishes tough stretch with a pair at Maine

By Sam Dykstra/DFP Staff

Four games in eight days don’t give you much time to rest. Playing three of those four games against nationally ranked teams doesn't make matters any better.

So following a week in which it went 2-2 – including losses to No. 2 Boston College and No. 14 Merrimack College and a road win over No.7/8 University of New Hampshire – the No. 16 Boston University men’s hockey team would seemingly have had a chance to catch a breather in their week off following its difficult stretch.

Unfortunately for the Terriers, things don’t get much easier following said break when they take on No. 11/12 University of Maine for a pair Friday and Saturday up at Alfond Arena. Puck drop is set for 7 p.m. in both games.

The Black Bears (11-6-5, 8-4-3 Hockey East) stand just one point behind the Terriers (11-7-6, 8-5-4) for third in the conference standings with two fewer games played. The two teams played to a 2-2 draw back on Nov. 6.

Maine, which is 2-1-1 in its last four contests, has played somewhat inconsistently as of late, losing 7-1 to Merrimack before beating both Providence College and BC and tying unranked Northeastern University at Matthews Arena last Saturday.

Regardless of how touch-and-go the Black Bears have been in the last four games, BU coach Jack Parker still holds them in the highest regard.

“They’re very similar to BC and UNH,” he said. “They’ve got real good forwards that can make plays. They’re stingy defensively. They don’t have the brand-name goaltender that the other two schools do, well certainly BC does. . . But I think they’re pretty happy with their goaltending a lot recently so I’m sure that’s not going to be a problem.”

The Black Bears have utilized a rare three-goalie rotation system so far this season. Freshman Dan Sullivan (2.80 goals-against average, .883 save percentage in nine starts and three relief appearances) has received a plurality of the starts in 2010-11, but freshman Martin Oullette (2.73, .884 in six starts) and sophomore Shawn Sirman (2.38, .912 in six starts and one other game) have also seen extensive playing time thus far.

As for the “real good forwards,” Maine boasts three of the top 10 scorers in Hockey East in junior Gustav Nyquist (6-22—28), junior Spencer Abbott (12-14—26) and senior Robby Dee (9-13—22), who rank sixth, seventh and 10th respectively. Junior Brian Flynn (13-7—20) is second in the conference in goals scored.

BU junior netminder Kieran Millan, who Parker hopes will be able to start in both weekend games, played a big part in keeping the UNH goal-scoring line of Paul Thompson, Phil DeSimone and Mike Sislo off the board in the Terriers’ 2-1 win over the Wildcats. Parker hopes it won’t have to come to that again against Maine.

“Kieran made a couple of big saves on a couple of those guys,” Parker said. “We’re hoping that he doesn’t have to make as big saves against Nyquist or Flynn. They’ve got a bunch of good forwards. It’s not just those two.”

Other than Maine’s offensive ability, the biggest road block that may inhibit BU from continuing the momentum it sustained from the UNH win is its host’s outstanding track record at home. The Black Bears are the owners of an incredible 8-1-1 record at Alfond with the lone loss being a Dec. 10 loss to UNH in which they held a 3-2 lead with 18 seconds left before losing in overtime.

Parker said he used a familiar spot to help prepare for the smaller 200x85 ice surface at Alfond.

“It’s like playing in Walter Brown Arena,” he said. “That’s why we practiced there today and yesterday. Whenever we play Providence or Maine, we try to practice at Walter Brown to try to get the feeling of the smaller ice.”

“It’s a loud building. It’s an energetic building. I think it jacks up the opposition as much as it jacks up the home team.”

Game Notes: Parker said he hopes to play sophomore defenseman Ryan Ruikka, who has missed two games in a row with a shoulder injury, in both games of the series. He will undergo a test in Boston Friday to see the strength of the shoulder before driving up to Orono with assistant coach Mike Bavis. Parker said if the trainer won’t allow him to play both games, then he will play on Saturday only. . . Junior captain Chris Connolly is BU’s active leader in points against Maine with nine in 11 games. . . BU leads the all-time series with a record of 54-45-11 and is 9-1-2 in the two sides’ last 12 games.

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