Friday, January 27, 2012

Terriers look to take season series from Maine

By Annie Maroon/DFP Staff

While the No. 2 Boston University men’s hockey team was enjoying the best two games of its season so far against Providence College last weekend, the No. 20 University of Maine put on a display of its own with two dramatic victories over No. 7 Boston College. The Terriers and Black Bears will meet on Friday as the two hottest teams in Hockey East, if not in the nation.

“We’ve both been playing very well lately, so we’ve got to prepare for what’s making them good,” BU head coach Jack Parker said. “That’s their power play, their transition game, [when they’re] down low with possession. Those are the things make them a terrific college hockey team, and we have to be real good in those areas.”

Last Friday, Maine (12-8-3, 9-7-2 Hockey East) knocked off BC in overtime, 4-3, then followed up on Saturday with a 7-4 win in which they scored three goals in the last five minutes of regulation. Junior forward Matt Mangene, who scored the game-winner on Friday, recorded his first collegiate hat trick on Saturday.

Additionally, all three members of the Black Bears’ top line are in the top 15 in the country in scoring. Seniors Spencer Abbott and Brian Flynn and junior Joey Diamond have combined for 42 goals in 23 games.

“That line is the best line in the country as far as stats go,” BU senior captain Chris Connolly said. “So we’re really going to have to be on top of them and make sure they don’t get a lot of good looks, because they like to turn that puck up quick and make a lot of things happen off the rush.”

Of course, the Terriers (15-6-1, 12-4-1) shouldn’t be too intimidated by any team’s offense after a weekend when they put up 14 goals in two games. BU’s power play in particular will carry a great deal of momentum into Friday’s game, fresh off a 6-for-9 showing in Providence last Saturday. Their performance against the Friars also boosted their penalty kill to an 84.6 percent conversion rate.

Both special teams will face stiff competition in the Black Bears, whose power play is firing at a 29.7 percent rate – the second best in the nation.

“They’re good at delivering pucks down to the net,” Connolly said of the Maine power play. “They have a lot of offensively talented players, things you can’t teach. They just think through the game really well. They’re not afraid to throw a puck on net from a spot that you wouldn’t think, and it gets the penalty killers kind of scrambling around. So any time we can pressure them to make sure they can’t deliver pucks down freely or pressure them on the wall, disrupt their play to make sure they don’t have a lot of time and space, I think, is one way we can be a little more successful.”

BU beat Maine, 5-1, in their last meeting on Dec. 10 on the strength of four third-period goals. In that game, which was 0-0 after the first period and 1-1 after the second, each team racked up 33 penalty minutes. BU ranks first in the nation in penalty minutes and Maine ranks second, making special teams an even more crucial part of this weekend’s matchup.

“The game we played in Maine was a terrific game,” Parker said. “It got away a little bit at the end because the puck jumped in the net for us, but it was a real great college hockey game. The first two periods . . . we’re expecting more of that this week.”

Emotions will likely run high on both sides, as BU is alone in first place in Hockey East with 25 points but Maine, in fourth place, trails second-place BC and Merrimack College by just one point with 20. With just five regular-season weekends remaining, every game is a battle for playoff positioning.

“It will be a battle,” Connolly said. “I expect playoff-type hockey. I think mostly games in the second half of the season are kind of like that.”

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