BU Proves Itself as National Contender

The Boston University Terriers topped the Acadia Axemen 7-1 in Saturday night’s exhibition matchup. It was a great chance to see a deep BU roster in action as head coach Albie O’Connell looks to finalize his lineup for the regular season. In total, the Terriers took the ice with 23 players (20 skaters, three goaltenders), 11 of whom are already prospects of NHL teams.

NCAA preseason rankings have BU ranked No. 8 (USCHO, USA Today) and No. 7 (College Hockey News). The Terriers haven’t taken home the national title since 2009, but they could in 2019. Though they have taller tests ahead of them, the Terriers have begun to prove why they are not only considered one of the best teams in the Hockey East but the NCAA as a whole.

Boston University NCAA 2009
BU hasn’t taken home the NCAA crown since 2009, but could this season. (Greg Fiume/NCAA Photos via Getty Images)

The biggest key to the Terriers’ success was well-rounded scoring. Seven different scorers produced the team’s seven goals, and only freshman and Philadelphia Flyers draft pick, Joel Farabee, had more than a single point. They were also strong in their own end, never seeming to give Acadia an extended offensive possession at even strength.

BU Dominates Acadia

From the opening puck drop, BU seemed to have the game under control. Even when Farabee took a hooking minor just 11 seconds into the game, the Terriers penalty kill was quick to pounce upon the opposition’s power play. The special teams unit didn’t allow Acadia consistent possession and herded them away from lethal scoring locations. It was on this penalty kill that freshman Matthew Quercia of Andover, Massachusetts notched the strangest goal of the night.

Quercia was making an innocent clear from BU’s blue line which was heading to the left of Acadia’s net. Goaltender Logan Flodell went to the post to corral the puck and spark a transition for his team. However, the puck took a crazy bounce and all of a sudden Flodell was desperately trying to cover the right side of the net but it was too latethe puck had found its way into the half-empty cage. Though fortuitous, Quercia’s goal gave the Terriers a rush of confidence that they refused to turn their backs on.

Just two minutes later, Shane Switzer took advantage of Acadia’s lackluster coverage. He sent the puck up ice to senior Ryan Cloonan on the left wing and then jumped back into the play, creating an odd-man rush. Cloonan found the trailing Switzer who had too much time to skate in and rip one into the back of the net. BU continued to find space such as Switzer’s throughout the entirety of the contest.

Even with three power plays in the first frame, Acadia seemed to be stranded in no man’s land as BU would consistently clear the puck and keep their penalty-killing unit fresh with line changes. When on the power play, BU was in no hurry. On a two-man advantage, the Terriers took all the time they needed to move the puck around in order set up a shooter in a prime spot on the ice. The boys in red continued this trend even when they were at even strength. They kept the Acadia defense chasing as they moved the puck along the boards, almost uncontested at times.

The BU offense was also keen on creating the best of scoring chances at even strength. Seventeen of their 34 shots came from below the hash marks and five of their seven goals came from that region of the ice. But since they were chasing the puck most of the game, Acadia allowed the Terriers to work their way into the slot time and time againa big reason why BU had seven different scorers on Saturday night.

But you can’t win a hockey game at just one end of the ice. BU outplayed Acadia in all three zones, especially when the opposition was in the midst of a transition. A prime example of this came early in the second period when Farabee used the shaft of his stick to break up a play at Acadia’s blue line which resulted in a possession. Even when Acadia was able to get the puck into the offensive zone, they rarely saw more than one scoring opportunity before the Terriers were back on the attack.

A big part of this was due to the performance of their blueliners. Not only were they able to keep Acadia to the outside, but they were wise in picking their targets when transitioning the puck to their forwards. In the offensive zone, they were also able to keep Acadia from seamlessly getting the puck out. A great example of this was freshman Hugo Blixt who could often be seen pinching along the boards to keep the Terriers offense cooking. Better yet, he was pinching at the appropriate times and didn’t leave his fellow defenseman hanging.

BU goaltender Jake Oettinger was credited with the Terriers’ 7-1 victory over Acadia. (David Banks-USA TODAY Sports)

When needed, BU’s goaltenders showed up in full force. One of the top NHL goaltending prospects and Terriers junior Jake Oettinger received the win after shutting out Acadia through the first two periods of play. He made 13 stops, many of which were simply awestriking. On one instance with BU down a man, Oettinger made three consecutive saves in what seemed like a single second. He stopped a shot with his left pad which produced a rebound that was sent back on net. Oettinger once again thwarted the shot with his left pad, moving across the crease, and then snagged the last of the three shots out of the air with his glove. The post-to-post sequence received a standing ovation from the BU faithful, and rightly so.

Junior Max Prawdzik was called upon to take over goaltending duties during the third period. He made nine stops, many of which were not easy as Acadia had found some life in the third period, desperately trying to avoid a shutout. The Axemen’s Cristiano Digiacinto finally found the net on the power play late in the final frame. Thus Prawdzik, after a very strong 16:46 of play, was pulled to give Nico Lynch just over three minutes of ice time during which he made one save.

BU Improvements

Despite their plethora of successes, the Terriers still have a thing or two to flesh out before they take on Minnesota State, the top team in the WCHA, on Friday. The most prevalent sore spot of Saturday night’s game was penalty minutes. The Terriers found themselves down a man for 11:17 of playover a sixth of the game. While they were able to make up for this with a solid penalty kill (which included two shorthanded goals), this could potentially be their downfall when facing some of the NCAA’s top teams.

Of BU’s seven penalties, five were committed by underclassmen, including Farabee’s hooking minor on the first shift of the game. It’s easy to understand the intensity of emotions when lacing up the skates for the first game of the 2018-19 seasonsome of them for the first time in the NCAAbut this is a trend that must be met with more discipline. With teams like Minnesota State, Providence, and Northeastern on BU’s schedule within the next month, this problem needs to be handled quite quickly.

Joel Farabee of the U.S. National Development Program
Joel Farabee took BU’s first of seven penalties in Saturday’s game against Acadia. (courtesy USHL)

The Terriers also need to keep their emotions in check. Two of their minors were for roughing, and one for interference. While it can be beneficial to play with ferocity, it can also hamper your team if lines are crossed. This is especially the case when the opposition has a lethal power play who can pounce on your team’s lapse in decision making.

However, whenever you score a touchdown against your opponent, penalties prove less costly. There’s also a lot to write home about in the Terriers’ dominant victory against Acadia. If BU can keep their offense going and dial back on unnecessary penalties, they are well on their way to contending for a national title come the spring.