Boston University-Vermont Put It All On the Line
by Adam Wodon/Managing Editor
Boston University and Vermont have been two of the hottest teams in the country down the stretch of the season. But despite finishing seond and third, respectively, in Hockey East, neither will make the NCAA tournament without a Hockey East tournament championship this weekend.
Both teams battled goaltending, discipline, leadership and confidence issues early on, and both have turned it around. And both teams are coming off quarterfinal series in which they were stretched to three games.
"I know (BU coach) Jack (Parker) was probably not happy with his team the first half, I certainly wasn't happy with our team the first half," said Vermont coach Kevin Sneddon. "Both teams have taken a big 180-degree turn and had some great play. So, we're playing against the team that's probably one of the hottest teams in the country."
It's hard to take much out of these teams' early meetings. In November, Vermont got clobbered by BU 9-1. The next night, though, it rallied from down 3-1 to win 5-4. That was as indicative of BU's mercurial nature as it was Vermont's resiliency.
"We were embarrassed in our own rink by a team that everything they touched just jumped in the back of the net. They played fantastic all weekend here at Gutterson," Sneddon said. "We showed a lot of character coming back in Game 2 ... that was a big step for our young team to realize that they could get it together and accomplish some great things."
But the last meeting, in early January, was just as much of a turning point, a sloppy 2-2 tie between the teams. From there, Vermont got things straightened out.
"We hit rock bottom that same week playing against Boston College; just played really poor and didn't play with a lot of emotion," Sneddon said. "After that we haven't looked back, and we've done some soul searching and made some adjustments in the way we approached our coaching and leadership. We're just very proud of our team for the way they accepted those changes, they've really grown and matured."
Much of the same can be said for the Terriers, whose story this season has been well chronicled. Boston University has a much more storied history in this tournament, obviously, than Vermont, but Parker doesn't know if that will translate to anything tangible.
"I don't think that we have any advantage as far as BU having played in the Garden more often than Vermont," Parker said. "As far as the Hockey East tournament is concerned, this is our goaltender's first time playing there. We have two freshman defensemen that have never played in it before and three freshmen forwards that have never played in it before. And for both of us, it appears as if you lose, you go home. So you know the loser is not going to have anything else to do except get the boats out or the golf clubs out."
Special teams will play a factor, as it always does. This one appears even, though from opposite perspectives. The BU power play has been strong, while it's Vermont's penalty kill that leads the way.
"We had been pretty good killing penalties until Lowell," Parker said. "They had five power-play goals in the three-game set against us. They were going at a 50 percent rate and we couldn't stop them at all. It was not goaltending — it was real bad reads on our part. I think we over coached how to stop that power play, which I know very, very well. We call it the BU power play, and so does Lowell, and the reason why I don't use the BU power play is that I think it is too easy to stop, and we couldn't stop them from doing it.
"I think the second half of the year we have gotten better at the penalty kill because our goaltending has gotten better."
Despite Vermont's PK success, the game winner by Northeastern in last week's Game 2 was on the power play.
"(Northeastern coach) Greg Cronin did a great job putting some size in front of our net," Sneddon said. "Our penalty kill has been a strength for our team for the last few years. Any time you have players that are willing to block shots and players that are able to read a power play system being run against them and are able to adjust throughout the game during the play you'll have success.
"The power play for us has been a struggle for most of the year. That being said, the last two weekends, I've really liked our puck movement. We had a lot of scoring opportunities and one power-play goal last weekend. We could have had a lot more, but that's decent because Northeastern played fantastic as well.
"The true challenge obviously is with BU's power play and again Jack would say if five good players are on the ice, you're going to have a good power play. Players like (Pete) MacArthur, (Brian) Ewing and (Chris) Higgins on one unit with (Matt) Gilroy and (Brandon) Yip are five tremendous hockey players that are able to feed off each other and are very dangerous. And then you come back with a younger unit that, at least on film, might move the puck even better. Two star young defensemen and (Colin) Wilson and (Nick) Bonino are on fire right now. There's a ton of skill on their two power plays and we've got to be at our best to
shut that down."