A Welcome Return
LaCouvee Topped Old Team; Battles For Minnesota State's Top Spot
It’s not often that a college hockey player gets to return to the arena he used to call home for a chance to defeat old friends.
As Connor LaCouvee entered the Agganis Arena ice on Friday night, he did so coming out of the visitor’s tunnel — an unfamiliar trek for the former Boston University Terrier.
Now a senior goaltender for Minnesota State, LaCouvee looked around the arena as the Mavericks were introduced to the crowd. As the public address announcer called his name, he received a loud cheer and applause from the BU faithful.
“It was pretty great for that little shout-out,” LaCouvee said. “It’s awesome coming back to play at BU. Nothing but good things to say about the city of Boston and Boston University hockey. It’s an awesome program run by great people.”
Not everyone rolled out the welcome wagon. Agganis Arena can be a difficult place to play for visiting netminders. While it’s tradition in college hockey to heckle the opposing goalie, the BU student section is one of the more unforgiving bunches. It wasn’t any different for LaCouvee.
“I saw some nice signs in the warm-up,” he said.
Even having three years in a red-and-white sweater doesn’t get you a pass with those kids.
In just the second game of the season, any team would be in the midst of figuring out the plan. A week earlier, Minnesota State played well against St. Cloud State, but dropped the season opener 4-0. Last year’s starting goaltender, Jason Pawloski, made 22 saves in the loss, and Minnesota State coach Mike Hastings decided it was time to give the transfer a try.
Just go out there and beat your one of the best teams in the country in their arena. Yeah, the one you played for the last time you were in a competitive game.
LaCouvee took full advantage of the opportunity. Thirty-two saves on 35 shots later, and the Qualicum Beach, B.C. netminder recorded his first win of the year, a 6-3 victory over his old team.
Even with the strong individual effort, he wouldn’t take the credit.
“I just really wanted to play against BU,” LaCouvee said. “I’m happy to get the start and things worked out pretty well. I think the boys played exceptionally well. They were the reason we won.”
It’s an understatement to say that BU and Minnesota State are different places. The small state school located in Mankato, Minn., has just 15,000 students, while BU has more than double that.
Approximately 90 minutes southwest of Minneapolis, Mankato was an interesting change for LaCouvee. He left the bustling city campus on the east coast for a more traditional, small Midwest state school setup.
“At first, it was a bit of a tough adjustment — leaving everything I’ve known and moving ship,” LaCouvee said. “(But) the guys in Minnesota are unreal. Just such a welcoming group of guys. It’s been so incredible that they just welcomed me with open arms. I felt like one of the guys from the start. I’m happy to fit in here, happy to play and happy to go forward with this team.”
In three years at BU, LaCouvee appeared in 32 games, going 14-9-5 and registered a .905 save percentage. He was overshadowed by another goaltender in each of the years he played at BU. As a freshman, he appeared in five games, but it was Matt O’Connor’s show all the way to the national championship game. A year later, he eventually lost the job to a streaky Sean Maguire. Last year, a freshman named Jake Oettinger took the job quickly.
Hastings has a difficult job when considering who to give the starting job. Pawloski was solid last year, posting a .920 save percentage. This year, the junior is thought of as the goaltender who will eventually be “the guy.” But there’s a reason they brought in LaCouvee. He provides experience and competition in net that Minnesota State wouldn’t necessarily have otherwise.
“It was a very tough decision on who was going to play St. Cloud, and we were sub-.900 there as far as save percentage,” Hastings said. “We wanted to give Connor an opportunity. Whether it would have been BU or anybody else, because of his work ethic and what he had done last week, I thought he deserved an opportunity to show himself. He did that.”
Pawloski followed up with the argument that he’s most deserving of the starting job on Saturday night, as his 26-save shutout of BU gave the Mavericks the weekend sweep.
For now though, there isn’t a designated starter in Mankato. Hastings stressed that both LaCouvee and Pawloski will alternate starts for the foreseeable future. For now, the friendly rivalry should only help the Mavericks out.
“We’ve been pushing each other, just trying to get better,” LaCouvee said. “Great guy, though. We’re roommates on the road right now, just hanging out. I’ve only known the guy for a couple weeks, so it’s hard to give a judgment call, but he seems like a pretty great guy.”
LaCouvee has been in this situation before. His whole career at BU was fighting for minutes, with 19 appearances in 2014-15 the high-water mark as a Terrier.
“I thought Connor did a very good job (Friday) night,” Hastings said. “He’s done a great job of coming in as an older guy and just becoming part of the fiber of the team without being disruptive.“
There’s an understanding from LaCouvee: He was brought to Mankato so that he could fight for the job and help bring the Mavericks to the next level. Plenty of opportunities remain to gain minutes during a push for the WCHA title.
However, few may be as special to him as winning against the team he left back in Boston.