Saturday, March 03, 2012

BU and NU Senior Classes Share a History

And now, a little recent history...

As it turns out, for this year's Boston University and Northeastern University senior classes, one of them has ended the other's men's ice hockey season in their sophomore, junior and senior years.

This year, BU ended NU's playoff hopes at Agganis on BU's Senior Night with one game to play - actually the earliest either has nixed the other in the skein. The two squads face off Saturday at Matthews for NU's Senior Night and then the Huskies can clear out their lockers.

At the end of last season, NU and BU played five straight games, the latter four at Agganis. Like this year, they played a pair to end the regular season. Following that, they played a best 2-of-3 at BU in the Hockey East (HE) quarterfinals (QFs). The road team won four of the five games, with the exception being BU taking the second QF game to extend the series another night. Since opening Agganis, BU has hosted the QFs every year, and every year it has gone to a third game. The 2010-11 Huskies were the first visitors to take Game Three. That 3-of-4 streak by the Huskies not only knocked the Terriers out of the HE tourney, it also knocked them off the NCAA bubble and, more suddenly than expected, into their off-season.

In 2009-10, NU finished up a roller-coaster second half with a pair against BU. After running off six straight league wins to put themselves in the thick of the playoff chase, NU ended the season 0-4-1 against BC, UNH and then BU. In perhaps the tightest race in league history, the difference between 3rd seed and 9th place was four points. Unfortunately for NU, they were that 9th place team. The sweep by BU put them atop the tie for 3rd. The losses by NU left them one point behind Vermont for 8th. That was also the season that HE had their only three-way tie, plus another pair. Final tally: BU, Maine, UMass-Lowell at 28, Merrimack and UMass-Amherst at 26, UVM at 25, NU at 24 and out. Considering that 27 points is a .500 record in HE, like someone trying to fit into jeans they've outgrown, that's some pretty tight bunching around the middle.

That BU-NU series also impacted the NCAA tourney, even though neither team made it. By NU losing, UVM was #8 and played #1 UNH in the QFs. The Catamounts beat the Wildcats - or the Cats beat the 'Cats - in three games and went on to face #2 BC in the Semis. Helped by the strength of those four extra games against highly-ranked teams - and their strong non-conference record - UVM made the NCAA tourney as HE sent their 1, 2 and 8 seeds to the Big Dance.

As freshmen, these Terriers and Huskies also had a couple of rarely-mentioned connections.

First of all, it is well documented that that BU team won almost everything they could that year. They took every pre-, mid- and post-season tourney they entered for seven team trophies. They won the national Rookie, Player (Hobey) and Coach (Penrose) of the Year awards. They even had a second player among the three Hobey Hat Trick finalists. What they didn't win was because of the third member of the Hobey Hat Trick, standout NU goalie Brad Thiessen.

Despite having a much-heralded roster including the Hobey Baker winner and a runner-up, a BU player did not win Hockey East's Player of the Year. Thiessen did. In fact, NU also took league awards for Coach, Three Stars, Defensive Defenseman, Defensive Forward, and Goalie - which is six of the ten league awards. For as good as that Terrier team was, that Husky team was nearly their equal. They were separated by only a point in the final league standings, and when they met for a home-and-home with only three weeks left in the regular season, both games were ties. Even though their Beanpot, Hockey East and NCAA tourney stumbles hide it somewhat, that NU team was probably the best Husky squad in recent memory - but they were overshadowed by the attention drawn by that season's Terriers. In the end, what separated them is that where the Terriers always managed to find a way to win, the Huskies always came up just short. History is unkind to silver medalists.

Secondly, many people know that that BU team beat every team on their schedule not from Hockey East (10-0-0). What I haven't heard from anyone else is the realization that they also ended the season of almost every other team in the league - and in order of the final standings, if not quite the seeding.

On the final night of the 08-09 regular season, BU beat the #9 PC team that missed the playoffs. In the QFs, BU knocked off #8 Maine while #2 NU finished #7 UMA. #6 BC lost to BU in the HE semis and #5 UML fell in the HE final. In the NCAA Regional, BU outlasted UNH who was tied for 3rd. In the FF Semis, they took out the other #3, UVM. So, BU was the final post-game handshake for Hockey East teams that were 9, 8, 6, 5, 3, and 3 in the standings and faced them in that order.

Coming up the other side of the bracket, NU was leading Cornell before a closing burst by the Big Red overtook them - but that happened a lot in that all-around incredible tournament. Cornell then lost to Bemidji, who lost to Miami, who lost in the final to BU.

Had NU continued, they were slated to meet BU in the final - where they would have each ended the other's season. One a champion and one a runner-up. Would BU have finished their progression through the HE standings, or would NU have gotten revenge for BU clipping them for the regular season title on the last day of the schedule? We'll never know, but it would have been a heck of a game. It would have to wait for BU to knock off NU at the beginning of the next playoff race, as noted above. Instead, the BU/Miami final ended with a screened goalie, an unusual deflection and a BU national title.

Which brings us back to tonight.

Before tonight, when NU pulled the goalie with roughly five minutes to play, the last time I recall seeing a coach pull the goalie with over three minutes to go was in that 08-09 national final. Similarly, BU was down by two with three-and-a-half to go and the season on the line. It worked out better for those Terriers than for tonight's Huskies, but I think both coaches were right to make such a gutsy call. Might as well go down swinging rather than leaving the bat on your shoulder. As Wayne Gretzky once said, "I miss 100% of the shots I don't take."

The other connection between that title game and tonight? The freshman screening the goalie in that 08-09 NCAA title game. He doesn't play for BU anymore. He plays for Northeastern. In fact, by joining the Huskies' roster, he may have become the first NU player to wear a NCAA title ring. His first visit back to play at Agganis since leaving the Terriers? Tonight. Senior Night. What would have been his Senior Night.

So even though Northeastern was eliminated tonight, the season finale will still mean something. With the home team's fate already sealed, this game can exist in a bubble for both sets of Seniors. They can just play one final game to cap off what has been a remarkably mutually-intertwined run.

And then, as is their destiny, one of them will pack up their things and go home.

4 comments:

Cali7 said...

Great detail. Well done.

Cali7 said...

Great detail. Nicely done.

Matt Dresens said...

BU swept UMass in 2006 in the Hockey East Quarterfinals.

joseph burrell said...

oh I heard that about the Boston University and Northeastern University senior classes on Host PPH website too, and I think it is a nice opportunity to many fans

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