Photo Credit: Brendan Mahoney
With the No. 7 University of Denver’s NCAA Tournament first-round game with No. 12 Boston University later today, we thought that doing a Q&A with a BU blogger would be a great way to gain insight into BU’s program and how they might match up with DU.
Thanks to the willingness of Matt Pereira with BayState (Road) Sports to do this feature, we were able to get some key questions answered. They did the same with us and here is their Q&A with me. Here’s the conversation:
Nick Tremaroli: How has this BU team changed since the Pioneers and Terriers met on Halloween?
Matt Pereira: The Terriers have been fairly consistent throughout the season where they have not had any losing streak longer than two games. They let Northeastern go on the big losing and then winning streaks to barely make the tournament before getting curb stomped. The biggest difference since October is the development of the freshmen who BU now relies on heavily. Jordan Greenway is a monster power forward. DU fans will notice and dislike him within 5 minutes of puck drop. JFK aka Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson is a great playmaker and plays in all situations. Captain Matt Grzelcyk also missed the first matchup with an ACL injury that he played on last NCAA tournament. He is a difference maker out on the ice. Elite passer and finds a way to get his shot through when he needs to. BU has a defensive corps that loves to move and shoot the puck and Grzelcyk is the leader of that.
NT: What were your main takeaways from that Halloween game and what do you think you’ll see again this weekend?
MP: The Halloween game was a typical early season BU Denver game. High scoring and fun to watch. The main takeaway from that game was Ahti Oksanen scoring his first two goals of the year. He loves to shoot more than anything else in his life. I don’t know him personally but I’m quite confident in saying that. He leads the country in shots(189) by double digits and hadn’t scored before the DU game in October. He was due and the Pioneers suffered at his expense. As for the type of game I expect, I would say take the over if you are into that type of thing.
NT: Who are the players on BU’s roster that Denver fans should be watching for?
MP: I already hit on Greenway being a force down low and Grzelcyk who is a difference maker at the point but besides that I would say freshman defenseman Charlie McAvoy who plays with Grzelcyk. He is the biggest playmaker on the BU roster. He is the guy who makes an absurd pinch and has you going “wow that was like Eichel last year”. Obviously, they play different positions and Eichel has a different level he can get to but they are similar in their patience with the puck and ability to make a play when they need to. The other guys to watch out for are senior forwards Matt Lane and Danny O’Regan. They simply find ways to score goals when they team needs to. O’Regan had the GWG against Yale in OT of the first round last year and Lane has his share of big time goals as well (BC in the HE semis his freshman year is the one that sticks out the most).
NT: What has to go right for the Terriers to beat the Pioneers?
MP: Nothing necessarily has to go right for the Terriers to win but they need to get above average goaltending like they have for the majority of the season. They don’t need great goaltending but obviously, goalie Sean Maguire has the ability to just go off and stop everything in site and then do the weirdest stuff for the entirety of the game similar to banging the post in the Beanpot final that drove some fans nuts. The weirder Maguire is during stoppages, the more he is on and the worse the news is for the Denver fans tonight.
NT: After losing in the NCAA Championship Game last year to Providence, do you think this year’s team has what it takes to win it all this year?
MP: Last year, former assistant BU assistant coach Steve Greeley (now the Rangers’ assistant director of player personnel) said to a group of fans that this year’s BU team was different in last year’s team in that they would not have that elite top line with (Eichel, Rodrigues and O’Regan) but they would have more scoring depth. He also said they would probably have more regular season losses but be ready to win come NCAA tournament time. I think this depth is BU’s greatest advantage over Denver. BU has 8 20+ point scorers to Denver’s 5. The biggest key for BU in the NCAA tournament both against Denver and beyond is to say out of the box. Their penalty kill isn’t terrible numbers wise (81.8%) but they definitely benefit from the game staying 5v5 no matter who the opponent is.
NT: What are some things that you’ve liked and disliked about BU this year?
MP: I liked everything about how they play their system and how strong they finish in the third period. They are a +15 in the third and +2 OT. I readily admit that +/- is a stupid stat to reference but I love a team that always finishes the game strong. Like I said, my concern is how tightly calls the game. If there are 0 penalties called, I am a big fan of BU’s chances in an evens strength game. BU was a -57 in penalty minutes called this year to their opponents despite my best efforts to convince the refs that they were always incorrect. Normally, NCAA games are more loosely called than the regular season which definitely benefits BU. The fewer penalties called, the better for BU. I don’t have anything especially negative to say about the 2016 NCAA champs.
NT: There’s a pretty serious discrepancy between BU’s home and away record and BU has to travel further than DU does for this game. Do you think the fact that this game isn’t played at Agganis Arena might affect the Terriers?
MP: BU was much better at home than on the road this year but I don’t put much stock into that. Last year they were much better on the road. A majority of the team is the same so unless Jack Eichel, Cason Hohmann and Evan Rodrigues prefer to be on the road it doesn’t really make sense. I think it is more of a matter of puck luck. Hockey is a weird game. Sometimes you get the bounces, sometimes you don’t. Sometimes I scream at the refs and opposition until BU takes the lead and I have much better screaming access at Agganis than on the road.
NT: Can I get a prediction for this game?
MP: I’ll go with a 5-4 BU win matching October. Goals from Greenway, O’Regan, Oksanen, Bobo Carpenter, and Charlie McAvoy.
Big thanks again to Matt Pereira with BayState (Road) Sports for doing this Q&A with us. It gave a good insight into what BU hockey is all about and how their year has gone.
In case you forgot or were living under a rock, Denver takes on Boston University at 4:30 PM MT at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minnesota. It will be televised live on ESPNU and a number of bars around campus will be showing the game. You definitely don’t want to miss this matchup!