Boston University senior All-American defenseman and co-captain Matt Gilroy insists his Hockey East regular season champion Terriers, ranked No. 1 in the nation, aren’t going to take the eighth-seeded University of Maine Black Bears lightly in their best-of-three HE quarterfinal series.
The series begins at 7 tonight at Agganis Arena in Boston.
”Everyone is 0-0. This is a whole new start to the [playoff] season. We won’t be overconfident. We want to start the post-season off right. You’ve got to bring it every night no matter what, now,” said Gilroy. “I’m looking for a very physical series. That’s what we had the last time we were in Orono.
“They’ll come at us real hard. They’ll try to push the tempo. But we have to try to push the tempo, too.”
The Maine players are looking to atone for a dismal finish to what began as a promising bounce-back season.
Maine, 10-5-1 at one point, is 2-15-3 in its last 20 games. BU is 13-0-3 in its last 16 games.
Maine has lost six in a row and is 0-7-1 in its last eight, but that tie came against BU, 2-2, in Orono on Feb. 14.
“We’ve lost 10 one-goal games,” said Maine senior defenseman and co-captain Simon Danis-Pepin. “A lot of things could have happened differently coming into this series. But this is a huge opportunity for us to turn things around.”
“We’re thankful that we’re getting a second chance,” said senior center Chris Hahn. “Every day, you see some kind of upset [in sports].”
“Last year, in the USHL [United States Hockey League], we were the top seed and we got upset in the first round by the eighth seed, Chicago,” noted Maine freshman goalie Scott Darling.
BU already has clinched an NCAA Tournament berth but Maine has to win the Hockey East tourney to avoid missing the NCAA Tournament for the second straight year after a nine-year run of appearances.
The tournament champions in college hockey’s six leagues receive automatic berths to the NCAA Tournament.
Maine made four Frozen Four appearances in six years prior to last season while BU hasn’t been to a Frozen Four since 1997.
Top seeds in the Hockey East tournament have won 14 of the 16 best-of-three quarterfinal series against the eighth seeds.
“All the pressure is on them,” said Maine senior defenseman Matt Duffy who feels the Black Bears have to slow down the Terriers, who lead the nation in goals per game (3.97) and power play percentage (24.3 percent).
“It starts with forechecking,” said Duffy. “We’ll have to have our third [forward] high [in the offensive zone]. We have to have numbers coming back so we can take away their time and space. Their defensemen love to get involved in the offense so we’ll have to play with three men back all night.”
“We want to get under their skin a little bit and try to get them off their game. And we have to keep tight gaps so they can’t get their speed up through the neutral zone,” said Danis-Pepin.
Gapping refers to the space between a team’s forwards and defense. If there is a lot of space, the opponent can generate a lot of speed on the rush.
Hahn said the Bears must stay out of the penalty box and “get off to a good start.”
“We have to keep the game low-scoring,” said Hahn. “We can’t afford to go down 2-0 to any team, let alone the best offensive team in the country. We don’t want them to get rolling right away. That would be tough.”
The Bears will need Darling to exhibit the form he displayed in the first half of the season and the youngster feels he can provide the necessary goaltending to keep his team in contention.
“I feel confident. I’ve had a good week of practice,” said Darling.
He said BU is the type of team that likes to shoot the puck from all over and they swarm the net so his rebound control will be important.
Dave Wilson, who sharedthe goaltending with Darling until suffering a groin pull early last week, expects Darling to play well.
“He has looked good in practice,” said Wilson.
“They always have good goalies up there,” said Gilroy.
The Bears also will have to find a way to put the puck behind freshman goalie Kieran Millan, who has lost just once all season.
“We’ll have to be opportunistic,” said Hahn.