New year, new season for BU hockey
Defending champion Terriers using second half to rebound from major slump
Nick Bonino looked out of a window from his student apartment on New Year's Day in awe as fireworks exploded and a stealth bomber soared above Fenway Park to mark the beginning of the NHL's third annual Winter Classic.
On Friday, Bonino will lead Boston University against fierce rival No. 8-ranked Boston College on the ice at Fenway Park not only for men's hockey bragging rights in the city, but also to stay alive in the hunt for the NCAA tournament.
Despite winning the national championship in April and losing five of their top six forwards, Boston University was again picked to finish atop Hockey East this season. However, the Terriers entered their three-week winter break in December with a 2-7-2 conference record (4-9-3 overall).
"The first half was pretty frustrating," said Bonino, a junior forward and assistant captain with Eric Gryba for captain Kevin Shattenkirk. "We came back from a national championship and knew what we had to do to defend that, and then we got off on the wrong foot in terms of focus and effort, and guys weren't ready to play. We dug ourselves a pretty big hole."
As the Terriers got off to such a slow start, coach Jack Parker quickly became concerned that his team was still thinking about last season's championship.
"Obviously [I'm] disappointed in the outcome of our games, but more importantly in our overall effort," Parker said. "We haven't played up to our capabilities.
"It's a matter of whether these guys are still hungover from the national championship mode and having people patting them on the back. Are they going to get going and make a name for this year's team and not living off of last year's team?"
On Dec. 28, Parker called a team meeting where his players could discuss their frustration and concerns. Parker had each player address his own performance and detail what he was going to do differently in the second half of the season.
"Coach was really honest with us," freshman forward Alex Chiasson said. "We screwed up before Christmas and we weren't playing as well as we should be playing."
They wanted to play Fancy Dan hockey and see if we could get by with making some pretty plays and win on our talent because 'Do you know who we are?' -- and that didn't work.” -- BU hockey coach Jack Parker, on his team's attitude early on
Parker's main points of frustration with his team revolved around the pace and style of his team's play. He wasn't seeing the grit, determination or hard work that helped his team win a championship the year before.
"[The problem was] their unwillingness to play as hard as necessary," Parker said. "They wanted to play Fancy Dan hockey and see if we could get by with making some pretty plays and win on our talent because 'Do you know who we are?' -- and that didn't work."
The downfall of the Terriers happened quickly. After losing a few games early, they lost confidence and their drive. It was more than just losing key players such as 2009 Hobey Baker Award winner and team leader Matt Gilroy or seventh overall NHL draft pick Colin Wilson from their championship team. After a few games, this team didn't think it could win.
"By losing a few games early, we lost our confidence," Parker said. "And now all of the sudden we were like an egomaniac with an inferiority complex."
Losing games turned into off-ice distractions for some players.
"After we lost a couple of games early in the season, I think it was like a slap in the face to everyone," Chiasson said. "Guys were getting nervous, anxious, and it's also with school when hockey isn't going well. You don't really want to show up to class in the morning, and you don't know if you want to do your work at night for school the next day."
"We feel bad as the captains of this team and we had a pretty bad first half," Bonino said. "We're just trying to get everyone going in the right direction."
Bonino knows that the season is not lost yet. The Terriers can still make the NCAA tournament and they even have an outside shot at home-ice advantage in the quarterfinals in the Hockey East playoffs.
The top eight teams in the conference will make the playoffs, and the top four teams will have home-ice advantage for the best-of-three quarterfinals.
"We think that we can get home-ice advantage," Bonino said. "We think we're one of the best teams in the league, and when we're playing well and when we're competing hard we think we can be one of the best teams in the country."
On Jan. 2, the Terriers took the ice to begin the second half of their season against No. 16 Massachusetts. Parker told his team to look at the second half of the schedule as a new season.
The Terriers dominated the Minutemen 7-3 in their best performance of the season. The three team leaders, Shattenkirk, Gryba and Bonino, combined for two goals and three assists in the win.
"After Christmas was a new season," said Chiasson, who tallied a goal and an assist against UMass. "Now we're 1-0. We've got new momentum and everyone's fresh on the ice. Everyone feels good about themselves."
Boston University hopes to keep this momentum going as they take on Boston College in the collegiate version of the Winter Classic on Friday.
"I don't think anyone on this team needs to be motivated more towards playing BC," Bonino said. "Friday night under the lights at Fenway; it's a once-in-a-lifetime chance to play here against our bitter rivals. It's definitely going to be the most exciting game of any of our lives so far, but we're going to have to stay on an even keel."
While the Terriers are excited for the opportunity to play their arch rival on the greatest stage in New England sports, their focus is on winning the game, building momentum and making a push for a spot in the Hockey East playoffs. Parker knows that there is still a lot of work to be done if his team is going to reach its potential.
"I have no idea how this team is going to right itself or if it's going to right itself," Parker said. "I know what could happen. I think we have a good enough team to be very successful."
Patrick Carney is a regular contributor to ESPN.com.
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