Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Well-designed and executed process yields recruiting triumphs for Quinn & Company

By Neal E. Boudette

There’s no doubt Dave Quinn and his staff have been on a tear on the recruiting front.

In just the last few weeks alone, they’ve won verbal commitments from two highly rated players for the 2017-18 season – forward Shane Bowers, a possible first-round draft choice next June, and defenseman Cam Crotty, another likely early-round pick.

Both committed right after BU landed Finnish D-man Kasper Kotkansalo. Maybe most important is that Quinn & Co. went head to head with BC for Bowers and Crotty, and won.

And, of course, these recruiting wins come following this year’s freshman class, which is second to none, with three first-rounders, a second-rounder and a fifth-rounder.

How do they do it? How have Quinn, Albie O’Connell and Scott Young managed to convince so many highly sought-after players to choose BU over BC or any of the other strong college hockey programs out there?

The answer has many levels – including early identification of budding stars; an honest pitch about where and how prospects would likely fit into BU’s plans; and, lastly, a pro-style environment designed to give players the skills and life experience to leave Comm Ave. and compete for a spot in the N.H.L. or some other form of professional hockey.

Of course, the city of Boston, Agganis Arena and the hockey team’s gleaming weight room, the rabid BU fan base and the chance to play for a coach like Dave Quinn all helps, too.

Early Identification – Plenty of schools land commitments from 15 or even 14 year old players. The trick is to be able to tell which ones will become elite players three, four or five years down the road. It’s not an easy task.

O’Connell and Young – and Steve Greeley, before he left BU for the New York Rangers – have proven to have a knack for it, and it starts with looking not for the best skaters, but players “who think the game,” O’Connell told me when I visited Agganis in October.

“They have to be able to skate but they have to think fast and be a step ahead of the play,” he said. “They can see the entire game. They know where the puck is going to go.”

Obviously, they look for strong and quick skaters, but the top priority is whether they appear to be thinking as they play.

O’Connell said these are the kinds of players – freshman Clayton Keller is certainly one – who “make everyone around them better.”

In an interview, Quinn said the clearest sign of a player who thinks is whether he has his head up while he’s got the puck. “If you’re not looking at your options, you’re not thinking,” he said.

The surest sign a player is thinking is whether, when making a move, he can lean one way to start to make a pass in one direction or shoot – and then change his mind and do something else.

That, the BU coaches said, shows the player’s mind is thinking faster than the play is unfolding. He starts to do one thing, but then recognizes it’s not going to work or there is a better option and is able to decide to do something else.

If a kid is doing that at 14 or 15, he just might be on BU’s radar.

The Right Fit – In O’Connell’s office is a giant, floor-to-ceiling white board with lists of current players, current commits and top players in whom BU is interested. This is the team’s master plan and it is kept hidden behind a blind—especially when visitors from outside the program drop by. But often potential recruits are given a look, and are shown an honest view of how the coaching staff thinks they could fit in at BU.

Once Keller committed to BU, that was used to lure others. His linemate at the USA NTDP, Kieffer Bellows, was projected as a winger on Keller’s line at BU. Then goalie Jake Oettinger and Patrick Harper followed. Finally Chad Krys came along, too.

“Keller was a big get. Everyone wanted him and he could have gone to any school in the country,” Greeley said in a recent conversation while he was scouting players at an exhibition in Michigan of U18 teams from Sweden, Finland, the Czech Republic and Switzerland as well as the USA NTDP U18 squad.

You can bet Bowers was given a look Albie’s white board and shown he could be on a line with Harper or Bellows or Keller or Bobo Carpenter next year. The chance to play with one or two drafted players like that – well, that makes a pretty compelling argument for a lot of players.

Honest Pitch—Part of the honest pitch Quinn and Co. offer recruits is a blunt message, though. A spot on a top line and time on the power play still have to be earned, and it will require hard work – both on the ice and in the classroom. Essentially players are told, “You will be pushed -- and sometimes you won’t like it.”

That was one thing BU coaches emphasized to Keller during the recruiting process. Quinn made a point to stress that going to BU and playing for the Terriers would not be easy, even for a top-end center. Some players might be turned off by that. Keller took it as a challenge.

The message is summed up on a plaque at the entrance to the Terrier locker room. “Leave Here,” it says and then lists five points:
● You represent Boston University hockey.
● Manage your time…go to class.
● Don’t listen to the noise.
● Our business is our business.
● Think twice…act once.

Pro Style Environment – This is part of the way BU gets multiple elite players to commit. At the pro level, players are going to have to compete against and prove themselves against high-level talent.

This is the proposition Young sometimes put forward when talking to players about coming to BU: “Do you want to practice every single day against NHL-type players? Against a Keller? A JFK? A Bellows?” Young told me.

Most players who hope to play beyond college see the value in that. “You’re going to be challenged every single day, and that’s what it will be like in the NHL, in the AHL, at any pro level,” he said.

That kind of environment tends to appeal strongly to top-end players.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

2016-17 Video Highlights

2016-17 Video Highlights
Oct. 1    Terriers 10 Prince Edward Island 2 (exhibition)
Oct. 6    Terriers 8 US Under 18 Team (exhibition)
Oct. 8    Terriers 6 Colgate 1 (extended highlights)
Nov. 12 Terriers 4 Michigan 2 (extended highlights)
Nov. 18 Terriers 2 Connecticut 1 (extended highlights) 
Nov. 19  Connecticut 4 Terriers 0
Nov. 22  Terriers 5 Harvard 3
Dec. 2   Terriers 2 Providence 1
Dec. 3   Terriers 2 Providence 2 OT 
Dec. 9   Vermont 4 BU 2 
Dec. 10 BU 4 Vermont 0 
Dec. 13 BU 5 Yale 2
Jan. 5   BU 5 Union 4 OT
Jan. 8   BU 5 UMass 2
Jan. 13 BU 2 BC 1 
Jan. 16 BU 3 BC 0
Jan. 20 BU 4 Maine 1 

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

“The Next Ones” prepare to visit Agganis

By Neal E. Boudette

If familiarity breeds contempt, well then Thursday night’s exhibition game ought to be more than your standard pre-season match up.

The Terriers face off against the USA NTDP U18 team featuring three players – forwards Brady Tkachuk and Logan Cockerill, and blueliner David Farrance – who will come to Agganis in 2017. Those guys know the BU line up well. A year ago, they were NTDP teammates with the four alums of the program now skating in scarlet and white as freshmen – Clayton Keller, Kieffer Bellows, Chad Krys and Jake Oettinger.

Behind the scenes, more than a few texts have already been exchanged in anticipation of renewing acquaintances.

“Yeah, I talked to Keller a little because we played golf a lot last spring,” Farrance told me after a recent practice at USA Hockey Arena in Plymouth, Mich. “He thinks they’re going to kill us and I tell him I don’t know about that.”

“I told Oettinger I’ll see him in front of the net,” Tkachuk added. “Hopefully he doesn’t give me a slash to the back of the legs.”

Tkachuk scores in tight on a rebound

Cockerill, for his part, said he’s psyched to play in Agganis for the first time. But he knows it will be a tough challenge, and expects that BU will surely be ready for them. A year ago, the NTDP U18 featuring Keller & Co. came into Agganis and walked out with win.

“We’re going to be playing against some good competition – Keller and Krys and Bellows and Oettinger, plus all the other talent they got,” Cockerill said.

“The guys who were [with NTDP] last year are going to be tough to play against,” Farrance went on. “They’re all going to want to play their best because they’re playing their alum team. I think it will probably be one of our hardest games of the year.”

Cockerill, Tkachuk and Farrance are all off to strong starts this year. The BU match up will be the second of 11 games scheduled with D1 teams this season, including one versus Harvard two days after their visit to Agganis. They also have five games against D3 schools.

Logan Cockerill
A Michigan native, Cockerill caught the eye of BU coaches because of his strong skating stride, intensity and awareness on the ice. So far this year he has a goal and a pair of assists for NTDP. He also had a nice goal in the recent All-American Prospects game in Philadelphia, a play that turned the heads of some scouts.

Last year with NTDP, he was 6-15-21 and developed a knack for creating scoring chances on the forecheck. In some games late in the season, Cockerill looked like one of the best players on the ice. He was slowed, however, by a separated shoulder, which took him out of the line-up for a few weeks.

He’s a rare find – a Michigan kid who did not grow up dreaming of suiting up for Michigan. He lives in Brighton, just north of Ann Arbor. But while playing AAA hockey with Belle Tire, he played in some tournaments with Boston and got the bug for playing in the Hub.

“I visited a lot of schools and when I visited BU, I just loved it. I went on a visit with my mom and Albie O’Connell showed us around. I loved the city campus. I loved having the other colleges like Harvard and BC nearby, and the rivalry around the city.”

His older brother Garret plays for Northeastern. If Garret, a junior, returns for his senior season, the two could end up facing each other in the Beanpot.

“I hope he stays,” Cockerill said. “I’m trying to convince him.”

He's 5'9" and 165 lbs., and is probably headed for a growth spurt. His brother is listed at 6' and 200.

For now, Cockerill is just pumped to make his Agganis debut, and face the challenge of playing against a college line up with four first-rounders, three second-rounders and more.

“I’m going to have some nerves. It’s definitely different playing against college teams,” he said, “but I’m very excited.”

David Farrance
Through seven games, Farrance, 5’11” and 187 lbs., has two goals and an assist. But more telling is that he’s been piling up shots on goal and blasting the puck from the point.

When told he seems to be emerging as a key part of NTDP’s offense, Farrance shrugged it off. “Yeah. You shoot the puck, sometimes it goes in.”

He said he’s been focusing on getting stronger and improving his shot. “Lot of lifting. And you’re always shooting pucks in the basement. That’s how I spent most of my days in the summer, mostly. Thankfully it’s paid off. I feel faster and my shot feels harder.”

The need to work hard is something that has been emphasized at NTDP, Farrance said. Overall, he thinks the program has been a great learning experience. “Being here, it makes you want to be a good person for your country day in and day out. It forces you to. Because you have to represent your country well. Even if you’re not wearing your jersey, you’ve always got that USA crest on.”

Farrance grew up in Victor, N.Y., near Rochester. Before coming to NTDP, Farrance skated for Syracuse in the USPHL and often played in Boston, trips he used to see several BU games. He also looked at that other school up the road.

“I’ve been to a lot of BU games. I’ve seen a lot of BC games. I liked BU a little bit better,” he said. “I visited both schools, but spent more time at BU. I just wanted to keep going back to BU and watching games there. I just liked BU, and the city. It’s pretty cool being in the city and right next to Fenway.”

It didn’t matter that his NTDP teammate and childhood buddy from Victor, Jake Tortora, opted for BC. The difference was he felt really comfortable with the coaching staff of Dave Quinn. And Agganis, of course. “The locker room and the training room and the arena, it’s all you can ask for. The fans are crazy about hockey and I love that.”

Brady Tkachuk
The son of BU legend Keith Tkachuk is a bruising forward in the mold of his father. At 6’2” and 194 lbs., he’s a big body and does his best work in the dirty areas of the ice. So far this year, he’s 2-4-6. He said he’s loved the idea of playing at BU for years.

“Usually every year, February comes around, my dad and I put the Beanpot on. He still loves talking about his days at BU. We love watching that,” Tkachuk said.

So when it came time to decide on the next step in his development, it was a no-brainer. “We live on Cape Cod in the summer, an hour away, and we have family in the Boston area. It was an easy choice, a win-win, to play for one of the best colleges in the nation and I get to see my family a bunch.”

He’s especially looking forward to the rivalry with BC, where two of his cousins, Ryan and Casey Fitzgerald, play.

“My dad likes to tell me about the rivalry,” Tkachuk said. “Very intense between the two schools.”

 A year ago, Tkachuk was 9-16-25 at NTDP. He said the program has been “the best experience. Great coaching staff, showing us how to play, how to carry ourselves off the ice.” And he gives a special tip of the hat to Lisa Volmers, director of student-athlete services. “She does a great job keeping us on track with academics.”

Tkachuk said he’s been in touch with all of the NTDP alums who are now freshmen at BU and is “super excited” for Thursday night’s game. He’ll have support in the stands. His father and a load of family members are going to be in attendance. “I think I have close to 20, 30 family members going to the game,” he laughed.

Friday, September 16, 2016

2016-17 Captain's Q&A with Doyle Somerby

Q. Doyle, as the captain of yet another very young team, with nine freshmen and eight sophomores, what are you and your assistants doing to build team chemistry?
A. To build chemistry in my mind, it doesn't matter what you are doing as long as you are together. The comfort every player has with each other goes a long way throughout the season. So far, we just try and spend as much time throughout the week together, whether that comes from watching football on Saturdays and Sundays together or hanging out after practice. I am lucky enough to live close to campus, so this summer I was able to spend a good amount of time around the incoming freshman when they were here for summer school.

Q. Since your arrival at BU, not only has your speed improved, but your agility as well. How did you achieve this and what areas are you looking to improve on personally this season?
A. Skating is a huge part of our teams success. The forwards that I am able to face on a daily basis are a huge part of my ability to improve year by year. Every summer I work with a guy named Adam Nicholas who has done a lot for me. I skate with him frequently throughout July and August and he is a major factor in my development. Also, the second that coaches are allowed on the ice with us, coach David Quinn has really pushed me throughout the year. His knowledge and experience for every defensive situation is beneficial for my growth as a player. The situations that he puts the defensemen in throughout practice allows us to improve our footwork and defensive play.  

Q. Your scoresheet contributions took a big step up last year with 5 goals, 8 assists and 45 shots on goal. Do you attribute those numbers to experience, greater comfort with the offensive scheme, recognizing and jumping on opportunities—or all three?
A. Being more of a defensive defenseman, the scoresheet is something that I am not very dependent on as a player. With that said, it is obviously nice to score goals and chip in offensively but we have a lot of skilled players that have helped me improve statistically each year. The main thing that has allowed me to increase production each year is the confidence in my skating. The first two years I was a lot more timid because I did not trust my feet to bail me out of situations. As I have grown into my body more, from work in the weight room and extra skating, I have felt the confidence to put myself in more offensive situations.

Q. Two freshmen—Patrick Harper and Johnny McDermott—are coming in directly from prep school programs. What did you find to be the biggest adjustment when you arrived from Kimball Union and what will you tell them?
A. I have talked to them quite a bit about the jump from prep to college. The general assumptions about the size and speed of guys are undeniable. All I can tell them is the grind of the season can get to you at times, and there will certainly be a lot of ups and downs, but it's how you respond each game. College hockey is very mental and I just tell them to trust their ability and enjoy each game because there aren't many better places to be than BU.

Q. How often do you speak with the Islanders about your development at BU? (Is it former Terrier Chris O’Sullivan?) What do they want you to improve before you turn pro?
A. I talk to a few different people within the Islander’ system throughout the year. Being in a system with a lot of guys who have been through the college ranks is really nice and beneficial for me. As far as improvements go, they just talk about the year-to-year jumps you make as a player. Take care of what is in your control; get stronger, work on skating, be confident, enjoy and learn from the leadership role I have been placed in. They like the system, the coaching staff and the quality of the players here at BU, so it is a good situation to be in.

Q. Does Coach Quinn’s defensive system lend itself to the style and development that NHL teams are seeking?
A. His track record speaks for itself. He is very well regarded by people at the pro level, and the players he has coached at every step of the way have gone on to be very good players. The work he does with the defenseman in practice that I alluded to earlier is something that will pay off not only this season but at the next level as well.  

Q. BU fans enjoy big open ice hits like the one you had against Duluth (video @ 6:15) in the 2015 regional. Do you look for an opportunity to make a statement with a hit? Or is it a matter of being ready when a puck-carrier has his head down?
A. It has a lot to do with timing, and the gap the defensemen have leaving the offensive zone. It is always nice to lay the big hit but it is something that is not always available. Fortunately, I am not the only defenseman on the team who enjoys the open ice hits, as Charlie McAvoy and Johnny MacLeod have been known to lay thunderous hits.

Q. With Brandon Fortunato’s departure, can we expect to see you gaining more power play opportunities?
A. Haha, I guess you never know. But my role on this team is to take care of the defensive side and pitch in offensively when I can. I was able to fill in occasionally on the powerplay last year when guys went down with injuries. We have two very talented freshmen defensemen coming in who will join Charlie McAvoy on the power play along with a lot of talented forwards, so we will see what happens.  

Q. What areas do you feel the defense needs to improve on from last year (specifically, in their own end), and what are the keys to getting better at those things this year.
A. Communication will be a big key for us this year. To get better in our own end we need to be better at talking and working off each other. We also need to be more efficient moving the puck. Breakouts are something we can really work on because it will prevent us from being hemmed into our own zone.

Q. Last season, the penalty kill, both in Hockey East and overall, was about 81%. What needs to be done to improve that number?
A. Sacrifice. Plain and simple. The effective penalty kills are the ones where people accept their role and the situation and are willing to do anything to keep the puck out of the net. Obviously we will let up goals and sometimes you have to tip your cap to the other team’s power play but bearing down to block shots and clear pucks will definitely improve our penalty kill numbers.

Q. Finally, which returning BU player will surprise Terrier fans this season?
A. For me personally I am really excited about having Nik Olsson and Nick Roberto back in our lineup this year. I don’t know if people realize how important they are to our team. With that said, I think from freshman year to sophomore year is where players may have the biggest jump. We have a few players that will really improve off of last year’s campaign. With that said, I would have to say Jordan Greenway might not surprise Terrier fans per se, but I personally am expecting some big numbers from him this year in particular. He is a special player with his blend of size and skill and I think with a year under his belt he can really take over and dominate games.