Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Terrier alums making their mark in NHL coaching,scouting and management, too

By Neal E. Boudette
Last August, BU assistant coach Scott Young (photo) hopped on a trans-Atlantic flight out of Boston, awoke the following morning in Europe, sat bleary-eyed through a layover and then caught another flight to his destination: Bratislava, capital of Slovakia.
He was there to attend the Hlinka Memorial Tournament, an annual competition of some of the best 18-and-under players from the world’s top hockey-playing nations. But the highlight of the trip came when he arrived at his hotel.
There in the lounge were three former Terriers -- John Lilley, Jeff Kealty and Steve Greeley, all NHL scouts who were also there for the tournament as well.
“Long flight, jet lag, and I end up having a few beers with those guys, talking hockey, ” Young recalled. “It was great. You travel halfway around the world and you’re there with three other BU guys. I’ll never forget it.”
It’s a common occurrence. More than 20 former Terriers are currently working in NHL front offices in coaching, scouting or management positions – far more than any other college hockey program.
Mike Sullivan and John Hynes get the most attention because they are head coaches, of the defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins and New Jersey Devils, respectively.
But the list of others is long. Lilley, a Terrier in 1991-92, is an amateur scout with the Toronto Maple Leafs. Kealty, who played on the 1995 national championship team, is chief amateur scout for the Nashville Predators, whose assistant general manager is Paul Fenton, who played four years at BU from 1978 to 1982.
Rangers’ assistant director, player personnel, Greeley, who played for Jack Parker from 2000 to 2004, was an assistant to Dave Quinn from 2013 to 2015; now, he works for Terrier legend Chris Drury, the Rangers’ assistant general manager. Among Drury’s and Kealty’s teammates on the ’95 national championship team: Mike Grier, Chris Kelleher and Chris O’Sullivan (scouts for Chicago, Minnesota and the New York Islanders). They also played with Jay Pandolfo, a Bruins assistant.
 Working with Pandolfo on the Bruins bench is Joe Sacco, a Terrier from 1987 through 1990. Sacco played with Mike Sullivan on a team that reached the 1990 Frozen Four by upsetting No. 1-ranked Michigan State on the road in a thrilling three-game series (video 1, video 2)..
            A year after that, BU was in the Frozen Four again, with a team featuring Keith Tkachuk, a St. Louis scout, Scott Lachance, a New Jersey Scout and Peter Ahola, the recently named European scout for the new Las Vegas franchise. Their Terrier squad reached the 1991 NCAA title game, losing a heart-breaker in triple overtime to Northern Michigan. 
 “It’s a pretty tight bond that the BU guys have,” Tkachuk said. “It’s probably the passion, the experiences we had at BU. Maybe it’s because we played under a great coach and got ourselves ready for the next level, not just in hockey but all other areas. It’s awesome. I run into Scott Lachance quite a bit. It’s great. Lills, Greels – it’s fun seeing those guys. Anybody who went to BU has good stories about playing at BU.”
A pro scout for the Kings' 2014 Stanley Cup champs, Greeley said he feels a connection to anyone who played at BU, not just the guys he skated with during his four years on Comm Ave.
“It definitely starts with Jack Parker and the influence he had on us,” he said. “It’s a Boston University thing. It feels we all have a connection. We all came from the same place. The BU fraternity is a pretty tight circle. If you look around college hockey or the NHL, it’s flooded with Boston University grads. Once you make the move to work in hockey, as a BU grad, you’ve got that network.”
The most senior former Terrier in an NHL front office is Bob Crocker, still an amateur scout for the Los Angeles Kings at the age of 89. He played at BU from1953 to 1955, and later was an assistant coach who helped recruit the talent for Jack Kelley’s great Terrier teams of the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, and the winners of back-to-back national championships in 1971 and 1972.
Also on the Kings’ staff is 1965 All-American goalie Jack Ferriera, former GM of three NHL franchises and now a special assistant to L.A.’s general manager.  Mark Mullen, a 2004 classmate of Greeley’s and captain of the 2003-04 Terriers, was Kings' scout for many years before joining the Red Wings scouting staff at Scotty Bowman's invitation.
Buddy Powers, a player on two Frozen Four teams in the ‘70s and an assistant in Parker’s final years as bench boss, now works as an amateur scout for the Dallas Stars. Ron Anderson (photo), a Terrier on those ’71 and ’72 national title teams, had a long hockey career, coaching Merrimack College for 17 seasons in the ‘80s and ‘90s. He’s now the Blackhawks’ director of player recruitment.
Greeley said he thinks so many former Terriers excel in hockey even after hanging up their skates because of the life lessons learned at BU. “You get an opportunity to get a great education at BU. You don’t just play hockey, so a lot of guys are really prepared for when their playing days are over,” he said.
And the connection to BU gives them a network to be part of after leaving school. “Jack Parker created an environment that alums want to remain a part of, and Quinnie has continued it,” Greeley said.
"I didn't play with Kealty or Tkachuk at BU," he added. "But I guarantee, if I’m at a game, that’s usually who I’m standing with.”

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 
Jan. 21 BU 3 Maine 1
Jan. 24 Merrimack 3 BU 1
Jan. 27 Merrimack 4 BU 1
Jan. 28 BU 4 UMass Lowell 2  
Feb. 3   BU 3 UMass 1
Feb. 6   BU 3 BC 1
Feb. 10 UMass Lowell 3 BU 2
Feb. 13 Harvard 6 BU 3
Feb. 17 BU 4 New Hampshire 4 OT
Feb. 18 BU 8 New Hampshire 4 (full-game replay)
Feb. 24 Notre Dame 3 BU 1
Feb. 25 BU 4 Notre Dame 1 
Mar. 10 BU 3 Northeastern 2 (OT)
Mar. 11 BU 3 Northeastern 2