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