Scott McLaughlin is a staff writer at WEEI.com, covering mostly Bruins and college hockey. You can follow him on Twitter here: https://twitter.com/smclaughlin9.
McLaughlin is also a BU alumnus and former editor of the BU Daily Free Press. He shared some of his insight on the downward-spiraling BU hockey team with us in advance of tomorrow night's big game at Conte.
BC Interruption: When last BC and BU met, BU was trending downward but still seemed like a pretty decent team. Since then, the bottom has fallen out. What happened?
Scott McLaughlin: I don't think the bottom fell out so much as the Terriers just haven't gotten better. Even when they were hovering around .500 for the first month or two, they were getting outplayed far more often than not. They're still getting outplayed most nights, and now their record reflects it. At the time, it was easy to chalk it up to a young team with a new head coach just trying to find its feet, but now it's pretty clear that they're just not very good.
BCI: Do you think BU is dramatically underachieving, or do you think this is a fair reflection of the talent level this year?
SM: They're definitely underachieving, but I don't think it's dramatically. I had them middle of the pack before the season, and I felt even then that picking them for the top four was probably wishful thinking. I still think their talent level is middle of the pack, but the way they've played certainly hasn't been.
BCI: Are there any players in particular who seem to be way off what one might have expected preseason?
SM: Evan Rodrigues (who's missed the last two games due to injury) only having two goals after scoring 14 last year certainly stands out. I think the loss of Matt Nieto hurt him (and Danny O'Regan to a lesser extent) much more than most of us anticipated. Matt Grzelcyk (also currently injured) and Garrett Noonan haven't been terrible, but I thought they were two of the four or five best defensemen in the league entering the season, and they haven't been that. And then there's the now-departed Sam Kurker, a second-round pick who parlayed a disappointing freshman season into an even more disappointing sophomore campaign.
BCI: How about bright spots? Who's playing well for BU?
SM: Goalies Matt O'Connor and Sean Maguire have both struggled as of late, but for the most part, they've been solid this season while seeing a lot of rubber every game. Freshman forwards Robbie Baillargeon and Nick Roberto have both been pretty good, too -- they should develop into nice players moving forward.
BCI: What's your sense of how the BU community feels at this point? Are they patient during the transition or are people souring on the new coach?
SM: A little of both. I think the fans who understood this might not be a totally smooth process are being patient, especially knowing the talented recruits David Quinn has coming in over the next few years. But the ones who expected Quinn to come in and have BU competing for league and national titles right away are obviously pretty frustrated. Personally, I still think Quinn will be good for BU in the long run, but the first year's been rocky to say the least.
BCI: How much of a surprise was Kurker's departure? What impact will it have on the team? How about Grzelcyk's injury - what's the prognosis there?
SM: I'm not surprised at all about Kurker. Rumors of him leaving have been swirling most of the season, and it was pretty clear that things just weren't working out at BU. I'm not entirely sure why he struggled so much (last year, I felt he just wasn't ready for the college game given that he came straight from high school; this year, he was just bad), but if there's still any chance of him developing into an NHL player, I think he needed to try something else. The only effect this has on the Terriers is that they now have one less body. He wasn't contributing at all on the ice.
As for Grzelcyk, all I know is that Quinn said "extended period of time" with a dislocated shoulder. Just as a fan of Hockey East, I hope he's back before the end of the season, because he's definitely fun to watch.
BCI: Broadening the scope briefly to talk about Hockey East in general, Northeastern and Maine have been big surprises so far this year. Do you think they'll keep up their level of performance and make the NCAA tournament?
SM: Add Vermont to that group, too. It's been great to see all three turn things around like this. I think Maine probably has the best roster top to bottom of that group, while Northeastern is the most reliant on its goaltending (fortunately for the Huskies, Clay Witt has been the best goalie in the league this season). But all three are pretty close, and they're certainly all in contention to make NCAAs. Right now Hockey East has eight of the top 18 teams in the Pairwise, but odds are only five -- maybe six -- of them will make NCAAs.
BCI: What does BU need to do to turn this mess around - starting with what they need to do to compete at Conte on Friday night?
SM: The Terriers need to start outworking their opponents. That sounds simplistic, but getting outworked is a huge reason they've struggled so much. They aren't the most talented team in the league, but they can at least give themselves a chance if they start working harder.
BCI: What's a realistic goal for BU for the rest of the season?
SM: At this point, I'd say just try to get hot heading into the postseason and hopefully make some noise in the Hockey East tournament. A Beanpot title would obviously give them something to hang their hats on, and if they show they can hang with BC on Friday night, maybe that becomes a not-totally-far-fetched goal.