A year ago, the Michigan hockey team traveled to Boston University to take on the Terriers at the loud and rowdy Agganis Arena.
Though the Wolverines held an early lead, sparked by then-freshman defenseman Zach Werenski’s opening goal, they couldn’t fend off Boston University’s attack, giving up a score to forward Jack Eichel early in the third period and conceding the game-winner with just two minutes left in the game.
Thirteen months later, No. 12 Michigan will travel back to face the 10th-ranked Terriers — an NCAA Finalist last season.
Except this time, things aren’t exactly the same.
Between the two teams, a total of six players — including the Wolverines’ and Boston University’s top three and top two scorers from last year, respectively — have moved on to professional leagues.
But just because some of the talent is gone doesn’t mean the game is any less important.
The Terriers present Michigan with its first real test of the season and will be the first top-10 team the Wolverines will face.
The Wolverines know that, and they’re bracing for the step up in competition.
“Intensity’s been pretty high,” said senior forward Boo Nieves. “We’re just trying to prepare for a really good team. It’s going to be our hardest challenge yet, so we want to match or have our intensity be a little higher than what (Boston University) is going to bring.”
Last week, Michigan coasted to a 7-3 victory over Niagara that featured six different goal scorers. But despite the big win, Michigan coach Red Berenson was still disappointed with the three goals allowed and stressed that point throughout practice during the week.
“We need to make sure we’re taking care of things in our own end first,” Nieves said. “(Berenson) was happy that we had seven goals, but he also wasn’t too happy that we gave up three, and two of those goals were special-team goals that shouldn’t have gone in. We need to make sure that we take care of our own zone first. We’re a skilled team. The offense will come.”
Added Werenski: “We just have to be aware in our own zone. Once we get the puck out, we can think about offense.”
On the other side of the ice, the Terriers come into the game without having lost in the last three weeks. In that span, they beat Northeastern twice and tied No. 1 Providence twice in a rematch of last season’s NCAA Championship game.
And while Eichel isn’t around to light the lamp anymore, Boston University still has loads of talent.
“When you go play (Boston University) with Jack Eichel, you always know when Jack Eichel is out there,” Werenski said. “This year, without him, it definitely crosses your mind that he isn’t out there. But they have freshmen like (forwards Jordan Greenway and Charlie McAvoy), who I played with at (the USA Hockey National Team Development Program) and are really good players.”
Added Nieves: “They’re a lot like us. They’re fast, they hit, and they’re very skilled.”
On the blue line, All-American defenseman Matt Grezlcyk and the rest of the defense will try to stop a Wolverine offense that is currently ranked second in the nation in goals per game.
In between the pipes, Boston University will trot out netminder Connor LaCouvee. The sophomore goaltender is taking over for 2014-2015 Hockey East Second Team goaltender Matt O’Connor, who is also now in the professional ranks.
But even without Eichel at the opposite end of the ice, Michigan knows it can’t worry too much about the Terriers. The Wolverines need to worry about themselves.
“When you have a guy like (Eichel), it’s in the back of your mind, and you definitely prepare for it,” Nieves said. “At the same time, who knows, they could be even better without him. It really doesn’t matter about them. It’s more about us.”