There wasn’t much to celebrate last weekend for the Boston University men’s hockey team. Sure, the Terriers knew they were advancing to the NCAA Tournament, but losing to Maine in the Hockey East semifinals last Friday left them far from satisfied.
BU (23-14-1), the No. 3 seed, faces another significant hurdle Saturday when it squares off against No. 2 Minnesota in the West Regional semifinals at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul.
Sophomore defenseman Garrett Noonan, who has been on a tear with 9 points in the last seven games, said the Terriers are going into enemy territory hungry and determined.
“It’s definitely disappointing every time you lose,’’ said Noonan, referring to the Maine game. “We didn’t bring our best effort and we kind of sold ourselves a little short because we’re a better hockey team than that. But when you woke up on Sunday morning after the whole tournament was over and you get selected to the NCAAs, you have another opportunity to win a championship and you forget about everything that has happened and kind of move on.’’
Some teams might be intimidated going into Minnesota’s hockey hotbed, but BU isn’t one of them. It doesn’t hurt that captain Chris Connolly is a Duluth native and has schooled his teammates on all things L’Etoile du Nord (Star of the North), which is the state’s motto.
“That’s where I wanted to play,’’ said Noonan, the former Catholic Memorial standout. “You always want to play in front of big crowds against brand-name teams. I know I’ve watched the movie ‘Miracle’ a thousand times. So I’m really excited. There are great teams going out there and it’s going to be a battle.’’
The Terriers have been better away from Agganis Arena this season, boasting the best road record in the nation (11-4-1).
“I think we like to get on the road, just being able to get away from everything in our lives and focus just on hockey,’’ said Noonan. “When we’re on the road, we have that mentality we want to stay out of the box and be smart at both blue lines and the things Coach always talks about. We mentally prepare better when you’re in your hotel and your phone is off.’’
BU is a mediocre 3-3 in its last six games. But the way the Terriers played against the Black Bears has been a burr in their saddle. It was a loss, it knocked them out of the league tournament, and it was a missed opportunity to play their archrival Boston College, which has won three tournaments this season (Ice Breaker, Beanpot, and Hockey East).
“Everyone in our room was not happy with how that whole weekend played out,’’ said Noonan. “We wanted to get another chance at BC to play them in the finals, but sometimes stuff like that happens. We’re going to come out with a much better effort next time we play. Any time you have a bad game, you want to come out and do the little things right the next game and that’s what we’ve done. When we’ve turned in bad performances, we’ve tried to come out the next night with better ones. Hopefully that trend continues.’’
Noonan has been a revelation this season. He has a career-high 16 goals, which is tied for first in the nation by a defenseman with Wisconsin’s Justin Schultz. Noonan has 26 points, half of which have come in the last 12 games.
“I’m playing with great players and they make a conscious effort to find me on the power play,’’ said Noonan, who is one goal shy of the NCAA-era school record set by Bob Brown in 1970-71. “That’s where I’ve gotten a lot of points.’’
Another notable statistic is Noonan’s plus-21, second among Hockey East players.
“I don’t necessarily think I’m going to be a point guy my whole career, but I always want to be a shutdown defenseman and that’s really what I pride myself on,’’ said Noonan. “This year I’ve gotten points because I’ve played on the power play, but, obviously, I love playing against other teams’ top lines. The points are always nice, but it’s definitely a point of pride to have a good plus-minus.’’
Minnesota (26-13-1) is 4-3 against BU in the NCAA Tournament, although the Terriers have won the last two. BU’s first national championship came in 1971 with a victory over the Golden Gophers in Syracuse, N.Y.
“This is a fun time of year when you can knock some teams out and send some teams home,’’ said Noonan. “We just want to get to Tampa Bay and we want to play in that Frozen Four. We want to keep playing.’’
BU rarely goes into a tournament as an underdog, but that seems to be the case this season. Noonan said the team doesn’t see it that way.
“We know we’re a good hockey team,’’ he said. “We’ve got great coaches and great players and we just want to win hockey games. I’ve talked to [Connolly] just about what it’s going to be like. He was telling me how loyal those fans are out there and how much they enjoy college hockey. We’re just really excited because there are going to be so many fans and great hockey.’’