When the 2012-13 college hockey season began, Boston University coach Jack Parker found himself in the same position he was in at the start of the 2008-09 campaign.
He had a question mark in goal, with a pair of freshmen competing for the starting job.
Four years ago, Kieran Millan wound up backstopping the Terriers to the NCAA championship as a rookie, winning the job over fellow freshman Grant Rollheiser.
This year, BU is a very young squad, and Parker has gone to a platoon system in goal.
It started out a little shaky. In the second game of the season, Sean Maguire got his first start, against New Hampshire, and gave up four goals on 14 shots before Parker pulled him in favor of Matt O’Connor, who had won the season opener against Providence.
But since then, both goalies have stepped into important roles and led BU to a 10-5-0 record at the break.
“They have more than filled the big shoes left by Kieran Millan’s graduation and Rollheiser’s graduation,’’ said Parker. “Having these two freshmen come in and play as well as they have, and not only just play well as far as stopping the puck but to look so cool, calm, and collected doing it that they really have given our team a lot more poise. Nobody is jumpy in front of them, because they know the goaltending is pretty solid.’’
The netminders have similar numbers. O’Connor, 20, has a 7-3-0 record with a 2.22 goals-against average and .931 save percentage. Maguire, 19, is 3-2-0 with a 2.00 GAA and .930 save percentage.
“O’Connor obviously got off to the hot start and has played extremely well from the get-go,’’ said Parker. “Sean had a tough time early in his first game out, but after that, he has played better and better. His last two games have been shutouts.
“The two of them give us a pretty good 1-2 punch. Both of them are great assets to our team. We thought we would have a pretty good team as long as we got good goaltending, and we’re getting more than good goaltending — we’re getting outstanding goaltending right now.’’
It can be challenging to have a pair of rookies in the position, but Parker said the competition between them can elevate their performances.
“I think it’s good to have two guys who both can play,’’ said the coach. “I think it’s important that they push each other and pull for each other at the same time. I probably would prefer to have a junior and a freshman instead of two freshmen, so you always have continuity and don’t have to come back to two freshmen four years from now, but it remains to be seen if these guys are four-year players depending on whether they sign or not.
“We’ve had a lot of success with a two-goaltender system and so have other schools over the years.’’
Parker said the two have strong work ethics but completely different personalities.
“O’Connor is a year older and he’s more mature in his demeanor,’’ said Parker. “He’s more sure of himself, he’s more outgoing. He gives you a feeling of confidence when you talk to him. He looks like a confident kid.
“Maguire is a real quiet kid, a real introvert in a lot of ways. Around his teammates, I guess he’s not, but around the coaching staff and around the staff, he keeps to himself and doesn’t say a lot.
“They’re both really good kids. They’re fun to be around. They both really work hard. They approach the game with the same seriousness but with a different angle. O’Connor is a little more loosey-goosey and Sean is a little more dead straight on, focus, focus, focus.’’
‘A perfect fit’ for this Canadian
O’Connor, who hails from Toronto, said he is very much at home at BU.
“It’s been amazing,’’ he said. “It’s really a perfect fit for me here in Boston. I really enjoy Parker’s program and his mentality. Everything has been great so far.’’
He hasn’t minded sharing the experience with a fellow freshman goaltender.
“I think that has made it that much better,” said O’Connor. “Coming in during the summer with Sean, we were two Canadian boys and we were both really excited and we feed off each other’s competitiveness.
“Off the ice, we really get along. It’s been nice to have a partner who’s a real nice guy and a real funny guy, too. It’s nice because he’s playing really well. We just sort of feed off of that.’’
Parker was up-front with the goalies about the rotation, which O’Connor appreciated.
“Definitely at the start of the year, it’s usually difficult for goalies, especially coming in blank with no real history with the program,’’ said O’Connor. “It was a nice opportunity to make a first impression, but Coach was really good about easing off some of the pressure and telling us we were going to platoon.
“It usually adds to the difficulty of the situation, having to fight for ice time, but the way Coach approached it allowed us to ease off the pressure. It really helped me. I just went in with the mentality that I was going play well and hopefully play a lot, and Sean has the same mentality.’’
Historically, BU is a second-half team, but there were plenty of highlights in the first half, most notably wins over No. 1-ranked Boston College Nov. 30 and then-No. 1-ranked UNH Dec. 6.
“It has been great for us because it adds a lot of challenge and we had to come together and put a good product on the ice,’’ said O’Connor. “That was a great test for us as a team. To get that [challenge] in the first half of the season was really nice for us to really gain confidence, too. It really elevated our game, but it also elevated our confidence and we know we can play with the top teams in the country.’’
Adjustment has been made
Maguire said it took him some time to adapt to college life, but once he did, everything seemed to fall into place.
“At the beginning, it was a little stressful, the whole adjustment into a better league and obviously into college,’’ said Maguire. “But I think I’ve adjusted pretty well. It’s come out in my play.
“I think it’s where I’m supposed to be. It’s a good environment for me and I’m really happy. My first game was rough but I bounced back.’’
He said both he and O’Connor have proven they deserve to play.
“Throughout my career, I’m not going to play every game, so I’m pretty used to it right now,’’ said Maguire, who is from Powell River, British Columbia. “That’s how it’s supposed to be for two goalies who are pretty equal in talent and strength.
“I think it’s good we’re both getting a chance to play and it’s not just a one-man show right now.’’
He agreed with Parker’s assessment that both goalies, although capable, are very individual.
“I think we’ve got pretty different personalities,’’ said Maguire. “It brings a lot of variety to the team.
“When I get to the rink, I try to keep it as much of a business as I can. I’m trying to be a professional and I want to be my best all the time. Me being focused and kind of keeping to myself makes me better once I hit the ice.
“It’s different for everyone. What Matt does best, he’s social and he’s happy and he’s goofing around. It’s good either way.’’Nancy Marrapese-Burrell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.