There is always plenty of anticipation when the men’s hockey programs from Boston College and Boston University square off, as they will for the first time this season Friday night at Conte Forum.
Not that it needs it, but this latest iteration of one of the sport’s best rivalries will have even more intrigue when the teams take the ice, as it marks the first time in 50 seasons that neither Jerry York nor Jack Parker will be behind the bench. Add in their playing days, and Parker’s time as an assistant coach, and it will be the first time since 1964 that neither is involved in the game.
The Eagles will honor York, who retired in April after 50 years as a head coach, the last 28 at BC, during the first intermission.
“He’s earned every honor you could possibly get,” said first-year BC coach Greg Brown, who served on York’s staff from 2004-18 before returning to Chestnut Hill last spring. “We’re very pleased to recognize what he did, not just for the hockey program, but for the school and Boston College community. He’s been an unbelievable ambassador in the way he’s acted, the way he’s performed and, of course, the results on the ice. I’m very grateful I was a part of it.”
At 5-5-4, the Eagles are in the middle of the pack in a Hockey East conference that has six teams ranked in the Top 20. They are coming off of a pair of ties in a home-and-home series with No. 10 Providence, with the visiting team taking the shootout each night.
Mitch Benson was named Hockey East Goalie of the Week after stopping 95 of the 100 shots he faced in BC’s last three games, including a win over Brown. His 39 saves on Friday were a season-high for the graduate senior, who has fit in well since coming over from Colgate.
“I think it’s a lot of leading by example,” said Benson, a native of Windsor, Ontario. “Just trying to set a good example each and every day, make sure you’re preparing the right way.”
Earlier this season, BC had three Bruins prospects skating on the same line, with junior Trevor Kuntar (third round in 2020), centering freshmen Andre Gasseau (seventh, 2021), and Oskar Jellvik (fifth, 2021). Last weekend, Brown tweaked the lines a bit, with Kuntar and Jellvik skating on the first line with junior Nikita Nesterenko, while Gasseau was on a second line with junior Colby Ambrosio and freshman Cutter Gauthier.
“We still haven’t found a consistent groove where all lines are clicking at the same time time,” said Brown. “Ideally we’d love to settle in with some consistent lines for the second half of the season.”
Gauthier, the fifth overall pick of the 2022 NHL draft by the Flyers, was named the Hockey East Rookie of the Month after tallying eight points, including five goals, in seven November games. Next week he and sophomore defenseman Aidan Hreschuk will be among the 32 players vying for a roster spot to represent the United States at the World Junior Championship later this month.
“I feel like Cutter’s been getting better and better each week,” said Brown. “Early on he might have been getting some numbers, but he wasn’t impacting the game as much as he is now. He’s more of a presence, more of a force. We’re very excited about how he’s developing.”
While BC will be on holiday break following the game, No. 6/7 BU (10-4-0) will have one more contest at No. 7/8 Connecticut (11-4-3) Sunday before beginning its break. Junior Drew Commesso could be back between the pipes for the Terriers. The Norwell native missed last weekend’s New Hampshire series with an illness but returned to practice this week.
Freshman center Ryan Greene will be unavailable while attending Canada’s National Junior Team selection camp, which will run Dec. 9-12 at the Avenir Centre in Moncton, New Brunswick. Greene is tied for third among Hockey East rookies with 14 points on six goals and eight assists.
Friday night’s game will air on ESPNEWS, with John Buccigross and former BU standout Colby Cohen on the call. It’s part of the six-year media rights agreement with Hockey East. The network began streaming all Hockey East games on ESPN+ this season, with a selection of games also airing the linear networks.
Providence coach Nate Leaman, while addressing the depth of the league, raved about the ESPN deal.
“It’s a great league, it’s why players develop, it’s why players get to the next level,” said Leaman, whose squad is 9-3-5 after the ties against BC. “Every game’s meaningful, every game is really good hockey.
“As a fan, you can celebrate it. I think ESPN+ is really celebrating it. I think that was one of the best moves our league has ever made, because more and more people can celebrate that.”
Follow Andrew Mahoney on Twitter @GlobeMahoney.