When Brian Sutter was coaching the Bruins, he equated the job to a duck on a pond. On the surface of the water, it appears to be gliding along without a care in the world. But underneath, its feet are paddling like mad.
Boston University coach David Quinn said that was an apt analogy for his first year behind the bench at his alma mater.
Some players departed for the pro ranks. Other players didn't fit into Quinn's vision of the future and two key others — defenseman Matt Grzelcyk and forward Cason Hohmann — were sidelined by serious shoulder injuries that required surgery.
But the 2013-14 campaign, in which the Terriers won .343 percent of the games (10-21-4) vs. the average of .616 over the first 29 seasons the program spent in Hockey East, is all in Quinn and BU's rearview mirror. The rebuilding year is over and the expectations for this season are monumental.
Not only are there talented players returning, but the highly regarded freshmen class is extremely skilled and extremely large with 10 newcomers in the mix. Much has been written about forward Jack Eichel, but there is plenty more to like about the Class of 2018.
"I think it's a very diverse class," said Quinn. "We've got guys who can do a little bit of everything. The four defensemen we have [Brandon Hickey, John MacLeod of Dracut, Brandon Fortunato, and Brien Diffley of Burlington], we've got some size, we've got a couple of guys who skate really well who are going to play great defense and make a great outlet pass.
"And we've got a guy who is a high-end skill guy [Fortunato] who is an elite power-play guy."
Up front, Chelmsford native Eichel leads a group that includes Chase Phelps, Nikolas Olsson, A.J. Greer, and J.J. Piccinich.
"We've got forwards who are elite skill guys, we've got forwards who are big and strong and going to kill penalties and fill the role of being a physical presence and we think we have a very good goalie [in Connor LaCouvee]," said Quinn. "I know everybody is excited and everybody is talking about what a great class we have. Well, this is BU. We've always had great classes. This isn't anything new to BU hockey."
One of the benefits of having such a large group is that no one player has pressure on him to carry the responsibility.
"I remember when I came in [as a freshman], there were three of us," said Hohmann. "It was kind of tough. We were expected to do a little more than we should've done. Having a good group of freshmen is nice because you don't rely on them as much as we were when we were freshmen."
Hohmann said everyone is both excited and optimistic about the newcomers and the possibilities for this season.
"They're awesome, they're probably one of the best recruiting classes we've seen in a while come to BU," said Hohmann. "You can't really ask for much more. They're very mature. They take hockey very seriously, once they are at the rink, they're all business. Off the rink, they're all fun. I'm glad they are my teammates."
Quinn said even though it's early, folding the first-year players into the fold has been seamless.
"Considering where we're at and how big the class is, it's got a good feel to it," he said.
That is a far cry from last year when Quinn was trying to keep an undermanned squad from getting too down.
"It was a trying first year, without question, for so many reasons," said Quinn. "You never want to have the season that we had last year. This job is unlike any other, and I mean coaching in general, in that everybody knows how you're doing. It's crystal clear what's going on in a coach's world. It was an eye opener and I think we're all going to be better for it. I already know we are and I think it will make our success more enjoyable."
One problem he didn't have was older players, realizing they weren't going to win, checking out mentally and affecting the underclassmen. Captain Garrett Noonan's leadership was one of the reasons.
"You talk to people who were around us, you never would have known that we were a team going through what we went through," said Quinn. "That's not to say we didn't care about losing. But I thought we channeled our frustration and our disappointment in a positive manner."
Grzelcyk, a Bruins prospect, said it was difficult to watch the stuggles last season and know there was nothing he could do to help.
"It was a tough year,'' said Grzelcyk, who is the captain of the Terriers this season. "We're ready to turn that around this year. It was tough to come to the rink every day and lose all those games but I thought it actually brought our team closer together. Last year was motivation for this year."
BU was picked to finish sixth out of 12 teams in Hockey East and Quinn is just fine with that.
"People have their predictions and you try to figure out based on what happened last year what is going to happen this year," he said. "I have always said in college sports from year to year, the name on the back of the jersey may be the same but the guy in the jersey is completely different.
"These guys are constantly changing and hopefully they are changing for the better. When you are dealing with 18- to 23-year-olds, it's a volatile age period because guys are changing. Somebody who had a phenomenal sophomore year, something may happen to him over the summer, or he may get a little full of himself and he's not approaching the game the same way he did the previous year and all of a sudden, his play suffers. That happens all across the country in every sport.
"That being said, if you just look at who lost what and who is coming in and how the teams mesh, obviously Providence and BC should be considered the top of the league and I think we probably got picked where we deserved to be picked."