BU men’s hockey prepares for season-opening exhibition against St. Thomas

Junior captain Matt Grzelcyk and the Terriers will open the 2014-15 season Saturday. PHOTO BY MICHELLE JAY/DFP FILE PHOTO

Junior captain Matt Grzelcyk and the Terriers will open the 2014-15 season Saturday against St. Thomas. PHOTO BY MICHELLE JAY/DFP FILE PHOTO

Six months removed from a season in which it had its lowest win total in 34 seasons, the No. 20 Boston University men’s hockey team will be back on the ice in a game for the first time Saturday afternoon in an exhibition matchup against St. Thomas University of New Brunswick.

Even after such a down season, BU coach David Quinn cannot help but be optimistic — after all, his team has an unblemished record.

“Still undefeated,” Quinn said with laugh, just as he did a year ago before the team’s 2013-14 season-opening exhibition game.

The Terriers have won three out of their past four warmup games, outscoring their opponents from north of the border by a 20-10 margin. The last time the Terriers fell to a Canadian squad — a 6-4 defeat to St. Francis Xavier — came back when senior assistant captains Cason Hohmann and Evan Rodrigues were freshmen in 2011.

However, this game will allow BU coach David Quinn and his staff to evaluate the team before BU plays its first real one of the year against the University of Massachusetts-Amherst next Saturday. A crop of freshmen will don the scarlet and white for the first time, and Quinn said he is as interested as anyone to see how they fare.

“I’m curious because you’ve got 10 freshmen,” Quinn said. “We’ve been on the ice with them but it’s been very limited. I think they’re excited to get out there and play an exhibition game.”

One of those freshmen, forward Jack Eichel, has been in game action in recent days. The North Chelmsford native tallied a goal and an assist on Sept. 26 during the CCM/USA All-American Prospects Game in Buffalo, New York. The two-point effort earned him Player of the Game honors.

The rest of the current Terriers, though, have only had the luxury of practicing together over the past couple of weeks, forcing Quinn to get a little creative against St. Thomas. As with many exhibition contests, teams like to try out different line combinations in order to prepare for the regular season. Quinn said he will do just that, and nothing is set in stone as far as lines and pairings go for Saturday’s matinee.

“Don’t get me wrong, we’re going try to win the game, you try and win every game,” Quinn said. “But I’m also going to be experimenting with some lines. We need to find out what we have and get ready to beat UMass.

“It’s going to be mosh-posh out there. One period I may play guys together and see how this guy works with him. It’s really going to be mixing and matching and finding out what type of chemistry we can drum up in a short period of time.”

The Tommies have one definite advantage over BU: game experience. St. Thomas has already completed five contests on their seven-game exhibition schedule. So far the Tommies are 1-4 in their warmup games. Their one victory came on Sept. 20 against Nipissing University, a 5-2 win.

As much as winning the warmup game would be a good kickoff to the year for the Terriers, the game will serve more as more of a learning experience, notably on defense, an area where the Terriers struggled all of last season. Quinn said he hopes to have his rookie blue-liners ready to help improve upon a defense that finished at the bottom of the Hockey East last year at 3.23 goals per game.

“I hope to have learned that we’ve got the depth that I think we have,” Quinn said. “That our freshmen defensemen are going to be quickly acclimated to Division I college hockey. And we get good goalies.”

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