BU hungry for change

BOSTON -- Nick Bonino can tell who wants it by who shows up on time to breakfast.

Just months removed from an unforgettable run to an NCAA title, the Boston University men's hockey team stumbled out to a 2-6 start -- including 1-5 in Hockey East -- and looked every bit like a team resting on the laurels it earned with a furious third-period rally last April. Sure, the Terriers had lost five of that team's top six scorers to graduation or NHL paychecks, but it was a stunning stumble for the team picked to win its second straight Hockey East regular-season title.

BU hasn't been able to dig out of its hole, sitting in ninth place in the league standings at 2-7-2, ahead of only Providence, which at 2-5-1 has three games in hand.

"For the first few games, guys were like, 'Hey, we won a national championship. We deserve this,'" said Bonino, the only returning player who tallied more than 32 points a season ago. "We found out pretty quick that that wasn't what it was going to be like. To get a win, especially in this league, or a tie, you've got to work your butt off."

That starts first thing in the morning. Getting out of bed in time to eat breakfast before 10 a.m. doesn't sound like the most complicated of tasks, but it was an issue for the Terriers during the first month of the season.

"That sort of accountability is something that will make or break a team," defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk said. "We've had slip-ups there, guys not really taking care of those small details. That's a kink in the chain that can easily break it."

There's a practical reason for it, too: Breakfast at 8 or 8:30 a.m. gives players time for lunch and usually one more meal before practice starts at 3. A well-fed player, after all, is a focused player -- and BU coach Jack Parker spent the first six weeks of the season begging for better focus out of his team.

"Focus, at first, was just something a lot of our younger guys didn't really have in their preparation process," Shattenkirk said. "As the season has been going on, they've realized how important it is, going into a game, to have your head on straight and just to be ready for anything that comes. You're going to experience a lot of adversity, and we did. That four-game losing streak was definitely tough on us. The only way to get out of it is to start working hard in practice and to be putting in that extra effort off the ice to finally climb your way up out of the hole."

Said Bonino, "You can see it when we're stretching before a game. That's kind of been nipped in the bud, and guys are focusing on concentrating for a game and not screwing around."

The four-game losing streak might have been the low point, but it was hard to take too many positives out of the 6-4 win over Merrimack in mid-November that snapped the skid. BU scored four first-period goals and proceeded to sit back and watch the clock tick. Only after Merrimack scored two power-play goals in the second period did the Terriers snap out of it.

"You see it sort of slip there," said Shattenkirk, whose slashing penalty led to the second Merrimack goal. "You just see guys maybe on the ice trying to do a little more, maybe thinking it's just going to come easily. You're not battling as hard because you feel comfortable with that cushion. That's our Achilles' heel right now. We haven't been able to put teams away when we get up by a goal."

The Terriers were up by a goal against Boston College on Saturday thanks to a wraparound from Bonino early in the second period. By the time the third period was 60 seconds old, though, the Eagles had scored twice and were well on their way to a 4-1 win.

It might have been focus. It might have been effort.

After that game, though, Parker actually praised his team for its focus and effort -- a sign that the Terriers' fortunes might be turning.

"It just wears on you, going 4-8-3," Bonino said of BU's record following the BC game. "Something's got to change."

Lowell not taking anyone by surprise

Three straight losses never usually raises eyebrows at the University of Massachusetts-Lowell, or throughout Hockey East. A year ago at this time, after all, the River Hawks were in the midst of a six-game losing streak that would last until early January. Three years ago, the River Hawks went without a win from early November until early February, a streak of futility lasting 20 games.

Not anymore. UMass-Lowell's run to the championship game of the Hockey East tournament last season -- and the expectations and strong early start to this season -- made the River Hawks' recent three-game skid a little tough to take.

"You lose a game, and you get down on yourself a little bit," defenseman Nick Schaus said. "We had a tough time with that."

The River Hawks haven't had a tough time dealing with expectations, though. A team that had gone 15 seasons without a trip to the Hockey East title game found itself ranked second in the preseason coaches' poll. And rather than succumbing to the pressure, it won eight of its first 11 games this season.

"You want to perform, and you want to live up to your standards," forward Paul Worthington said. "As a team, we had to sit down and say, 'We can't get too high on these expectations.'"

Losses to Providence, Maine and New Hampshire threatened to derail the momentum UMass-Lowell had built. But after UMass-Amherst jumped out to a two-goal lead in the second period on Saturday, the River Hawks clawed back for a 5-3 win behind three goals from center David Vallorani and a stingy defense.

"You haven't won anything by being in first place in November or December," Schaus said. "It matters more what you do at the end of the year. We're trying to build toward that."

BC's Sneep firing away

Carl Sneep can't help but smile a little bit when he's asked about his shot. The Boston College senior defenseman had scored six career goals entering the season, but the tying goal he scored on Saturday against BU was his sixth of this season.

Sneep's Eagles converted 15.8 percent of their power-play chances a season ago. So far this season, they're scoring at a 23.7 percent clip -- and having Sneep back at the blue line has been a big part of it.

"It's been unbelievable," forward Ben Smith said. "It's been great for us, especially on the power play. You know he's always back there cocked and ready to fire for us."

Sneep says he hasn't spent much extra time on his shot, and that he doesn't take aim at the net any more than anyone else in practice.

"It's not so much that my shot has gotten that much better," he said. "I've been getting in the right position to be an offensive player and be on the power play and be at that top position with guys who can feed the puck really well and getting shots off with traffic in front. It's more that than working on my shot."

The results, though, give him away. Saturday's goal was a bullet of a wrist shot from the point tucked beautifully under the crossbar, a goal scorer's goal if there ever was one.

"I was mostly just trying to hit the net," he said. "I was pretty fortunate that it went in."

Brian MacPherson is a special contributor to ESPN Boston.