Time apart helps Terriers regroup

BOSTON -- Nick Bonino was all set to get his equipment together late Friday night and head out of the Fenway Park visitors' locker room. He just couldn't quite get his cufflinks in place on his left wrist.
Boston University linemate Vinny Saponari leaned over from the next locker and did the honors, fastening everything together.
Not bad for a team that could barely stand the sight of each others'
faces by the end of December.

"We stay together all summer," said BU forward Joe Pereira, who scored a second-period goal against Boston College on Friday. "We practice all summer together. We eat lunch all summer together, and, all fall, we're always together. We just needed to get away from each other. We were all getting frustrated with each other. The coaches were getting frustrated at us. We were getting frustrated with the coaches. It was just good that we all got to go home, and not just for four days like last year. A lot of us got like two weeks at home, and it was good to regroup and come back with fresh minds."

Said Bonino, "When you see everyone for three hours a day for three months, you're going to get sick of them. We all love each other. It was just good to get a little break."

It might or might not be coincidence, but the refocused Terriers suddenly look quite a bit different than they did before they split for Christmas. The defending NCAA champions had just two wins in November and December and were 2-7-2 in Hockey East play, wrapping up the first half of the season by allowing three third-period goals in a deflating loss at home to Rensselaer.

All of a sudden, though, the Terriers have won two straight -- most recently a hard-fought 3-2 triumph over Boston College at Fenway Park on Friday -- and look a little bit more like the team the coaches picked to repeat as Hockey East champions.

"It just comes down to hard work and having the right attitude,"
defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk said. "We got down on ourselves a lot in the first half. Today, even in the third period when they scored a couple of goals, we still had the belief we could win the game. That was something that was lacking in the first half."

BU coach Jack Parker sent his players home for Christmas with strict instructions to clear their minds. Goaltender Kieran Millan, for one, didn't even bother bringing his skates back to Edmonton with him, preferring to focus on his new niece and nephew than on the first half of a season in which he'd saved just 86.2 percent of the shots thrown at him -- the worst in Hockey East.

Millan actually had started out OK, making at least 30 saves in back-to-back games against Michigan and UMass-Lowell, and going toe-to-toe with Northeastern's Chris Rawlings in a 1-0 loss in early November. In his final five starts of the first half, however, he allowed an average of 4.6 goals on an average of 25.4 shots and could feel backup Grant Rollheiser breathing down his neck.

"When you're losing, there's a lot of frustration," Millan said. "At the start of the season, we really weren't playing very well. I thought I was playing strong, but we were losing -- and by the end of the first half of the season, the team was playing better and I wasn't playing well."

Said Parker, "He was second-guessing himself. We were second-guessing him. The defensemen weren't playing hard enough. There were a lot of things going on."

As soon as his team got back to campus, Parker pulled them together once again to gauge their state of mind. Player by player, one by one, the Terriers went around the room to talk about what each of them had done well and how each of them could help reverse the hellacious skid they'd endured since the season began.

First-year center Wade Megan had played in every game and had a goal and three assists under his belt, but he was far from satisfied with his own performance. When it came time for him to speak up, he had as much to own up to as anyone else.

"Personally, it was to stay more focused and be ready each game mentally and be ready to do my job," he said.

His focus paid off midway through the third period Friday. When the rebound of a tipped Sean Escobedo shot got free, Megan hacked at it once and then hacked at it again. When the puck popped into the air, Megan took one more whack at it -- baseball-style, fittingly enough -- and sneaked it into the net for what turned out to be the game-winning goal.

He then found himself mobbed by just the guys he'd taken a much-needed break from a couple of weeks ago. The Terriers even exchanged a few more hugs out on the Fenway Park ice after Millan hung tough enough to preserve Friday's win.

The need to get out of each others' faces, it seems, is over and done with.

"We had a good enough break," Megan said with a grin. "We're back, and we're ready to go."

Said Bonino, "We got our break. We're done for the year. We'll see each other until, hopefully, the beginning of April."

Brian MacPherson is a frequent contributor to ESPNBoston.com. His e-mail address is brianrmacpherson@gmail.com.