By Elizabeth Thomas
BOSTON, MA- The Boston University Terriers are set to face off against the University of Minnesota in the opening round of the NCAA West Regional Tournament on Saturday, Mar. 24.
This will be head coach Jack Parker’s record setting twenty-fourth tournament appearance, which is an NCAA record. Also, this will also be the second time seniors Kieran Millan and Chris Connolly will experience the postseason, too. Both players are just two of the only names on the current roster that helped BU win a national championship in 2009.
I had a chance earlier this week to sit down and chat with Connolly about the tumultuous season, as well as his outlook on the upcoming Frozen Four tournament. Below is our conversation.
Is it exciting or nerve racking to return to the NCAA tournament – not having played in it since your freshman year?
“I think it’s more exciting than nerve racking, but that’s speaking for myself since I have been fortunate to have been there before. I think it’s a mixture of both for most of these guys who haven’t been there. It’s exciting for a new group like this to get back there and have a chance to win the national championship.”
Have you and Coach Parker discussed a different game plan going into Saturday’s game or will it still be the same lines we’ve seen all season?
“I think we have to focus on what we do well and try to execute that. It’s a team we’ve never seen before in a different league, so we looked at video and what their tendencies are and just concentrated on what we do well, and just focused on that for this game.”
You and senior goaltender Kieran Millan played your entire Boston University college careers together and you have experienced a great deal of success together. What is it like to potentially be playing in your last game together, and understanding the strong bond you have shared with one another since freshmen year?
“We only have maybe a maximum of four games left. It’s hard to think that we’ve been playing together the past four years and maybe will not again if we can’t win. The class you enter college with is the class you are going to be closest with and Coach Parker always makes a huge emphasis of it. Right away when you come in as freshmen he has a meeting and usually says ‘stick with this group because these are the guys you are going to spend day and night with for the next four years. I’ve just been blessed to have Kieran back there for the last four years and I think he’s one he best, if not the best in college hockey with the things he’s been able to do. So just to be able to watch him develop and have all the success he has, has been great and very rewarding. He’s also an amazing guy off the ice as well and I do regard him as a very close friend.”
The whole team has been under intense national media scrutiny since December with the dismissal of Corey Triviro and Max Nicastro, accused of sexual assault and rape. That same week Charlie Coyle left college to go to the NHL. How did it feel going through that turmoil and how did you help the team move forward for the post season?
“It’s unfortunate and it’s something you absolutely never expect or ever want to see someone go through and these guys are as close to anybody that you’re going to meet in college. We see them every day. They are kind of like brothers to us, and I just told the guys that we just got to start taking some strides forward. We can’t change the situation and as unfortunate as it is, we still have an opportunity to do something special as a team. We’re still going to have them with us in sprit even though they can’t physically be with us. They are still a big part of our team, and that’s how we’ve been able to move forward and face some of the adversity we’ve had so far.”
Do you believe that this hardship has affected the team’s chemistry or was this an incident that you were able to just put on the backburner? Is this something that might still affect the team to this day?
“I think it’s something that has brought us closer as a team really. There are a lot of people who like to criticize about things they really don’t know. We know who those guys really are. And like I said, it really did just bring us closer. If anything, we used it as motivation to prove some of the naysayers wrong, that we can still do something special. To be able to have the team we’ve had, to have an automatic bid into the national tournament and have an opportunity to win another championship, is testament to the guys in that room and the kind of character those guys have. We are very much still united as a team.”
You seem to have brought some positive light out of it, with the formation of the “BU Hockey Task Force” which you and the assistant captains formed, focusing on how to behave respectfully as a BU hockey player while off the ice. What did you want the current team and future BU hockey players to learn from this?
“I hope it’s something that sticks. That we are trying to make guys more aware of certain situations and make guys more careful of what they are doing out there and just to be more aware. College is supposed to be one of the best times of your life, but at the same time you have to be careful. We are in a city school setting and there are a lot of other colleges in the area too. [We just want] them to think and be safe. I think it’s a great idea, and can only help the guys and the incoming freshmen from here on out to just give them the right steps to take when put in certain situations.”
So, it’s something you’d like the team to carry on after you leave in hopes the team will not have to go through the same difficult situations you had to endure this season?
“Yeah, it never hurts to have a little more information and if any of the guys ever have questions on things. I think this will help guide them through it. [We want] to make sure that they are well prepared for certain instances if they were to come about again. It’s not only something that can help everybody on the team in particular, but also everybody at the school.”
On an entirely different note – is it exciting or nostalgic that you and your younger brother Jake will both be playing in this championship tournament for the last time in your college careers?
“It’s extremely exciting! Obviously, we are both seniors, so we want to take our teams as far as we can. He has had a tremendous career [at Minnesota-Duluth], so we are both grateful to have the opportunity to have the chance to win another championship, and just go as far as possible. I think that’s the way both of us would like to go out.”
I bet your parents are absolutely thrilled to have both their sons in the championship tournament, especially since you’ll get to play in your home state of Minnesota.
“They are, absolutely. It’s back home for me, so they don’t have to travel far for it and I have a lot of friends and family down there who will be at the game, so it will definitely be an exciting homecoming to say the least.”
Any final thoughts on what you would like to do after walking across the stage in a cap and gown this May?
“I would like to keep playing as long as possible, as long as I have the opportunity to. Where and when I am not so sure, but wherever that may take me I am going to explore those opportunities and then later on down the road I would love to get into coaching. That’s further on down the road, so we’ll see.”
Finally is there any chance we could see you behind the bench next season?
“[Laughing] Yeah, yeah, that’s something I might have to talk to Coach about in my exit meeting.”