In Massachusetts, hockey is as much a way of life as it is a sport. Kids grow up playing on frozen ponds and in early morning rink times, dragged out of bed before the sun's up by zealous parents grabbing a cup of coffee at the neighborhood Dunkin Donuts. When it gets too warm, they play in the street, banking shots off trash cans and parked cars. Its high school tournament is treated as one of the top in the nation, second only to maybe Minnesota. Its heroes are etched in state history forever, and its professional hockey team, the Boston Bruins, link generation to generation.
But for most kids, as much as they love the Bruins and as much as the Black and Gold unknowingly link them to previous generations, it's the local college teams that provide them with dreams at night. They skate as children on the rinks operated by Northeastern and Harvard. The Beanpot is an annual rite of tradition between four ancient rivals. And the Green Line Rivalry between Boston University and Boston College isn't so much a game as it is a definition of one's childhood.
Despite its lack of national championships in the last 20 years, BU is Boston's NCAA team. Paired with Boston College in a years-long rivalry, the Terriers represented for years the school local kids always wanted to go to. They went to the old barn on Comm Ave, Walter Brown Arena, and watched their heroes skate in the red and white. They chanted derogatory statements about BC when Maine was in town, and the head coach, Jack Parker, was the local boy done good. For young fans of BU, there was no place else they wanted to go.
With 32 national tournament berths, the Terriers were always one of the hottest tickets in town. But in recent years, as scandal and dissension took its toll on the program, Coach Parker finally retired at the conclusion of the 2012-2013 season. With new head coach David Quinn in charge, BU looked to its future. And in its future, it found a new revolution. It found a revolution of its breeding ground, and now, one of the region's flagship college hockey programs stands on the cusp of a new revolution of the game of hockey in its hometown Commonwealth.
Over the past few years, the heartbeat of Boston University hockey stood outside Massachusetts. The 2009 national championship team had just eight out of 27 roster players from its hometown state. But that national title, only the second since 1978 and first since 1995, stood in stark contrast to the multi-time national champions up the street at Boston College. Nine Mass natives won the title for BC in 2008, 11 in 2010, and 10 won in 2012. BU made just one national tournament, a blowout loss at Minnesota in 2012, while BC has been every year since 1998 except for one (2009, ironically).
So BU had to retool. While the biggest move has been the retirement of the legendary Parker and the addition of the rookie Quinn, BU found its mojo within its home state. Last year, after strength and conditioning coach Mike Boyle departed for the Boston Red Sox, the keys were handed to Malden, MA native and Malden Catholic graduate Anthony Morando, a disciple of the Boyle training way. And one of their best recruits was Matt Grzelcyk, a Charlestown native whose brothers were Malden Catholic graduates and who was a product of the US National Development Training Program.
“We have a good team,” said Morando, “and we're working hard to create a family. I know I stand with my team no matter what, and our theme reflects that in 'Reflect the Process.' We're going to be ready for any situation, and that is influenced by where you come from and who you choose to love in life. I'm truly blessed to still be able to work at Mike Boyle Strength and Conditioning with such people as Danny Aiken from the New England Patriots. It gives me a great experience to apply things that I'm always learning to the ultimate goal of winning a national championship and advance our athletes to the next level.”
After a trying year that began the transition, BU found two more recruits from the MC pipeline. They successfully brought Nick Roberto, a Maine recruit who decomitted after BU came calling, and Brendan Collier, one of the best high school hockey players in years out of the state who scored the state championship winning goal in 2011 and a 7th-round draft choice of the Carolina Hurricanes in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft. And now, as they look at the expanded Hockey East in 2013-2014, BU has a renewed optimism in its locker room with the start of a new era.
“Playing for BU means the world to me,” said Roberto, a native of Wakefield, MA. “I grew up going to games, and I used to sit right near the road net so I could watch BU shoot twice. Originally, I'd committed to Maine, but I knew BU was always the place for me. Once I had the opportunity to attend, to play in the Beanpot, and still get the chance to play in Hockey East – that's where I wanted to be. I loved Maine, and I respect them and think their program is great, but this gives me a chance to live out a childhood dream.”
“So many Charlestown kids went to BU,” said Collier. “They left a legacy of a dominant program, and when they'd come home, we'd all dream of playing for that team. Growing up in the area, going to those games, and now getting to play for BU is a dream come true. And we have a great chance to be a program that we all know BU can and should be.”
The program's current optimism is in no way a slight against Parker. Morando credits Jack Parker with being a heavy influence on the rise of college hockey, and both Collier and Roberto described him as a legend who they grew up idolizing and dreaming about playing for. But after a trying couple of seasons, they're well aware of what they're facing under a microscope as they prepare for BU's new era.
“Last year was my first year overseeing the program's conditioning,” said Morando. “And for a kid from Boston – it was a dream come true to work for a legend like Jack Parker. With my roots, which go to Mike Boyle and Bob Hansen, it was such an honor. Unfortunately, we had a lot of adversity to overcome, but at the same time, it was the best possible learning experience. There are two things you can do with adversity – you can run from it, or you can learn from it and keep going. And with Jack, we learned to face it and accept it. It helped shape us to where we are today.”
“We all understand that we're under a microscope,” said Collier. “But we accept that and know that we have to do the right things on and off the ice. We have a new head coach, and we're all in a new situation together. The upperclassmen are great in showing us everything we need to do and know, and we all know that we're going to be a stronger team that can face it all together.”
All of this echoes a new day for the Terriers, led by a number of young men who are all interconnected. Morando, Collier, and Roberto are all MC graduates, and Collier grew up playing with Grzelcyk. It makes BU a “hometown thing,” where they hope to inspire the next generation of hockey players in a rebirth of Massachusetts hockey.
“It gives us all a chance to put our stamp on a great program,” said Roberto. “Kids back home will get to watch me the way I watched BU when I was a kid. Being from MC, everyone knows us, and everyone's followed us since we were all kids. Now we're in a position to get kids from MC to keep looking at BU and help them hopefully look at this as an opportunity they can reach. I know that on a travel team I used to play with – 14 of 16 kids are Division I. Kids went to BU, BC, and all kinds of big places, with a handful of draft picks. Massachusetts is turning back into a hockey hotbed.”
For Morando especially, the Massachusetts and MC connection is something he holds dear. A Malden native, he watched the decline of a city from a once-proud, blue-collar background to a city that has been prone to negative press in recent years. “You look down the street, and Malden isn't what it used to be,” he said. “But you still have to have pride in where you come from, as I do. And you carry that everywhere you go. And I hope that kids from Malden can look at us, can look at guys who came out of that same working class background and say that maybe they can do it, too. I want them to look within themselves for that hard work ethic that they can do anything they want to. My job evaluation is every night that team steps on the ice. And that pushes me. I want other kids from around the state to be able to look up to me and say that they can be driven to be the best that they can because 'that's what I want to do.'”
“(Morando) has a motor that doesn't stop,” said Roberto. “He's a guy who comes in and pushes us, and he loves to work with us. He always has that excitement every day.”
Collier added, “I've known Anthony for years. He transformed me from a chubby fat kid into a full athlete. He works with us all the time to develop and push us to be the best we can be. He knows what everyone can do, and if a workout makes you uncomfortable, he can switch it to make you still work hard and be comfortable with it. He works with us, not just pushes us. And he's going to make us one of the best conditioned teams in Hockey East, if not in all of college hockey.”
Morando is currently one of the biggest influences in the Massachusetts hockey tree, but it's a hockey tree that stems back to former Merrimack and Malden Catholic head coach, the late Chris Serino. “He was like a father figure to us,” said Collier. “He showed me the right path, and he taught me to always be responsible for my actions. He taught us to never quit and to always work harder than the guy next to you so we could make each other better. And that spilled off the ice to the way we acted in the community as well.”
“Coach Serino had a lot to do with getting me to where I am now,” said Roberto. “He was a great coach, and he helped make me into a defensive forward. Before him, I knew I could finish, and he let me showcase that, but he really taught me two-way hockey. He knew exactly what we needed to expect to get ready for college hockey, and the days before games really got us ready for what college teams do.”
When BU takes the ice this year, it'll be a team built from the hometown up. For the first time in a couple of years, BU is starting to resemble a Massachusetts, Boston-bred team, built out of people who grew up idolizing heroes who played under Jack Parker. And as their opening day nears, the Terriers are looking forward to making the impact on the national scale while starting a new revolution at home in their own neighborhoods and back yards.
BU opens up October 11th at home against UMass.