March 16, 2006
BU's Turning Point

By Jeff Howe

 Hockey East

David Van der Gulik's return to the ice helped ignite BU's second-half surge.

National TV Schedule

There was a point in time this season when David Van der Gulik didn’t think he would ever see the ice. Suffering through a mysterious abdominal injury that was so painful it brought him to tears one day in practice, he was fighting a battle he had little control over.

He was frustrated. He didn’t know where the injury came from. Seemingly every doctor had a different diagnosis. And he was angered by the thought that he may have to redshirt his senior year.

But when he got word from a specialist in December that the pain was a result of a sports hernia and he could play hockey without doing further damage to his body, he trained hard for two weeks and got himself back into the lineup for Boston University’s Dec. 30 game against Merrimack. Van der Gulik assisted on the game-winning goal that night and has led the Terriers to a 17-2-2 record after they started 6-7-2 with him watching from the stands.

And in the Hockey East quarterfinals last weekend, Van der Gulik recorded a hat trick in BU’s Game 1 victory over UMass and then picked up an assist on the game-winner of Game 2. His presence in the locker room has been a huge key to the Terriers’ success, but his presence on the score sheet last weekend got his team past an upset-minded UMass squad – and gave him a little peace of mind because he had been struggling from a statistical standpoint.

“When I came back, I had a pretty long scoring drought, but it just takes time,” Van der Gulik says. “I hadn’t played hockey since last April so I had to get my timing with my line. I’ve had so many chances since I’ve been back but wasn’t able to finish them. I don’t think I’ve done anything differently, but I’ve finally gotten some bounces. It’s nice to get them on a big weekend in the playoffs, and hopefully they’ll continue to come.”

BU coach Jack Parker borrowed the words of a legendary former coach at cross-town Boston College to describe the importance of getting his team’s captain back onto the ice.

Hockey East Semifinal Capsules

No. 1 Boston University
23-9-4 (17-7-3 HEA)

Terrier Note: After dropping their first game to Providence in last year’s quarterfinal, John Curry and the Terriers picked up two straight shutouts to move on. Curry held the Minutemen scoreless until the 14:08 mark of the third period on Friday night, giving him a quarterfinal shutout streak of 215:01.

How BU wins: By going 16-1-2 over its last 19 games, BU has found ways to win in just about every type of situation and every type of game. The Terriers play very tight defense, get consistent scoring from three lines and have the most clutch goalie in the conference this year.

No. 2 Maine
26-10-2 (17-8-2 HEA)

Black Bear Note: Maine has now advanced to the Hockey East semifinals in 17 of the conference’s 22 years – more than any other team.

How Maine wins: The Black Bear defense limits grade-A scoring opportunities and gets great play between the pipes from Ben Bishop and Matt Lundin. And uncharacteristic of some recent Maine teams, the Black Bears have a functional offense, led by Greg Moore’s 26 goals and 16 assists.

No. 3 Boston College
Record: 22-11-3 (17-8-2 HEA)

Eagle Note: By sweeping through the Hockey East quarterfinals, Jerry York picked up his 745th career victory, placing him second all-time behind Ron Mason (926).

How BC wins: The Eagles are the only team playing this weekend that didn’t end the season playing at the top of their game. They will need to ride Cory Schneider for as long as he’ll take them, and in order to come out alive against the tough field this weekend, they’ll need some scoring from players not named Collins and Boyle.

No. 4 New Hampshire
Record: 20-11-7 (14-7-6 HEA)

Wildcat Note: UNH has now won 20 games in each of its last 10 seasons.

How UNH wins: After playing inconsistent hockey during the middle portion of the schedule, Dick Umile has gotten his group to peak throughout the last month. They are playing with a lot more confidence and will need big efforts from the net out, especially against BU in the semifinal. The Terriers have revenge on their minds stemming from the shellacking they got from UNH in last year’s semifinal game.

“To quote John ‘Snooks’ Kelley, the return of David Van der Gulik is beyond the scope of human imagination,” Parker says with a wry smile. “He said that about the loss off John Cunniff, a big star for BC who got injured, and he said the loss of John Cunniff to the Boston College hockey team is beyond the scope of human imagination. Snooker was a master of the overstatement, but it would be hard to overstate the value of David Van der Gulik. Everything looks better when you get David Van der Gulik back into the lineup.”

Getting into the lineup wasn’t easy. The abdominal pain showed up in December of 2004, but despite the discomfort, Van der Gulik played through the final four months of the season without missing a single game – taking several pain-killing injections so he could gut it out.

Moving into the summer, though, the pain worsened. He had no idea what was wrong with him, and doctors were having the same problem. He was originally diagnosed with osteitis pubis, which is an inflammation of the pubic bone, and his only prescribed remedy was the worst four-letter word any athlete wants to hear – rest.

The rest, like just about everything else however, wasn’t working. Later in the summer, he saw a few more doctors back home in Canada, and one of them took a more hands-on – and much more painful – approach. Van der Gulik was given more injections, though this time they were used to cause internal bleeding, which would in turn build up scar tissue to heal his abdomen.

This medical method lasted until October, but just like his dosage of rest, it wasn’t making anything any better. So – once again – Van der Gulik looked for another opinion. That was when he was told it was a sports hernia that caused the inflammation of his pubic bone, and he was finally given the green light to get back on the ice.

“I’ve never experienced anything more frustrating,” he says. “It was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to deal with in my life.”

But despite the run-around from doctors and everything else that went wrong throughout this year-long process, Van der Gulik didn’t have to look far for inspiration.

“I give credit to my sister [Gina], who has been dealing with a rare blood disorder and has been sick for the last two years,” he says. “She has been so strong fighting it off. She has had so many problems and complications, and when I talk to her on the phone, she gives me so much moral support. It should be the other way around. I should be there supporting her, but she has been so courageous. She has been an inspiration for me, and I realize how lucky I have it. She has really helped me get through it.”

Obviously, it was a difficult task. As the team captain and most looked-to leader, Van der Gulik was having trouble just putting a smile on his face because he felt so helpless with his condition.

“It was hard,” he says. “There were a lot of days when I wasn’t a happy guy around here. I hope they understood, but it was hard. I was coming in with a leadership role, and I wasn’t even on the team for the first half of the year. I couldn’t practice or work out or anything. I was at the rink, but I couldn’t do anything with the guys. Senior year, you want to have a good year, and you have a future to worry about. I didn’t know if I was going to play this year or redshirt and come back next year. There was all of that stress involved as well so it was difficult.”

Things turned around quickly, though. He came back and lightened the mood. Everyone on the roster had an extra bounce in their step, and they all attributed it to Van der Gulik. They talked about their senior captain like he was a celebrity, always smiling when his name was brought up.

“I just try to keep things loose,” Van der Gulik says. “The season was up and down, and guys didn’t have things going the way they wanted. There was frustration in the locker room a lot of times so I just tried to keep it loose and make guys realize that we’re playing hockey and we’re supposed to have fun doing it.”

It’s easy to have fun when you’ve only tasted defeat twice in the last four months and you’re getting a chance to lead your team to a national championship after not knowing if you’d ever get a chance to play the game again. But it’s not easy when you have to play each game with a torn knee ligament – Van der Gulik’s latest setback.

He got caught on an edge the night BU beat Boston College to win the Beanpot championship on Feb. 13 and tore the PCL in what he calls his “middle” knee. After fighting tooth and nail to get back on the ice following the abdominal injury, Van der Gulik said there was no way anything – even a torn-up knee – would end his collegiate career.

“The knee is pretty serious,” he says. “It’s a torn ligament, but it’s not one of the major ligaments. It’s actually the best one to tear if you’re going to tear one, the doctors say. I can play through it, and it doesn’t really hold me back. It’s nothing compared to the [abdominal injury]. It’s a piece of cake.”

It’s probably not the type of dessert Van der Gulik was hoping for after doing such a great job to get back on the ice, but with an NCAA Tournament bid locked up and a chance to win the Hockey East Championship this weekend, the chance for something sweeter is on the horizon.

With the Terriers struggling to find consistency a few months back and Van der Gulik struggling to even figure out what was wrong with him, that doesn’t seem all that bad.