COLUMN: Early Season Challenges Give Young Players A Taste Of Veteran Experience
Published: Thursday, October 24, 2013
Updated: Thursday, October 24, 2013 00:10
A preseason look at the Boston College hockey team’s first few opponents showed the making of a formidable schedule. Opening against Michigan on the road. Rensselaer, while admittedly not as formidable a foe, was still a top-20 matchup for the home opener. Then came Wisconsin, with six national titles, 12 Frozen Four appearances, and three seniors and a junior in its starting five, along with a seasoned goalie. Then, the next week, they expected to put up a fight against Minnesota. Okay. Whose idea was this?
Sure, scheduling is tough and you want to get the best non-conference matchups that you can, but is this a good idea after graduating a class of six outstanding seniors? Where’s the early season warm-up game that will help all of these rookies get their feet under them? There are 10 freshmen on this team, a few of whom could be expected to see considerable amounts of ice time, and somehow they would be expected to produce results during their first few games as collegiate athletes.
It was absurd. Frightening, even. Bound to be embarrassing. After seeing those first few games, however, I think it’s working.
The Michigan game was a tough one. Against what is now the No. 4 team in the country, BC couldn’t really do anything right. The team allowed two of the Wolverines’ three goals on the power play. The Eagles took six penalties, and failed to capitalize on the three opportunities when their opponents had a man in the box. BC scored only one goal, and left Yost Ice Arena with a 0-1 record.
But then there was Rensselaer. The game has been a little overlooked in my opinion. Sure, BC got a big first win at home, but since it wasn’t against a top-10 team, and the game happened to take place at 3 p.m. on the Sunday of a holiday weekend, the performance was underappreciated. RPI is no Michigan or Minnesota, but it’s also not a cupcake team.
Six Eagles scored seven goals—the first by three freshmen. BC capitalized on both of its power play opportunities, and while the team took seven penalties, each and every one of them was killed. It doesn’t really get better than that on special teams.
And finally, there was the Wisconsin game. Maybe Wisconsin was overrated. They were dismantled once again by BU the next night. Maybe having Landon Peterson in the net to start the game instead of Joel Rumpel, the go-to from last season who was out with a lower body injury, hurt the Badgers. But you don’t score nine goals against any Wisconsin team without doing a lot of things right.
All of a sudden, it’s looking like that lack of an early warm-up game is a good thing. Look at it this way: early games like those against Michigan and Wisconsin carry all of the hype from the off-season. Those first few matchups contained teams that will be fired up and ready to show the nation a little bit about what to expect from them this season.
The schedule never really slows down for a Hockey East team, but if these non-conference matchups came at any other time, there’s no telling what the context for them would be. They could come in the middle of a slump, just after a crucial injury, or at a time when the team is feeling warn down from a long season.
This way, not only do you get fresh legs for some of the biggest games of the year, but you also immediately impart experience on the younger players. The reaction after the Michigan loss is an obvious portrayal of that. BC looked like a new team against Rensselaer and Wisconsin, and a lot of that can be owed to the fact that the sizable freshman class already had experience in a big time, high-pressure situation.
Not only that, but the way that those second and third games turned out will have inspired a lot of confidence in the youthful team, as so many of them have already hit the benchmark of their collegiate points, against top-15 schools, no less.
This weekend, BC will face its fourth straight top-15 opponent in the No. 1 Minnesota Golden Gophers. I’m not going to go so far as to say that BC will ride this wave of newfound experience to a couple of big wins. It’s going to be tough—probably the biggest test that the Eagles have seen so far this year as they face the top team in the country on their own turf—but the first few games were a great way to prepare BC for this pressure-packed weekend.