Hockey Preview: Many Sticks Make Light Work
BC lost four of its top five scorers. Where will the goals come from this year? Everywhere.
Published: Thursday, October 13, 2011
Updated: Wednesday, January 9, 2013 18:01
Scoring in hockey is a numbers game. Odd-man rushes, one-on-ones, and one-timers are all ideal opportunities to light the lamp. If none of that works, bombarding the net with a multitude of shots is a decent strategy. Keeping the numerical nature of the sport in mind, consider the following statistics heading into Boston College's home opener against Denver tomorrow:
Forty-five percent of the team's 153 goals from a season ago need replacing due to players graduating or turning pro.
Thirty-one goals scored by then-junior Cam Atkinson led the team in 2010-2011. It was his second straight year with 30-plus goals. After leaving school early in March, he notched his first NHL goal for the Blue Jackets on Monday (beating fellow Eagle Cory Schneider on the shot).
Thirteen goals is the highest returning tally on the team, registered by Paul Carey. He ranked fourth in goals and seventh in points (26).
Eight different players got on the scoreboard in the opening-weekend Ice Breaker, featuring a 5-2 win over Michigan State on Friday and a 6-2 win over then-No. 3 North Dakota on Saturday.
One represents the Eagles' ranking in both major national polls.
Despite losing so much scoring talent, the Eagles are clicking. Nobody notched more than two goals for BC last weekend, though, so it's tough to tell if a breakout player will match the production of BC's departed sparkplug.
"Will we have a 30-goal scorer like Cam?" head coach Jerry York said. "I'm not sure. That's asking a lot to start off the year."
To score, the Eagles might not necessarily rely on someone. They could turn to some people. An attack featuring an array of talented threats can be tougher to contain than a single superstar.
"We have a lot of players capable of getting to 10 goals," York said. "We've got a few guys who can get to 20. We expect goal scoring from a lot of different people. We're not going to be led by just one or two guys. We have a lot more balance now."
After concentrating the team's primary scorers onto a single line (Atkinson-Brian Gibbons-Joe Whitney) for the past two years, York has devised three top lines that can all explode for several goals on any given night. By spreading the scoring burden between more players, the Eagles could put up even better numbers this season.
The scoring line, version 2.0
Halfway through the 2009-2010 season, BC was in a rut. The Eagles lost their first three games over winter break, including the Frozen Fenway game against Boston University. They were a respectable, if disappointing, 10-6-2. They needed a little magic. That's when York devised the Atkinson-Gibbons-Whitney line. Their speed and timing overwhelmed opponents to the tune of 40 goals in three months together. Following the line's creation, BC went 19-4-1 on its way to its second national title in three years.
York may be on to something similar with the pairing of freshman Johnny Gaudreau and juniors Pat Mullane and Steven Whitney.
"Gaudreau is really similar to Atkinson, and Steven plays a lot like his brother," Mullane said. "I'm not the exact same player as Gibbons, so I don't know if you can pencil me in there. But some parts of my game, I'd like to take from Gibbons. He was one of the best passers BC's ever seen. That's why Cam Atkinson was so successful. I'd like to translate that to my game, with an Atkinson-type like Gaudreau and Joe Whitney-type like Steve."
Gaudreau, Mullane, and Steven Whitney have a lot to prove before they can properly be compared to one of the best lines in school history, even if their skill sets roughly correspond to those of their predecessors.
"It's not very often I get to say I'm one of the big guys on the line," said the 5-foot-11 Mullane, of playing with two 5-foot-7 linemates. "It's obviously a different dynamic. Johnny Gaudreau is pretty highly touted kid coming in, and Steve Whitney has proven himself here. As the center on that line, it's my job to give them the opportunity to score goals because Johnny Gaudreau is a goal scorer and a playmaker. He can do whatever he wants. At the end of the night, if he's on the scoresheet, I'm doing my job."
To do his job, Mullane has to prove he can play without Chris Kreider and Jimmy Hayes, two big-bodied, NHL-type players. Although Atkinson-Gibbons-Whitney got labeled as the scoring line by totaling 54 goals, they didn't account for all the offense. The Kreider-Mullane-Hayes line registered 40 goals and was especially potent in the second half of the season. Compared to the small and fast top line (no one was taller than 5-foot-8), the second line provided much-needed muscle (Hayes was 6-foot-5 and Kreider is 6-foot-3). They developed a rhythm, with Mullane distributing and Hayes and Kreider scoring. By getting the puck down low and cycling, they grinded opponents into the ground.