Sports, Men's Hockey

Last Call For BC’s Senior Class

One thing you’ll never be able to take away from the seven Boston College men’s hockey seniors on the 2014 roster is their absurd level of success during three years in Chestnut Hill. The numbers stand on their own: 122 wins, six NCAA tournament victories, three Beanpots, two regular-season Hockey East championships (the Bertagna Trophy, as head coach Jerry York calls it), one Hockey East Tournament title, and, of course, the 2012 National Championship that was the culmination of a crazy 19-game winning streak.

Those are enough accomplishments for a few hockey lifetimes. Looking at that all at once, you can convince yourself that any of the seven of them—Goalies Brian Billett and Brad Barone as well as forwards Danny Linell, Cam Spiro, Destry Straight, Michael Sit, and Quinn Smith—could leave Conte Forum behind without notching another win or another point and tie a pretty bow over their maroon and gold careers.

But they have one more ride left, and for the first time, they’re being bumped from the passenger seat into a spot directly behind the wheel. Gone is the class’ lone superstar. Johnny Gaudreau has shipped his Hobey Baker-winning 80 points out to Calgary for his first NHL season. No longer do any older giants loom above them on the roster, and only one proven star, captain Michael Matheson, skates in the class below these vets. If you’re looking for the ceiling of this year’s BC hockey team, don’t go any farther than the crew chasing degrees in May. Yes, the Eagles will need Ryan Fitzgerald and Austin Cangelosi to take leaps in their sophomore seasons and, of course, it would be a boost if new defenseman Noah Hanifan could echo Matheson’s freshman campaign. Those young players still exhibit near limitless potential. These seniors are past that point. York just needs them to be productive—and he needs it badly.

First, a brief history.

Six of the seniors saw the ice during the 2011-12 title run. Barone was the only holdout, but he didn’t miss out on much. Billett appeared in eight games, spelling Parker Milner during a brutal winter’s darkest timeline where no goalie could consistently get the job done. He went 3-4-1, giving up more than two-and-a-half goals a game with a .907 save percentage. Then Milner squeezed every ounce of talent he had into 19 dominant games, forcing Billett onto the bench.

The five forwards? They combined for 23 points that season. Gaudreau notched 44 on his own. That team was loaded, and these guys were only freshmen, but this turned out to be more of a trend than a slow start.

Even though Chris Kreider, Barry Almeida, and Paul Carey left following that season, it didn’t quite pave the way for the then-sophomores. Barone played in one game, and Billett played in two, but Milner’s shiny championship essentially cemented his place between the pipes. While Matheson joined Gaudreau and a few juniors and seniors as commanding forces on the ice, the rest of the class squeaked out spots as grinders. They provided necessary tough, aggressive play when the top lines needed breaks. Straight, the most-heralded scorer of the class behind Gaudreau, increased his point total from 10 to 15. Smith’s jumped from four to 13. They started to emerge as important role players—Smith pushed BC into the Beanpot final with his first two-goal game since his days in the USHL—though they rarely stood out as more than that. That status was further solidified last year, as one of the most heralded freshman classes in school history arrived.

Graham Beck / Heights Editor
Graham Beck / Heights Editor

The five forwards’ numbers hardly shifted in 2013-14. Freshmen like Fitzgerald, Cangelosi, and Adam Gilmour rose up the team’s points leaderboard as well as the lineups. While Billett started the opener and contended with rookie sensation Thatcher Demko for the starting goalie spot early in the year, he eventually lost that battle. The juniors were role players yet again.

For BC to be successful this year—especially when success is only measured by trophies—it can’t afford a similarly relegated status in its seniors’ final run. The five forwards filled the first two lines in this year’s exhibition against New Brunswick. Barone looked strong in net during the second period. This crew’s value has to go beyond leadership, intangibles, or minor roles.

It starts with Sit, Straight, and Smith. York refers to their line, which he’d like to keep together, as the three “S”s. The name couldn’t be more fitting When you hear the Super Line—the nickname for Gaudreau, Bill Arnold, and Kevin Hayes’ devastating trio from last year—you think of three Avengers running train all over helpless defenses, creating heaps of unstoppable, relentless scoring chances. When you hear the three “S”s you think of an annoying grammar rule that will sneakily bite you in the ass. York needs points from his three “S”s, and it doesn’t matter how they come. It won’t be dazzling like Gaudreau, or brutish like Hayes, or smooth like Arnold, or beautiful like the three of them working together, but the points will count all the same.

Even if defenses and opposing fans are compelled to call “garbage goal” as the puck careens into the net, they’ll still be doing it over goal horns for what will likely be BC’s third line.

In an interesting twist, Spiro and Linell will be wingers alongside their former classmate’s younger brother, Matty Gaudreau, who has been moved to center. This was nominally the second line in the scrimmage, but it should be bumped lower once the real games start on Friday. Spiro’s biggest strengths are his speed and hands, while Linell boasts solid puck skills. It’s a combination that is unlikely to score often, but has the potential to swing a few games with timely opportunities that most other team’s fourth lines can’t create. They’re your X-factor.

Don’t expect to see much of Billett this year? Think again. Demko should only improve in his sophomore season, but as New England winters roll in, so do BC goalie skids. It’s nearly scientific at this point. Will it ever turn into an actual position battle? No, but Billett can make Demko stronger by pushing him during the pre-Beanpot dregs of January if he has to.

With the Eagles’ top four forwards off to the pros, offense has become BC’s biggest question mark, especially scoring depth. For three years, production from this group has been a welcome bonus—a penalty kill here, a stand-in goaltending performance there—but not a necessity. They’ve been hard-working grinders—the kind of players a team needs to fill out a good roster—and now they need to be more.

Featured Image by Graham Beck / Heights Senior Staff

October 9, 2014