Men's Hockey

Previewing BC Hockey: How to Beat the Irish

As he always does, Jerry York looked toward the future. Usually, he’s calm and collected, even after a disappointing turnout. This was one of those times. On the heels of his 1,000th win as a head coach in this sport, an 8-0 blowout by Boston College men’s hockey over UMass, York and his crew returned to the friendly confines of Kelley Rink to play UConn. The Huskies, a rebuilding squad with a losing record, tied the Eagles, 3-3, knocking them out of first place for the time being. Nevertheless, York didn’t point any fingers. He understands that even the best teams look off their game every so often, and BC should be happy to get a point in the conference standings.

But you could tell something was different as he spoke of the next game on the schedule. In his eyes, you saw that rare hint of anger, a competitive fire typically reserved only for games with a title on the line. For teams to get a chance to win trophies, they need to win games like this. Oh, and getting some revenge wouldn’t hurt, either.

Friday night, at 7:35 p.m. on NBC Sports Network, the Eagles (16-4-4, 9-1-4 Hockey East), the No. 5 team in the nation in the poll and No. 7 in the PairWise standings, will travel to South Bend, Ind. to take on the University of Notre Dame (14-4-7, 10-1-2) at Compton Family Ice Arena. The Fighting Irish stand at No. 10 in the polls but are only one spot behind the Eagles in the PairWise.

Though they’re coming off the tie to UConn, the Eagles have soared into 2016 with a 3-0-3 record. York’s crew has fought off adversity, such as the temporary losses of defensive stalwart Casey Fitzgerald and goaltender Thatcher Demko. Meanwhile, they’ve earned three points against their two most difficult competitors in Hockey East: Boston University and Providence. In those matchups, the Eagles dominated the home slate before salvaging a point with late comebacks on the road each of the following days. Perhaps most importantly (for York’s sake at least), they’ve put the #JY1K distraction behind them.

The only Hockey East contender hotter than BC (sorry, Northeastern) is Jeff Jackson’s Fighting Irish. Notre Dame is on a 12-game point streak dating back to the consolation game of the Shillelagh Tournament, a 3-1 win over Western Michigan. This stretch has rocketed it to a second-place tie with BC in the conference. But along the way, the Irish have only played three games against ranked teams. Two were ties against then-No. 17 Denver, albeit on the road. The only victory, however…

Last Time They Played: …was in Chestnut Hill. The Eagles entered the third period leading 3-1 after two goals by Austin Cangelosi in the second gave BC a seemingly insurmountable lead, given the way Demko had performed in between the pipes. But the wheels fell off the wagon in the third, as Jordan Gross tipped in a long pass from Anders Bjork, while Andrew Oglevie and Dennis Gilbert each slotted shots high off faceoff winners. The game-winner by Gilbert came with only 22 seconds remaining in the game.

Three Keys to the Game:

  • Slow Down the Second Line: Jackson’s two hottest forwards, Bjork and Jake Evans, play on the same line with Sam Herr. Bjork enters this game riding a career-long, 10-game point streak (seven goals, eight assists, 15 points). Evans has a respectable six-game streak of his own (three goals, seven assists, 10 points). Both will soon be sworn enemies—Bjork is a Bruins prospect, while Evans will brush up on his French in Montreal—but for right now, they make a dangerous pair. The Eagles must have Casey Fitzgerald and Steve Santini, who left the UConn game with a potential neck injury, fully healthy for this game to slow down this line.
  • Take Down Cal: BC has had three very different games against Notre Dame goaltender Cal Petersen. One was the aforementioned game this season, when BC got three goals on a mere 23 shots. The second was in the second-to-last game of the 2014-15 season, in which the offense consistently kept pressure on the then-freshman, putting up 33 shots in a 2-0 shutout by Demko at Compton that essentially booked BC’s trip to the NCAA tournament. But the last was a masterful performance by Petersen. The goaltender turned away 55 (!!!) shots from the Eagles on Notre Dame’s senior night to prevent them from getting momentum heading into the Hockey East Tournament. BC must ensure it gets its most recent edition of Petersen, not the one that can stand on his head at any moment.    
  • Don’t Feed Into Jackson’s Game: Teams under Jackson, a two-time national champion coach during his days at Lake Superior State, are notorious for an aggressive forecheck. It’s what has given the Irish the upper hand in this rivalry as of late (except in championship games, they’re still lacking in that department). Only one of Notre Dame’s primary bruising defensemen, Justin Wade, stands above six feet. Jackson’s two smallest—Bobby Nardella (5-foot-9) and Gross (5-foot-10)—still pack plenty of punches, both physically and offensively. BC can’t play that type of game—the Eagles are built more on their finesse with the puck, and when they do fight back, they often find themselves in the penalty box (they lead the nation in penalty minutes per game). York needs to make sure his guys balance the right amount of physicality with just enough skill to not get bullied by the Irish.

Featured Image by Amelie Trieu / Heights Editor




January 29, 2016