WORCESTER, Mass. — “Would it kill you to crack a smile?”
Boston College head coach Jerry York laughed as he teased the man sitting to his left, Teddy Doherty. York’s senior captain sheepishly followed his coach’s commands, while Thatcher Demko—the Eagles’ sterling Hobey Baker candidate in goal—pushed him back on the other side. Clearly, smiling is not Doherty’s thing.
It’s an odd sight from my end. Watching the business-like leader of the Eagles attempt to show emotion other than complete and total focus on the goal ahead of him is a sight rarer than a Northeastern-Harvard final in the Beanpot. Last year, after BC’s 5-2 loss to Denver in the first round of the NCAA East Regional, Doherty, the captain-to-be, sat alongside York and Mike Matheson to face the music. Many of the questions were directed at Matheson, who was poised to leave the Eagles and join the Florida Panthers.
But when it came to looking toward the future, the media tested Doherty. Throughout the interview, the Hopkinton, Mass. native who spent his high school days at Shattuck-St. Mary’s in Fairbault, Minn. remained poised and professional.
“Sometimes the puck doesn’t go your way, so that’s that,” Doherty said that late March day in Providence, summing up his reaction to his team’s blowout defeat.
In our 2015 Hockey Preview, we compared Doherty to Pat Mullane and Patrick Brown—a captain who, as a senior, has been a steady rock over four years and showed gradual improvement, but was never the team’s MVP. It’s not a consistent formula that has occurred at BC over the years—Matheson was arguably the team’s most NHL-ready player last year, and superstars such as Marty Reasoner, Brian Gionta, and Mike Mottau have all held the position under York. But it’s the kind of captain York prefers: the man who puts it all on the line for the good of BC.
Doherty gives all the correct answers. He never strays from York’s message. He fills whatever role needs to be filled. Doherty is that ideal captain. And everyone on the Eagles knows it.
“He’s a team first guy, there’s no doubt about it,” Demko said.
But after his two goals in Saturday’s 3-2 victory over Minnesota Duluth that lifted BC to its 25th Frozen Four—the most in college hockey history—Doherty now finds himself in a unique place. His stellar performance that gave the Eagles a win in the Northeast Regional helped etch his name into all-time BC lore.
A big reason comes from the coaching staff’s decision to make Doherty a swingman. Last season, York was forced to place Doherty on the offensive side of the puck given BC’s lack of depth there. He did reasonably well, with six goals and 17 assists in a majority of the games played on the front end. This year, it was expected that, with Matheson and Noah Hanifin off to the NHL, Doherty would return to the blue line. After all, that was projected to be BC’s weak spot. Entering the 2015-16 season, the Eagles only had three returners on defense, all juniors: Ian McCoshen, Steve Santini, and Scott Savage. They’d be welcoming in Casey Fitzgerald and Josh Couturier. Surely Doherty could bring some stability to the back end.
It didn’t exactly work out that way. Fitzgerald was far more college-ready than had been anticipated, making his transition easy. York also welcomed another defenseman, Michael Kim, to Kelley Rink during late December. He quickly made an impact on the roster. In total, these two freshmen gave BC a deeper defense than had been foreseen.
Rather, it was the offense that was struggling. After an 11-game winning streak through the easy of BC’s season, the Eagles hit a wall, blowing a late lead to tie with Northeastern and losing three in a row to Notre Dame, Ohio State, and Providence. In particular, BC’s two 6-foot-4 forwards—Alex Tuch and Zach Sanford—had fallen into a sophomore slump. Unlike Kim, there would be no first-semester freshmen York could call down from the heavens to solve the problem.
But the solution was simple. Just move Doherty, the only true two-way player on the roster and the one man willing to do whatever is necessary to help the Eagles reached the Promised Land that is scenic Tampa, Fla.
Once Doherty teamed up with Tuch and Sanford, BC’s offense began firing on all cylinders. Since Doherty fully joined the ranks of the forwards, the Eagles are on a 15-3-4 run. He has made a huge effect on the success of BC’s power play. He can act as a forward with the hockey IQ to place a proper tip-in or redirect a rebound, a defenseman to run the attack from the blue line, or a grinder to chase down the puck in the event of a breakaway attempt. This season, Doherty has accumulated 13 goals (six on the power play) and 12 assists.
That’s not a coincidence made solely by a smart coaching decision. That’s a player who has jumped into an upper echelon of talent and merits serious consideration from numerous teams as he comes close to his pursuit of a professional career in hockey. Doherty’s meaning for this team is as strong on the ice as it is off it. Given the narrative that has surrounded Doherty over his tenure in Chestnut Hill, his indispensability as a player can get lost in the shuffle in comparison to how necessary he is to the Eagles as a captain. But it’s certainly not lost on York.
“He’s really been a pleasant surprise for us, because he really hasn’t played a ton for us over his career, at least not in key, key situations,” York said. “This year, as a captain, he took it upon himself to improve his game in different parts. … He’s a fiery guy. He’s small in stature, but he really is a dynamite leader.”
As for Doherty, he’s resorting back to those York-esque cliches. After Saturday’s game, he was proud of his individual accomplishments, saying that maybe it’s something he can think of fondly in a few years. Right now, there’s only one thing on his mind.
“It’s great, but I really wanted to go to Tampa,” Doherty said. “Just to extend the season by two weeks and practice in Conte Forum again is something I value way more than two goals.”
But given his contributions to this team, and his outstanding impact during an already memorable season, Doherty will be one of those rare captains who any BC hockey fan will immediately remember as a leader and player.
So go ahead and smile, Teddy. You’re getting those two extra weeks for the team. And it wouldn’t have happened without you.
Featured Image by Julia Hopkins / Heights Editor