For the second straight year, Boston College men’s hockey is the youngest team in Division I hockey. With an average age of 20 years and 49 days as of Oct. 1, BC, as always, does not lack talent. A glaring difference between this year’s team and last year’s, however, is that there are no juniors, as the four 2014 recruits—Sonny Milano, Noah Hanifin, Alex Tuch, and Zach Sanford—have all departed for the NHL. A characteristic of successful, young collegiate hockey teams is a slow start to the season before coming together down the stretch. Through seven games, the No. 8 Eagles (4-2-1, 1-1 Hockey East) have certainly had their ups and downs, as they currently ride a four-game unbeaten streak. In its last outing—the Hockey East opener—BC skated to a 2-2 tie at Merrimack College, a team that finished 13-19-7 last year. This weekend presents an enticing opportunity for the Eagles to pick up two Hockey East victories as No. 14 Providence College (2-2-1) visits Kelley Rink Friday night, and the Eagles travel to Amherst to play the University of Massachusetts (2-2) on Saturday night.
Last season, Providence College finished 27-7-4, which was good for a share of the Hockey East regular season title with BC. This season, the Friars are without their four top scorers and goaltender Nick Ellis. They’ve struggled through five games this year, including an overtime loss to a Holy Cross team that the Eagles demolished 6-1 last weekend. The Friars have taken more penalties than any other team in the country, averaging 22 penalty minutes per game. But they enter Friday’s contest with the Eagles coming off a 6-3 victory against No. 12 St. Lawrence where six different players tallied goals.
The Eagles’ second opponent, UMass, was not quite as successful as the Friars last season, as it finished last in the Hockey East and had an 8-24-4 record, leading to a coaching change. Through four contests, the Minutemen are .500, including a split series against a Colorado College team that BC defeated 4-1 last Friday. While Colorado College was a team that had severe struggles offensively against the Eagles, the Tigers lit up the lamp seven times against the Minutemen in the second game of their series. Last season, the Minutemen had the second-worst scoring defense in the country, allowing 4.06 goals per game.
BC’s bench will likely be revitalized with the return of head coach Jerry York and top-line forward Colin White this weekend. York was forced to miss Tuesday’s game after having an eye procedure, and White sustained an upper-body injury in last Saturday’s game against Holy Cross. The Eagles struggled without their presence in a game that should have resulted in two points. While the Eagles are a young team, they match up well with both teams on the docket this weekend, and York will be disappointed with anything less than three points.
Last time they met: In three matchups last season, the Eagles went 1-1-1 against the Friars. The first time they met, the Friars won 2-1 in the Florida College Hockey Classic consolation game in Estero, Fla. Ten days later at Kelley Rink, the Eagles dominated the Friars in a 7-3 win, behind goaltending from Ian Milosz, who stepped in to replace an injured Thatcher Demko. The next night, BC fought back from a 4-1 deficit to tie the then-No. 3 Friars. Against the Minutemen, the Eagles won both contests in dominant fashion. In the first matchup at Kelley Rink, BC was victorious 7-0, after a six-goal explosion in the second period. The second game in Amherst saw the Eagles win 8-0 as Jerry York achieved his 1,000th career victory.
Keys to the weekend:
- Top-line production: Though the Eagles lost seven players from a season ago to the NHL, they retained two top point scorers in White and Ryan Fitzgerald. In games that White has recorded a point, BC is 2-0-0, and when Fitzgerald has tallied a point, they have been 3-0-1. That said, the tandem rank fifth and seventh on the team in scoring this year. White and Fitzgerald will be crucial to the team’s success this year, and they must maintain their production from last year as the team lacks the same range of offensive weapons.
- Stay out of the box: One year removed from having the third-most penalties in the country, the Eagles are yet to ditch this bad habit. The Eagles have gone to the box a staggering seven and a half times per game. A season ago, BC had the best penalty kill in the country at 87.5 percent. This year, they have killed off 83.3 percent of penalties, but have allowed power-play goals on several important occasions. Most recently, Merrimack netted two power-play goals in the third period to fight back from a 2-0 deficit.
- Freshmen: More than half of BC’s roster is made up of freshmen this season. Through seven games, the freshmen have combined to score 26 points to lead the team as a class, despite being hailed as one of the weaker recruiting classes of York’s career. While it is hard to make any judgements about this team’s ability to perform in the Hockey East after the team’s first result against Merrimack, two wins this weekend would provide a solid indication that this team has what it takes to be successful in-conference.
Featured Image by Julia Hopkins / Heights Editor