Sports, Winter, Hockey, Men's Hockey

“The Key for Us Is How Quickly They Can Adapt”: 2023–24 Boston College Men’s Hockey Preview

According to Boston College men’s hockey head coach Greg Brown, becoming familiar with a full roster of players is like learning a new language. 

“The language I use compared to Coach [Jerry] York, or just the way we looked at things, I had to figure out where everyone fits in, so that learning curve was a lot longer,” Brown said of his personal adjustments after becoming the Eagles’ head coach on May 6, 2022. “I’ve got a good handle on the returners [now]. We still have a lot of new players, but I feel like it’s just half the team instead of the whole team.” 

Brown acknowledged that his returners this season have already learned this “language,” but 14 newcomers need to decipher it going into the Eagles’ 2023–24 campaign. The simple day-to-day things, or miniscule game-oriented battles, though, come to Brown much easier nowadays, he said. It makes his job of familiarizing the team with that language much easier. 

“I feel like I’ll be ready and much quicker to understand what’s going to happen,” Brown said of the upcoming season. “Even simple things, with the referees and how the games unfold—my comfort level goes way up after a year under my belt.”

BC hasn’t experienced a winning season since its 2020–21 campaign, when Matt Boldy, Alex Newhook, and Spencer Knight led the squad, and has endured a painful transition from the end of the York era into the Brown era with a 29–34–11 record over the past two seasons. If there were a time to turn things around, this season would be it. 

The Eagles inherited their best freshman recruiting class in program history, including three 2023 first-round picks, retained their top scorer last season and the No. 5 overall pick in the 2022 NHL Draft in Cutter Gauthier, and have been tabbed as a top-five team in the nation going into the season. And on Sept. 24, the projected first overall pick in the 2025 NHL Draft, James Hagens, committed to BC along with his brother. The Eagles’ upside is soaring. 

To make success become a reality, according to Brown, adjusting will be the key focus.

“We have such a big freshman class, so I think adjustment will be the biggest difference,” Brown said. “I don’t expect [the graduate transfers] to have much adjustment time, they’ve looked very comfortable in practice, and the freshmen have looked great. But it’s all different when the games start. The key for us is how quickly they can adapt.”

Playing competitively, showing up to the rink with a deliberate attitude, and skating with tempo are the three components of BC’s identity this season, according to Brown. While his day-to-day language with the team may differ from the legendary York’s, they see the game in similar fashions, Brown said. He said the two have liked a lot of the same players who have passed through BC’s ranks. 

Now, Brown said he wants to go back to the standard that York has maintained for the past two-plus decades in Chestnut Hill—a standard of greatness. 

Repping the ‘C’

Filling the shoes of former BC captain Marshall Warren is no small task, Brown said. According to Brown, Warren—who transferred to Michigan this offseason after four years at BC—kept a calm demeanor and always provided positive assets during his tenure for BC in which he accumulated 126 games played. 

When Brown selected Eamon Powell to don the captain badge this season, though, the transition couldn’t have worked out any better, he said. Powell is the first BC captain selected by Brown.

“Marshall was incredibly consistent and came to the rink everyday with a positive attitude that rubbed off on the team,” Brown said. “When you lose six in a row, a lot of the guys can have their head down and sulk, but not Marshall, and surely not Eamon. Eamon came in positive everyday, excited to get better. The team fed off that.”

Brown said Powell brings the same attitude to the rink as he does to life in general. 

“The strength is just the way he lives his life,” Brown said. “He doesn’t have to be someone he’s not. He is a leader off the ice by his example, and he is a leader on the ice with his play and the way he conducts his business. He’s not the loudest captain, but you don’t have to be. It’s so important for a good captain to be true to themselves and not try to be someone they’re not.”

Being real with the players, and respectful to the coaching staff, is Powell’s bread and butter, according to Brown. 

“I think the players pick up on if they’re pretending or faking it,” Brown said of the captain’s role. “Eamon doesn’t have to do any of that. He lives it. He’s a hockey player and a leader 24/7. He’s very comfortable in that position. We’re very comfortable having him there.”

And there’s a reason that Brown specifically chose a defenseman to be the Eagles’ next leader.

“I feel like sometimes if your leading scorers are your captains, things can get hard for them if they’re not scoring,” Brown said. “They want to be so good at helping the team as a leader but also contributing offensively. Eamon doesn’t have to assert himself offensively like that. It helps the team be very consistent.”

Gauthier Makes the Jump

At the core of the 2023–24 season will likely be Gauthier, who is expected to take the jump from a freshman standout to a leader and a primary playmaker on a National Championship–contending BC squad. 

“He’s had more intent on being that guy, kind of the leader, asserting himself in practice, making sure the level is high,” Brown said. “So it seems to come natural for him. Not only the freshmen look up to him, but the way he conducts himself, the whole team respects the way he goes about his business.”

Last season, Gauthier was a staple in the Eagles’ offense and made an immediate impact, playing in 30 of BC’s 36 games. Gauthier led the Eagles in total points with 37 and goals with 16, and tied for the lead in assists with 21. The 6-foot-3 lefty had a pair of two-goal performances as well.

Now, with a successful year of college hockey in his system, Brown is confident that Gauthier is ready to take another step both on and off the ice.

“Off the ice, he’s doing all the right things to maximize his energy levels, his commitment,” Brown said. “So I feel like his leadership, he’s even upped that more, now, to be a little bit more vocal, and a little bit more assertive, to make sure everything is going in the right direction and our level stays high. I hope and expect that he would continue that.”

Brown said that from a physical and technical standpoint, Gauthier’s improvements cannot be ignored either. 

“He’s stronger,” Brown said. “You can see it on the ice, his skating is more powerful, his puck protection is heavier. So those things physically, and then from a mental side, you can just see his focus. I think last year he came in, like all freshmen, and they’re kind of trying to feel it out and see how it is. This year, he’s coming in with full intent and purpose each day.”

As a more mature player both physically and mentally, Guathier is expected to take the reigns of the young BC program. It would not be a total shock if Gauthier once again leads the Eagles in offensive statistics and even makes a case for the Hobey Baker Award to be brought back to the Heights for the first time since Johnny Gaudreau claimed it in 2014. 

Freshmen Frenzy

Gauthier will be supported by three other first-round draft picks this upcoming season—Will Smith, Ryan Leonard, and Gabe Perreault—all of whom are freshmen, and all of whom have experience playing with each other. With Smith at the center and Perreault and Leonard on his wings, the trio tore up competition for the USA Hockey National Team Development Program (USNTDP), serving as its first line. The chemistry between the three is, and has been made, clear.

“They do have great chemistry, we’ve seen it in practice,” Brown said.

While their offensive abilities were proven in their final season in the USNTDP where Perreault recorded a single-season record of 132 total points—Smith just barely trailed him with 127, and Leonard racked up 51 goals—defensive abilities and physical prowess must also play a factor in line formations, according to Brown. 

“Aside from their offensive abilities, they’re going to be having to defend against much older players, play against much older players,” Brown said. “So if they can handle it, if they show that they can handle it early in the season, then maybe they will stay together. But having an older guy on their lines to help out a little bit, the physical side of the game might also benefit them early.”

While Brown may rearrange the line throughout the season, he confirmed that the trio will see time on the ice together. 

“There will be times for sure that they’ll play together, [I] might be starting them that way,” Brown said. “If it goes well they can stay together and if it doesn’t, you know we have plenty of other guys that can help.”

Smith, Perreault, and Leonard may have flocked into Chestnut Hill as the most highly touted recruits, but Brown noted that any newcomer can make an impact throughout the season. Whether it’s the No. 90 overall draft pick Drew Fortescue or the No. 125 overall pick Aram Minnetian stepping up on the defensive end, Brown said that he has experienced meaningful impact coming from players who have not boasted the track record of those expected to make the largest waves. 

“A lot of times, it’s not even the guys you expect based on their track record,” Brown said. “But they adjusted quickly, and other guys who you think are gonna be real impact players as freshmen, sometimes it’s taken them till sophomore year. ​​You never know until it starts.”

Youth in the Crease

It’s no secret that BC’s roster is on the younger side, sporting 18 underclassmen. Of the entire roster, though, only one position group is composed of only freshmen—the goaltenders. 

“I mean, they’ve all looked good,” Brown said of the freshman goalies. “It is hard because, again, just like all the freshmen, you don’t know how quickly they’ll adjust. I feel like they’ve all had good track records and they’re experienced.”

Goaltenders Jacob Fowler, Jan Korec, and Alex Musielak all possessed save percentages over .900 across in their respective leagues before arriving on the Heights. 

Of the three, though, Fowler’s resume stands out. Fowler received the 2022–23 USHL Goaltender of the Year award and was drafted No. 69 overall by the Montreal Canadiens.

“He’s always excited to come to the rink, he loves it,” Brown said. “I think it’s infectious. The guys see his energy level in practice every day. And then he’s got a, I don’t know if it’s extreme, but I guess it is a competitive side, too. He doesn’t want to give up any goals in practice.”

Whichever direction the season takes, one thing is for certain—a freshman will man the crease for BC throughout the entire season, and younger players will have to inherit key roles on the ice. 

“We’ve got all freshmen goalies, and we’ve got a ton of freshmen who are gonna see meaningful minutes,” Brown said. 

October 7, 2023