Boston College Hockey: First Half Recap Part 2
By Quinn Kelly
Position in Hockey East
As mentioned just above, this team has been DOMINANT in Hockey East play. Sure, they haven’t run up on the strongest opponents yet, but points against the cellar-dwellers count just as much against the top teams, and you have to take care of business against the bottom to finish at the top. 8-1-1 is a very impressive mark against any collection of Hockey East teams. It’s the best conference in college hockey and even the worst of it can give you a run on any night. The Eagles have set themselves up beautifully for the second half, taking a 4 point lead on the table into the break. They’ll need this cushion with some of their most stout competition on the horizon. After the Three Rivers Classic, the Eagles will have their second match-up with an ever dangerous Providence team and a pair with #5 BU, split in a home and home. It’s all Hockey East competition from then on out, too, barring a meeting with Harvard in the Bean Pot Finals; a road that would go through the unlucky draw of BU first round, of course. All in all, the second half promises three meetings with the Terriers, one more with Providence and Notre Dame, a pair with the surprisingly good Catamounts of Vermont, and a season-ending pair with UMass Lowell. A bludgeoning road to the finish, as always. So in this, the season of giving thanks, the Eagles should count their blessings that they played well enough to hit an 8-1-1 mark.
What’s Impressed Me So Far
First and foremost, and I’ve said this time and time again, you wouldn’t know from the performance on ice that this team is skates 10 freshmen. Guys like David Cotton, the Mattilas, and of course, Joe Woll, have played with such poise that they make you forget they’ve only been at it a couple months. And really, it’s unfair of me to single them out, because it’s been the whole group of them, top to bottom, including the rotational freshmen only catching game action here and there. The season they’ve put together so far has been excellent, and they’ve done well to quell some of the Eagles faithful’s worries about not seeing a team like last year’s again, and even done enough to excite us at the prospects of the future.
Secondly, you can’t give the freshmen all the credit, as the upperclassmen have stepped up and played like the leaders we needed them to be. Colin White has been the same electric scorer that we expected. Chris Brown and JD Dudek have BURST on the season and have benefitted greatly from the release of the log jam at forward they saw last year. And although he’s missed time with injury, Ryan Fitzgerald has been his usual magnificent self while on the ice. Freshmen certainly don’t play this well without strong leadership and play from their elders to look up to.
Finally, while they have taken their share of losses, they have never dropped back to back games. I don’t mean to hearken back to the fact that there’s so many freshman too much, but it bears mentioning again because given their youth, it is impressive. Short memory is something that is developed over years of play, even the best athletes and teams often have trouble putting tough losses behind them. But, this team has always been able to move on and go out and get the win the next night. Once more you see the older players rubbing off on the younger ones.
What Needs Work
Both of the points I’ll list here have to do with the youth of the team. The first has been touched upon already: the Eagles need to cut down the number of penalties they take. Over six penalties of game doesn’t get you wins past the regular season, it just doesn’t. And while a lot of the penalties seem to come with reputation, as plenty of people with eyes on the program have said that they’ve felt the Eagles have been on the wrong end of A LOT of calls, you still have to do everything in your power to limit the opportunities for refs to put you at a disadvantage. That starts with eliminating dumb mistakes, often an issue of youth. We, of course, can’t pin this all on the newbies, though, as the top two penalty-earners are a pair of sophomores; and they just happen to be the two most talented sophomores on the roster. Casey Fitzgerald has taken 15 minors this year and Colin White has taken 12. That means that this season the Eagles have spent 54 minutes, nearly a whole game, with at least one of their top young players on the ice. These guys are top pair and top line guys and they absolutely can’t be spending that much time in the box. Never mind the fact that they both play on the penalty kill, they’re just too valuable to give up two minutes. Next on the offenders list is Ryan Fitzgerald, another top player and kill unit member. When your top three penalty committers are on your kill unit, perhaps you’ve found the explanation for your poor PK%? Just a thought…
My second area that the Eagles need to improve in is their third period play. The Eagles opponents have scored 25 goals against them in the third period this season, one more than they have combined for in both the first and second periods (9/15/24). This to me is a sign that all the freshmen on the roster are not fully adjusted and ready to play a full 60 minutes of collegiate hockey. This is certainly not their faults, as there is definitely a grace period for them to get adjusted, but one has to hope that they’ll find their late-game legs in the second half of the season, or else it could be a serious problem. While this does worry me, I’d expect it to be remedied the further along these freshmen get into their first season.
First Half Three Stars
FIRST STAR: One and two are a toss-up for me, but I think for my first star I have to go with Chris Brown. Brown has come on in triumphant fashion for the Eagles, having already well surpassed his point total from last year and sitting at second on the team with 18 points (6/12). Last year, Brown was one of just six players to play in all 41 games, and he’s been that same constant this year, having played in all 20 so far. He finished last year with 9 assists in Hockey East play and he’s already matched that total this season, and added a goal. He’s played like a leader as only a sophomore. But, aside from that and his point total, what gives him the edge for this top spot is the fact that he’s only taken two penalties all year. That ties him for fewest penalty minutes on the team amongst regular starters with Julius Mattila (who has played 8 fewer games than him due to injury). He plays disciplined hockey and keeps himself on the ice at all times, so for those reasons, he’s my top star of the first half.
SECOND STAR: Matty Gaudreau slides into this spot for me. Gaudreau is spending his senior season shedding the moniker of “Johnny Hockey’s brother” by bursting out and leading the team in points at the halfway mark. Gaudreau entered the season with 28 career points and with increased minutes, has upped his play big time and has 22 through the first half. He’s flourished in a leadership role and looks to have the team positioned well behind his stellar play.
THIRD STAR: The final star in my mind has to go to Joe Woll. A team’s success begins and ends with play between the pipes, and Woll has come in as a freshman and taken more responsibility than anyone. He was as highly touted as they come coming in and he certainly hasn’t disappointed thus far. Already stopping 91.7% of shots and allowing just two and a half to sneak by per game, I expect Woll’s numbers to only improve in the second half; and that folks, should be a damn exciting prospect.
The Eagles return to action tonight in Pittsburgh as they head into the Three Rivers Classic. Their first round match up pits them up against #14 Quinnipiac in a rematch of last year’s Frozen Four Semifinal. Look out for a brief preview right here on wzbcsports.com.