Heights Highlights I: The Top Ten Eagles

Heights Highlights I: The Top Ten Eagles

By Anthony Iati

During my first week as an alumnus of Boston College, I can’t help but realize how impactful BC Athletics was to my college experience. The Division I programs influenced not only my social life, but also gave me a part-time job for three years and an extracurricular I cherished for four years. Throughout this week, I will be writing a series of superlative-type articles reflecting on the best (and worst) of my experiences as a BC Eagles fan and a student broadcaster from August 2013 to May 2017. As an outgoing director of WZBC Sports, I am lucky enough to be able to publish each of these articles on www.wzbcsports.com.

Today I will focus on recognizing the top ten BC student-athletes I was fortunate enough to watch during my time at BC. A few things to note: first, I did not get to watch all 31 of BC’s varsity programs. The student-athletes who make up this list come from the five teams I saw play most frequently (football, men’s ice hockey, women’s ice hockey, men’s basketball, and baseball). Second, this list is not in any particular order. It was too difficult to compare talent across different sports and even different genders; all of the below did extraordinary things in their respective sports and deserve recognition.

Future lists will include the best BC games of the past four years as well as the most disappointing losses. These lists will be ranked. The last article will be more of a thoughtful piece going in-depth about how important my involvement with WZBC Sports was to my Boston College experience.

Top Ten BC Student-Athletes, August 2013 – May 2017 

Honorable Mentions:

  • Kevin Hayes, men’s hockey
  • Jerome Robinson, men’s basketball
  • Justin Simmons, football
  • Haley Skarupa, women’s hockey
  • Chris Shaw, baseball
  • Kevin Pierre-Louis, football
  • John Johnson, football
  • Steven Daniels, football
  • Tyler Murphy, football

The List (organized by sport) 

Olivier Hanlan- men’s basketball, 2012-2015

Why he makes the list: To put it bluntly, Hanlan was the only bright spot on this Eagles team during my first two years at BC. Dennis Clifford spent most of that time injured, Ryan Anderson and Joe Rahon fled for greener pastures, and the team underwent an offseason coaching change. Hanlan’s scoring touch was a rare reason to watch Eagles basketball. An early departure after his junior season only made me appreciate Hanlan more, as it paved the way for a disappointing season of Eli Carter as the primary shot-taker.

Moment I’ll remember: BC won just one ACC Tournament game in the past four seasons. Hanlan’s final game as an Eagle provided that victory, 66-65 over Georgia Tech, in March 2015. The guard drilled a shot with 10.9 seconds to go to give him 25 points and made first-year coach Jim Christian a perfect 1-0 in ACC Tournament play.

Ky Bowman- men’s basketball, 2016-present

Why he makes the list: Bowman was only an Eagle for my senior year on the Heights, so for him to crack this list speaks to how impressed I was by the freshman point guard. Bowman was not even the most touted recruit in his own class (Ty Graves, we hardly knew ye), yet Bowman grabbed the starting job by December, became a team leader, and dazzled on the court. With all due respect to two solid years of Jerome Robinson, I put Bowman ahead of him because Bowman seems to have an extra gear rarely displayed by Robinson: Ky will take over a game. It’s impossible for him to be invisible on the court, and not just because of his dyed red hair. The energy Bowman brings and the passion he shows are enough for me to look past some inconsistencies.

Moment I’ll remember: Dropping 33 points against No. 9 North Carolina in January at Conte Forum. Bowman was electric from deep that afternoon against his hometown team that passed on him. He came extremely close to giving Coach Christian the signature upset that has eluded his program throughout his three-year tenure. I point to that game as the moment it became clear Bowman had really arrived.

Justin Dunn- baseball, 2014-2016

Why he makes the list: Of the many 2016 Birdball heroes, Dunn was the true catalyst in my mind. The season turned around for the better when Coach Mike Gambino wisely moved Dunn from the bullpen into the Saturday starter role. Slotting a flame-throwing righty between a freshman All-American in Jacob Stevens and the crafty, reliable Mike King was an excellent choice by Gambino. Throwing Dunn on Saturdays gave the Eagles chances to win series against top-tier ACC opponents they otherwise would not have (Virginia and Louisville come to mind). BC simply does not get to the NCAA Tournament without the eventual 19th overall draft pick of the New York Mets.

Moment I’ll remember: I was broadcasting Dunn’s first start of 2016, an April 9 game vs. the defending national champion UVA Cavaliers. I was struck by the amount of radar guns that followed Dunn’s every pitch and by the buzz his outing inspired at the game. Working on a pitch count, he cruised through five shutout innings, allowing just two hits and striking out five. I, and everyone in attendance, left feeling like Birdball had unleashed a difference-maker.

Alex Carpenter- women’s hockey, 2011-2016

Why she makes the list: I’m not sure I saw a more dominant season at BC than Carpenter’s senior year in 2015-16. A whopping 88 points in 41 games, eight game-winning goals, and a +61 rating, all while leading the Eagles to a 40-1 record. She won about every accolade possible, including first-team All-American honors and the Patty Kazmaier Award winner as the nation’s top female hockey player.

Moment I’ll remember: It’s not so much that I’ll remember a moment of Carpenter’s collegiate career so much as I’ll remember her pure skill. She played college hockey at a different speed than everyone around her. Someone who had never seen a hockey game before could have walked into Conte Forum during a game and learned within ten minutes that #5 in maroon and gold was the best player on the ice, by far.

Noah Hanifin- men’s hockey, 2014-2015

Why he makes the list: Hanifin’s time on the Heights was short, as he skipped town after one season. But he was such a dynamic and talented athlete that he cracks the top ten. Hanifin played a spectacular two-way game and was as likely to provide an offensive spark as he was shutdown defense. I still wonder whether Hanifin’s departure for the NHL before the 2015-16 season cost the Eagles a national championship. Adding him to the standout season from Thatcher Demko, blue-liners Steve Santini and Ian McCoshen, and the scoring punch of Alex Tuch, Zach Sanford, Miles Wood, and Colin White might have brought the Eagles their sixth title.

Moment I’ll remember: My lasting image of Hanifin is this streak down the right-wing boards, evasion of a defenseman, then parallel glide across the end line before roofing a sharp angle goal over the shoulder of the Vermont goaltender. I remember seeing this play live from the student section behind Demko and dropping my jaw in astonishment at the athleticism and offensive skill from a defenseman. In that moment, Hanifin instilled rightful worry that he was NHL-ready and would leave the program after one season.

Alex Tuch, men’s hockey, 2014-2016

Why he makes the list: Tuch arrived at BC as a prolific scorer with a built-in NHL-caliber shot. The guy could fire lasers on net at will with a rare combination of size (6’4”, 220 lbs.) and speed. His statistics didn’t always match his skill level, but he found ways to impact games and commanded opponents’ attention. It also seemed to me that Tuch left some points on the table his sophomore year by instead yielding opportunities to an improving Zach Sanford.

Moment I’ll remember: What else? The overtime Beanpot game-winner to beat Boston University, 1-0, in February 2016. An absolute rifle past a stunned Sean Maguire ended one of the best hockey games I’ve ever seen. In a game ruled by excellent goaltending from Maguire and Demko, it was Tuch’s wrister inside the left post that remains the game’s defining image.

Thatcher Demko, men’s hockey, 2013-16

Why he makes the list: It’s easy to forget Demko was 17 years of age and not yet draft eligible when he wrestled the starting goalie job away from Brian Billett his freshman year. Demko brought even more buzz to a team that was riding the offensive prowess of the Gaudreau-Hayes-Arnold line. While Billett was serviceable, Jerry York quickly realized Demko’s tremendous ceiling gave the Eagles their best chance, even as a freshman. He was good enough in his tenure for two Frozen Four appearances, two Beanpot championships, the Eagles’ single-season shutout record, and one of the hottest goalie streaks imaginable in the fall of 2015. He battled through injuries during a tough sophomore campaign with no excuses. Simply put, Demko was awesome and even entertained the home fans with some dancing and smiles between whistles.

Moment I’ll remember: If I had to pick just one, it would be the same game as above- the shutout he pitched against BU to win the 2016 Beanpot. As impressive as his 62-minute shutout was, he got banged around due to a lot of bodies in his crease and some chippy play. On at least one occasion, he was checked on by the training staff and it seemed he may have to depart the game. Demko had to be in pain, yet somehow outdueled Maguire. The reason it’s so hard to pick one moment, though, is this highlight tape, complete with so many saves that left fans in awe and opponents shaking their heads.

Johnny Gaudreau, men’s hockey, 2011-14

Why he makes the list: With the possible exception of the athlete two names down from here, nobody galvanized a BC crowd like Johnny Hockey did during his junior year. The 2014 Hobey Baker winner was a dazzling talent who made BC Hockey must-see action my freshman year. His line with Kevin Hayes and Bill Arnold was the dominant force that guided a young team to the Frozen Four and a fifth straight Beanpot championship. His numbers in 2013-14 were similar to Carpenter’s senior year: 80 points in 40 games, including seven game-winners. The 5’9 bundle of skill is one of the best stick-handlers I’ve ever seen and has since established himself as one of the better players in the National Hockey League.

Moment I’ll remember: I wasn’t yet a student when Gaudreau iced the 2012 national championship game with this impressive backhand goal to bury Ferris State. Oddly enough, the moment I remember best is actually one in which Gaudreau did not score. The Eagles trailed Union 5-3 in the waning seconds of the 2014 national semifinal. Patrick Brown scored with under four seconds left to make it a one-goal game, but there did not seem to be time for BC to have a chance to tie. Somehow, Gaudreau collected the faceoff, cruised across the blue line and fired a shot on net. It was saved, ending BC’s season, but I remember Gaudreau’s moves and hustle to even put a shot on net that quickly.   

Harold Landry, football, 2014-present

Why he makes the list: Landry is such a multi-dimensional player and a freakish athlete capable of anything on the defensive side of the football. When BC was getting pummeled by Florida State in Tallahassee last November, one of my roommates (who isn’t a big football fan) glanced at the TV and asked who #7 was, commenting that he seemed like a star. Landry is just that; the likely 2018 first round draft pick led the nation in sacks and forced fumbles as a junior. Even though I won’t be a BC student this fall, I’m really excited Landry decided to stick around for his senior season. Eagles fans will miss the havoc he wreaks when he leaves college.

Moment I’ll remember: Landry was one of the co-MVPs of BC’s 36-30 victory over Maryland in the 2016 Quick Lane Bowl. That game had plenty of memorable plays, but none more memorable than Landry shedding a block from the right tackle, reading that Perry Hills was checking down to a receiver, hauling in a one-handed interception, and returning it about twenty yards.

Andre Williams, football, 2010-2014

Why he makes the list: The first star Eagle in my time at BC. When I was attending the first few football games of my freshman year in September 2013, I didn’t yet know the starting running back’s name. By the end of the season, every college football fan in the country knew Williams’s name. His season was one for the ages, coming in fourth in the Heisman race and somehow making Steve Addazio’s run-first offense exciting. Williams shattered BC records and sailed past the coveted 2,000-yard mark. If you replaced Williams with an average “replacement level” back, the 2013 Eagles probably only win four or five games. It is interesting to imagine where Addazio and the Eagles program might be had Williams not broken out and led the team back to relevance. Maybe Addazio doesn’t last four-plus seasons. Or maybe the program improves more slowly but steadily from 2-10 in 2012 and fans have more patience, rather than perceiving the 2015 and 2016 seasons as steps backward.

Moment I’ll remember: It has to be the stiff-arm. Williams just abuses a poor Maryland defender here with a vicious move. He set the tone early in what would prove to be an epic late-season win for BC on a buzzer-beating field goal by Nate Freese. This play exemplifies Williams’s powerful style.

 

Who was snubbed from my top ten? Talk about it with us by tweeting @WZBCSports and check back in the coming days for more looks back on BC Athletics from the past four years.