It is indeed a unique mindset you are in when you are talking about Boston College hockey. It's like you are a Yankees fan. Your team is either the best or they are a major disappointment. There is nothing in between. Being in a four-way tie for first place in Hockey East might be good enough for some schools, but not for Boston College. This is trophy season and it is Boston College's ordained duty to win them all.
So, with four games remaining in the regular season, to win the regular season championship in Hockey East, the Eagles "will probably have to run the table," as coach Jerry York admitted after his team lost a tough one to UMass-Lowell Tuesday night. That means sweeping this weekend's home-and-home series with co-leader Providence. It means sweeping UVM in Burlington the following weekend and then it means hoping that the other pretenders to the throne stumble and fall as they flesh out the final league standings among themselves. "We are in a pennant race here," York said.
Except for players and coaches looking to build towards the bigger titles further down the road, the only real importance of the league championship (and a trophy that doesn't even have a name) is to seed teams for the Hockey East playoffs in March (the Lamoriello Cup.) From there comes invitations and seedings for the NCAA championship. Those seedings are decided by a committee and are based on seasonal "Pairwise Rankings," a complicated formula understood only by math majors and small town sportswriters. From what those great minds say, it is a known fact that BC could lose all of their games between now and St. Patrick's Day and still be invited to the NCAA tournament. But, we can only make educated guesses about what might happen in the coming weeks.
What is also known to most that follow Boston College hockey is that this version of the Eagles is a flawed bunch that should be quite proud of what they have achieved so far. The Eagles lack scoring depth, their young defense is learning on the job and they might not be ranked as high as they are if their goalie, Parker Milner, was not so good at covering for their mistakes.
Upfront we know that Steve Whitney has 20 goals now and there is probably not a player in Hockey East, or maybe the country for that matter, who is playing as well as he is right now. He is a solid player in all three zones, even filling in at defense when needed. York says he is having a "magical season "with 20 goals already (10 in the last 11 games.) "When you talk about the top four or five forwards in the country Steve Whitney is right there," York said.
Kevin Hayes, out for the season following leg surgery, will be missed, but we also know that Johnny Gaudreau is a Hobey Baker finalist and although he has cooled off a bit since the Beanpot, he is still the major offensive threat for Boston College. Pat Mullane is a solid scorer, Bill Arnold scored two goals in the loss to Lowell and the "Brownie" line (Patrick Brown, Brooks Dyroff and Quinn Smith) is coming together as an effective unit on both ends of the ice. Of note, Smith may have scored the overtime goal at Merrimack, but Dyroff was the last man on the ice during two late line changes in that game and instead of dumping the puck he got key shot on goal each time, resulting in key offensive zone faceoffs for the Eagles.
Unfortunately there has been little help from the other forwards. Danny Linell can't take advantage of help from his linemates Mullane and Gaudreau and score some goals. Destry Straight is not a wing that you would look to get the puck to in offensive situations and he is little help for Arnold and Whitney. The fourth line, with Michael Sit, Brendan Silk and Cam Spiro or Peter McMullen is so ineffective that they have been spending wide swaths of time on the bench. With the highly touted recruiting class for next year, a few of these players may be watching games next year dressed in suit and tie.
We also know that it is still a learning process for the young defensive corps. The elders, Patrick Wey and Isaac MacLeod are hardly Tommy Cross and Brian Dumoulin, but they are steady players. MacLeod in particular has an effective shot from the point and a knack for finding an opening, be it on goal or a rebound from the end boards. Michael Matheson is a superstar in the making, with the emphasis on "in the making." He is a tough a defenseman as the Eagles have had in several years, he skates like the wind, and he has great vision. Unfortunately he is prone to coughing up the puck at the wrong moment and this is where he will have to improve at BC before the Florida Panthers come calling. Travis Jeke has been a surprise among the freshmen, after sitting out the early part of the season. Since Patch Albers' injury in December, he has taken a big role on the team. He has a cockiness about him and he has a knack for getting shots on goal. To be a top player he will have to improve his vision up ice, as this has cost him on breakouts so far. There are still questions about the other freshmen, Teddy Doherty and Colin Sullivan. Doherty was an offensive force early, but has tailed off and Sullivan is a big, strong kid who is still learning what it takes at this level.
But, as associate coach Mike Cavanaugh told EagleAction recently, there are very few teams who are solid top to bottom and oftentimes they aren't the teams that win the championships. "I thought the 2010-2011 teams was as solid as any I had ever seen," Cavanaugh said, "but then they ran into a hot goalie and we were out in the first round of the NCAAs. Maybe Minnesota has that kind of depth this year, but they will need some luck too if they are to win it all."
Jerry York also knows that his teams have not won trophies and championships just because it says Boston College on the front of their jerseys. Other teams are good teams too, he has constantly reminded the press over the past several years. The logjam at the top of Hockey East proves that point. Boston College, Providence, UNH and Lowell. Merrimack is a point back. Boston University (yes, them) is two points back. Anything can happen. And Jerry York knows that a little bit of luck helps along the way too.
"It was two evenly matched teams (Lowell)," he said after that loss. "It all came down to 35 seconds in the third period. We had three guys pounding at the puck in front of their goal, they got the three on two breakout for the goal. It was that close."
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