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March 6, 2013The first thing we did Wednesday morning when we arrived at the Conte Forum for Boston College hockey practice was count heads. Healthy heads, that is. Would BC be at full strength for the trip to Burlington this weekend for two against UVM? Or would they be shorthanded like they were last Saturday night when Providence College came to Boston and kicked some butt?
Good news, Boston College fans. It looks like your team is back, mostly.
Going down the list of wounded Eagles, first we saw coach Jerry York (eye) skating at full strength. Then behind him came Patrick Wey (severely cut thigh) and he was striding out. On the other side of the ice Steve Whitney (badly bruised leg) was doing a few stops and starts. And, if that wasn't good enough, there was Patch Alber (knee surgery) taking part in skating drills a month before medical experts had predicted possible. The only one missing was Kevin Hayes and he is definitely out for the season and isn't even back on campus yet, still in St. Elizabeth's Hospital following three surgeries and now awaiting a possible fourth for the blood clot in his injured quad.
"It looks good for the weekend," York said following the workout. "Patrick Wey took part in the entire practice and it looks like he is ready for UVM. Steve Whitney skated the first half of practice and then he went back into the locker room, but I am hoping he will be ready too. And as for Patch Alber, he was out for the skating drills (with a red "no contact" jersey) and we may have him back for the first round of the playoffs. If not then, it will be the following weekend."
For anyone who saw the Eagles struggle last Saturday night against Providence while these Eagles watched in suit and tie, you know the importance of these top performers on a team that we all knew lacked depth since they first stepped on the ice for practice last September. With Wey, their most experienced defenseman, and Whitney, among the best players in the country, the Eagles went to Providence Friday night and came back with a hard fought victory over one of their key rivals for the Hockey East regular season championship. But the team that rode the bus home that night was obviously a different one that left The Heights a few hours earlier.
Wey got a severe gash in his thigh from a skate blade and it bled so much that Jerry York said "I thought he might have cut an artery, there was that much blood." Wey was in the original lineup for Saturday, but the leg tightened up and he was scratched before warm-ups. Whitney finished the game in Providence, but badly bruised a leg after being driven into the goal posts by a Providence player. The senior wing tried to play Saturday, but after a few shifts it was obvious that he wasn't much help on one leg and he was sent to the locker room halfway through the first period.
Of course York told the press that injuries are part of the game and he refused to make excuses following the 5-1 defeat. But, the team that he coached Saturday night, already missing Hayes and Alber, couldn't stand the pressure of playing without four of their aces. They were only down 1-0 after the second period ended, but with most of their stars double-shifting the Eagles ran out of gas as the third period began and the game was quickly over. Watching them was like watching a spring training baseball game, where the Red Sox have Pedroia and Ellsbury at the top of the lineup and then a bunch of Pawtucket guys following them in the order.
So, the Eagles go to Vermont following practice Thursday with the likelihood that they will field a competitive lineup. Their only chance of finishing first in the Hockey East regular season is if they can sweep the seventh place Catamounts and they would still have to hope that Lowell, Providence and UNH lose a game or two themselves. Significantly, UVM is in a tight battle for the final two available playoff spots with Maine and UMass, As Jerry York always says, it isn't easy to win a game when you are threatening to end a team's season. It's always difficult to take the sticks out of a team's hands, he says.
For Vermont, York will continue using 5'7", 178 pound Danny Linell on defense. "When Wey was doubtful last week, Danny came up to me in the locker room and volunteered to play defense," York said. "He told me that he played back a bit in prep school." Of course most coaches would hope to have the 200 pound guys filling that role (remember he had Brian Boyle- a foot taller than Linell- back there a few years ago), but York has never backed away from using guys like Linell and the Whitney brothers back on "D" when necessary.
Colin Sullivan, prototypically sized at a defenseman- like 6'1" and 205 pounds, is slated to skate on one of the front lines this weekend after months of struggling to adapt to the college game as a defenseman. Pat Mullane will have Quinn Smith on one of his wings and hopefully Whitney on the other. Bill Arnold and Johnny Gaudreau will stay together, probably with Destry Straight on the other wing. Pat Brown and Brooks Dyroff match up well on the grinding third line and there is a good chance that York will not go much deeper than that except a moment or two in each game.
One player that York won't have to find a position for on Friday night is Brendan Silk, the green freshman wing who looks to have a future at The Heights as he matures. Silk was handed a one-game suspension by Hockey East for a hit-to-the-head Saturday night. There was no penalty on the play, leading many to ask how the four officials on the ice could have missed such a heinous infraction.
Boston College NEWS