Tuesday, September 25, 2012
BC hockey starts season in familiar spot
By Brion O'Connor
BOSTON -- Hockey East's annual preseason media day must be starting to feel like Bill Murray's "Groundhog Day" for Jerry York and his Boston College squad. The Eagles, who made good on last year's promise, sweeping the Hockey East regular-season and playoff championships before ringing up the school's fifth national title after being voted No. 1 in the preseason coaches poll, again come into the season as the league's presumptive favorites.
This marks the fifth straight season that BC topped the in-house poll. The reigning NCAA champs garnered nine first-place votes to easily outdistance Norm Bazin's UMass-Lowell River Hawks. (York, who was not allowed to vote for his team, gave the nod to the New Hampshire Wildcats.) The Hockey East poll came on the heels of the USA Hockey's national poll, released a day earlier, that had BC tied for first place with the Minnesota Gophers, despite the Eagles having a 20-12 edge in first-place votes.
If the Eagles (33-10-1 last year) can duplicate their Tampa Bay title run this year in Pittsburgh, they will be the first East Coast team to repeat as NCAA champions in more than 40 years. The last team to pull off that feat was BC's archrival, Boston University, in 1971 and '72.
"We're expected to be good, and we want to be good," York said on Tuesday at the league gathering at TD Garden. "The thing we haven't been able to do is win back-to-back national titles. They're hard to win, but it's even harder to win in successive years."
BC captain Pat Mullane has been impressed by the Eagles' incoming freshman defensemen, who will be relied upon this season.
And it promises to be even harder with the loss of eight players, including leading scorer Chris Krieder (23 goals, 22 assists, 45 points), who bolted from Commonwealth Avenue after his junior year for Broadway when he signed with the New York Rangers last spring. Also gone are two-time All-American defenseman Brian Dumoulin (another junior departure) and senior defensive stalwarts Edwin Shea and captain Tommy Cross (a Bruins' draft choice who is expected to suit up for Providence this fall). In fact, defense gives York pause for concern.
"I feel pretty confident we'll be able to score goals," said York, who stands 11 wins shy of Ron Mason's all-time record of 924 collegiate wins. "Now we have to defend. The maturing of the young defensemen is going to be critical for us."
BC captain Pat Mullane (10-29--39), one of the forwards York expects to compensate for the absence of Kreider and graduated senior Barry Almeida (22-18--40), echoed his coach's assessment, saying the freshmen will be expected to fill the void left by Cross, Shea and Dumoulin.
"We have a young defensive class this year," Mullane said. "I'm confident that (senior defensemen) Pat Wey and Patch Alber will step up and take the young guys under their wings and say, 'This is how we play at Boston College.' If you look at when we won (the national championship) in 2010, we had four freshmen D in the lineup. So guys are going to have to step up, and I'm really happy with how the freshmen have looked so far.
"Obviously, those are big shoes to fill, but from what I've seen so far, these guys have the composure to deal with it."
Mullane noted that he's been particularly impressed with true freshman blue-liner Michael Matheson, a first-round draft choice of the Florida Panthers. "There's a lot of hype about him coming in, and so far everything's been true," Mullane said. "He was noted as the best skater in the draft last year, and the minute he stepped on the ice I was taken aback by how phenomenal his skating was and how mature he is."
Likewise, York said he expects Matheson and fellow freshmen Travis Jeke of Pittsburgh and Colin Sullivan of Milford, Conn., to step right into BC's starting rotation. "We'll probably see, or dress, three or four freshman D during the course of the year," the BC bench boss said. "As they mature, I think it'll make our team a lot better."
However, both York and Mullane alluded to the real key to BC's long-running success -- teamwork. Mullane said it might take time for the current edition of the Eagles to round into form, but he's confident they will.
"I think it's just building team unity at the beginning of the year, welcoming the freshmen, making them feel as comfortable as possible, but letting them realize that they're going to be just as big a contributor as (Hockey East playoff MVP) Johnny Gaudreau or (NCAA MVP goaltender) Parker Milner," he said. "We're going to need them to be successful."
York was more succinct, saying that the BC culture is built on team rewards, not individual accolades.
"I really think we've become very good at leaving your ego at the door," he said. "You can have good players, but if they don't develop and get better during the season and during their career, it doesn't account for much. So I think our players, they really feel that team goals are important for them."
York mentioned the leadership provided by his captains through the years, and how that trait has been a constant despite the ever-changing rosters of college hockey.
"We've got a number of players who could easily be thinking about Hobey Bakers and All-American (status), but they leave that as they come into the arena and they think about team aspects," York said. "And that's helped us an awful lot."
Last year, the Eagles found the offensive pop to replace the early departures of Cam Atkinson (Columbus Bluejackets) and Jimmy Hayes (Chicago Blackhawks), thanks in no small part to a pair of Calgary Flames draft picks, sophomore sensation Gaudreau (21-23--44) and junior Bill Arnold (17-19--36). If the Eagles can harness the team chemistry that made them unbeatable over the last 19 games of the 2011-12 season, they may not have to wait long before booking their hotel reservations for Pittsburgh.
The Hockey East coaches poll had BC a runaway selection for first, with a total of 90 points, followed by UMass-Lowell (74 points), Boston University (73) New Hampshire (63) Maine (56), Northeastern (44), Providence (44), Merrimack (38), Massachusetts (35) and Vermont (23).