Friday, May 22, 2015

Know Your Enemy: Boston College

October is going to be an exciting time in Troy. Not only is a new season getting underway, but the Engineers will be welcoming a pair of the biggest heavy hitters that college hockey has in its ranks to the Field House for the first time in decades. The first of those teams will be kicking off RPI's NCAA home schedule, a team that only perhaps a bitter BU partisan would deny was the team of the decade in the first 10 years of the 2000s, and has easily been the most successful program of the 21st Century thus far with four national championships since the dawn of the millennium. Break out the fine china - hopefully they won't smash it to pieces.

Boston College
Nickname: Eagles
Location: Chestnut Hill, MA
Founded: 1863
Conference: Hockey East
National Championships: 5 (1949, 2001, 2008, 2010, 2012)
Last NCAA Appearance: 2015
Last Frozen Four: 2014
Coach: Jerry York (22nd year)
2014-15 Record: 21-14-3 (12-7-3 Hockey East, 2nd place)
Series: BC leads, 20-14-1
First Game: December 18, 1954 (Boston, MA)
Last RPI win: January 2, 1995 (Troy, NY)
Last BC win: October 13, 2013 (Chestnut Hill, MA)

2015-16 game: October 11, 2015 (Troy, NY)

Key players: D Teddy Doherty, sr.; F Austin Cangelosi, jr.; F Chris Calnan, jr.; G Thatcher Demko, jr.; F Ryan Fitzgerald, jr.; F Adam Gilmour, jr.; D Ian McCoshen, jr.; D Steve Santini, jr.; D Scott Savage, jr.; D Noah Hanifin, so.; F Zach Sanford, so.; F Alex Tuch, so.; F Jeremy Bracco, fr.; F Joey Dudek, fr.; F Colin White, fr.; F Miles Wood, fr.

Previous KYE installment:
Boston College was probably peeking from behind covered eyes when the NCAA tournament field was laid out in March, checking to see if Union was on the other side. The Dutchmen ended the Eagles' seasons in 2013 and 2014, but even though Union wasn't in the national tournament, the Eagles still couldn't manage to get past Denver in the Providence regional. That ended a year in which BC failed to win either the Hockey East regular season or the league tournament for only the third time in nine seasons.

BC was a strikingly young team last year. None of its top 10 scorers were seniors, and the starting goaltender was a sophomore. Such is the level of talent that BC attracts that the Eagles were still able to muster a second place finish in Hockey East and an NCAA tournament berth. It was a much more balanced attack than BC got from it's 2013-14 team, which featured Hobey Baker winner (and this year Calder Trophy finalist) Johnny Gaudreau scoring 80 points and his linemates, Kevin Hayes and Bill Arnold, amassing 65 and 53 points respectively. Last season, freshman Tuch and sophomore Gilmour paced the program with just 28 and 27 points each.

As usual, Boston College will boast a variety of outstanding pro-bound talents throughout its ranks. Nine NHL draftees return from last year's team. Wood (a former Brown commit) and Dudek arrive having already been drafted in the 2014 Entry Draft. White and Bracco should both be taken in the first two rounds of this year's draft. Then there's Hanifin, who most observers call the best player in the draft outside of the highly touted top duo of Connor McDavid and BU's Jack Eichel. It'll be somewhat shocking if he isn't taken by Arizona with the 3rd pick in the draft, and he's a question mark to return for his sophomore year. If he does return, he simply makes an already dangerous BC team even more deadly.

Demko, who earned his first collegiate win in a 7-2 home rout over RPI two seasons ago, anchors the defense. His numbers didn't exactly make him a candidate to be one of the best goaltenders in the nation, but they certainly placed him among the very best in Hockey East, and sometimes that's really all that matters - being better than the contemporaries in your conference.

BC last season wasn't a team that did anything excessively well, but they didn't do anything badly, either. In the big four categories (offense, defense, power play, and penalty kill), the Eagles ranged from 14th (penalty kill) to 35th (power play) in the nation. Typically, the nation's very best teams will be in the Top 10 in one or more of those categories. But when the worst part about your team is somewhat close to the national median, you're still doing pretty well - especially when you're as young as BC was last season.

York is entering his 44th consecutive season as a Division I head coach, 26 wins away from becoming the first coach in college hockey history to earn 1,000 wins. Putting that in perspective, RPI, since the modern era of the program began in 1950, has 999 wins, or just 25 more than York has behind the benches at Clarkson, Bowling Green, and Boston College.

Only twice in the last 18 seasons has Boston College failed to win 20 games, those were also the only seasons the Eagles have missed the NCAA tournament in that stretch (2002, 2009). BC and York together has simply been a winning combination and that will not end until York retires - and who knows when that could be. This will be BC's first trip to Houston Field House in 20 years, since just after York took over the program. That game coincidentally ended 7-2 as well, but in favor of the soon-to-be ECAC champions against a BC team still regularly finishing in the doldrums of Hockey East. The dynamics will be far different this time.

With or without Hanifin, the Engineers will be facing a difficult order. Home ice may well be the only advantage they'll have in this game, the second in a row against a tough Hockey East opponent.

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