College Hockey Banter, Week I: Preseason Primer

Douglas Jones-US PRESSWIRE - Presswire

BC Interruption welcomes its newest contributor, Joe Gravellese, BC '10, to cover hockey alongside Grant Salzano with the first weekly installment of Hockey Banter.

Grant Salzano: So we open up the first hockey week of the season this week with the first installment of hopefully many "Hockey Banters." This would not be possible without the help of our newest contributor, Joseph Gravellese.

Joe is a 2010 BC grad, like myself, and we were roommates through college. He was also the best man at my wedding. Needless to say... the banter comes easily.

Welcome, Joe!

Joseph Gravellese: Thanks!

Let's get right on to it, shall we?

In 2010 we all went into the season expecting BC to be loaded for bear and it ended with the Colorado College disaster. Last year we go into the season thinking it could be a rebuilding year and it ends with the title. This seems to be a bit of a pattern for BC. Is there any way to fairly gauge expectations right now?

GS: It's so tough to gauge expectations after not just winning it all but going on such a ridiculous tear to end the season, isn't it? The unknowns this year are pretty centered on one thing, and that's defense. Goalie, out of nowhere, is an incredible strength, and the offense has about as few questions as you could hope for. But losing Tommy Cross and Brian Dumoulin are going to be killer. Those are two NHL-caliber d-men.

Fortunately, they didn't totally carry this team at the end of the year. We hadn't given up more than two goals since the very beginning of the winning streak. That's not the result of just two marquee players. Freshman Mike Matheson is going to be a big piece to the puzzle and it will be fun to see what he can do right off the bat. But the ultimate destiny of this team – whether we're NCAA tourney-caliber or national title-caliber -- will center around the defense.

That brings up another point -- losing Frank Vatrano. Before I go off on my 'all is well' rant, what do you think about this from a team talent perspective?

JG: Well from a pure on-paper talent perspective it's hard to make up for losing KHL-level talent (see what I did there) on forward and on defense. But I actually do like the makeup of this team, for the same reason why I was optimistic going into last year -- there's a good mix of established talent and young guys fighting to make names for themselves. And it's good young talent, too; even without Vatrano we are bringing in one of the best classes in the country.

There should be enough roster turnover to prevent any sort of a championship hangover effect at forward.

GS: I agree. BU fans and others around the conference are just aching for something, anything to make us hurt (to make our team seem human?), but unfortunately for them, this just isn't going to be it. Vatrano was top-tier talent, there's no doubt. But we have talent to spare up front, up and down the forward lines. As you said, there is a lot of talent in the freshmen class, and someone who wants it is going to play their way into some meaningful time. And that would have been true regardless of whether Vatrano stayed at the Heights or not.

JG: Agreed. I'm gonna call this the Kenny Ryan rule: You can't miss what you never had.

An important thing to note, by the way, so we don't just get 100% swept up in the hockey implications here...

We obviously have no way of knowing the full story on Vatrano, but if it's true that there was some sort of clearinghouse issue where BC thought he'd be eligible but something got messed up with needed paperwork... Ugh. What a heartbreaker, and what an awful situation for an 18 year old who just moved in to BC.

Let's hope that whatever caused Vatrano's early departure, he's able to overcome it and have a good career somewhere, as long as it's not BU.

GS: Oh I feel nothing but awful for the kid. He looks like he's got a good head on his shoulders though, and made a hell of a good choice to stay in the US and keep his collegiate eligibility. It's a shame as he seems like just the kind of kid we'd have been proud to cheer for. But obviously we all wish him the best.

And as for BU... they sure could use some character guys after the few months they've had, huh?

JG: Oye. I mean obviously none of this is funny for any of the people involved. But you can't help but smirk at some of the stuff you see in these stories in terms of what the players said when they were called to speak to the panel studying the BU hockey culture. Talk about out-of-touch with reality.

This idea that BU's players have been, for lack of a better way of putting it, "unfocused on hockey." seems to make sense if you've watched them play over the past few years.

GS: I agree that it's not funny for the people involved. But honestly, eff 'em. That team deserves all of the embarrassment the Globe et al. can dish out. "Lack of institutional control" absolutely sums up that program's situation. I would go so far as to say BU hasn't been recruiting low character guys, but the culture has groomed these guys into what they're being portrayed as.

Parker is an embarrassment to the conference. I don't care if it's classless. I have enjoyed every second seeing that scummy program get dragged through the mud.

JG: Tell us how you really feel.

GS: Safety school.

JG: That was probably the biggest story in Hockey East over the offseason, but #2 may have been something completely and guiltlessly funny, the UMass coaching situation.

(Well, other than UConn, but I don't acknowledge their presence right now.)

GS: That UMass coaching search was like something straight out of The Onion, wasn't it?? "UMass Hockey Enthusiastically Welcomes Their Eleventh Choice For Head Coach."

JG: And once again, BC gets through another offseason without losing an assistant coach. We can't keep getting this lucky, can we?

GS: Sure we can. It's not coincidence. I've said it before and I'll say it again; being an assistant under the greatest head coach of all time and winning national titles is a better gig than head coach of a terrible program. I know many disagree, but that's what I think, anyway. Plus the assistants both know they have a better-than-average shot at taking the reigns of the best collegiate hockey program in North America.

JG: Maybe. But the temptation must always be there; you see it at all levels of all sports: guys rightly want to run their own show. We'll see what happens in coming years.

We'll save some of the team-specific previews for "Buy or Sell" later in the week, but one last Hockey East storyline: poor Vermont might be worse this year than they were last year. They lost their top recruit, plus Sebastian Stalberg went pro early... and Rob Madore graduated. Ouch.

GS: I'm going to miss Madore. We sieved him so much I think he was scarred for life. Poor guy.

How much lower can they get though? They won *six games* last year. Six! They were worse than -- gasp -- UConn. They're in need of a serious overhaul.

Remember when they were in the Frozen Four just a few years ago? Holy hell.

JG: It defies any explanation. Well, aside from the explanation that they made the Frozen Four by barely beating Air Force and Yale and kinda got lucky. But there's no reason why they should be this far down, this fast. Sneddon's put together a strong run during his years as Vermont coach, but the clock must be ticking.

On we go... time to look ahead to this weekend's games. On the women's side, we are thrown right into the fire with our opener being a home game against BU on Friday night. The men take on New Brunswick in an exhibition on Saturday.

How big is this opener for the women?

GS: It's absolutely enormous. This is the most talented team, top to bottom, we've ever had. And that's really saying something, since Olympians Kelli Stack and Molly Schaus both played hockey on the Heights at the same time, for four years. But depth always seems to have been an issue, and now there's just talent all over the place on this roster.

This year, BU seems to be like what BC was in those Stack/Schaus years: a good team with untouchable talent at the top. In the case of the Terriers, it's their famous "Sidney Crosby of Women's Hockey," Marie-Philip Poulin.

Did I tell you I got a Marie-Philip Poulin card in a pack of NHL cards I bought a few months back?

Anyway, Poulin might be a superstar, but finally, their other big name, Jenn Wakefield, has graduated. I feel like we could never get rid of her, between her time at UNH and transfer to BU.

BU will take a step back this year, but Poulin can steal games herself. So coming out strong against this team is just huge to start our season.

JG: BC and BU have definitely emerged as the class of women's Hockey East (sorry, UNH). It's kind of a bummer, to me, to start the season with such a huge game. But it certainly makes for some drama right off the bat.

GS: Do you realize we're done playing BU by November 3rd?? Who drew up this schedule??

JG: The same people who invited UConn to Hockey East and decided it made sense to let all 12 teams in the conference playoffs.

GS: Oh. Yeah.

JG: That should explain a lot.

GS: That conference playoff thing is interesting. The women expanded their playoffs as well, starting this year, but for a different reason. With the 6-team playoff we've had for a few years, the top two teams have really struggled in the semis and finals because of the off week. So the playoffs were expanded, not so much because of parity (though Hockey East easily has the most parity among the women's hockey conferences and it's not even close) but because the lack of games was hurting the top teams. So now all 8 teams make it. Call it the Vermont Rule in both men's and women's?

JG: It's interesting that giving the top teams a bye was a failure on the women's side but they're adding it to the men's playoffs. I don't see how taking a bye week is going to help a team in March unless they're nursing injuries. Hopefully Hockey East comes to their senses and at least makes the 5-12, 6-11 etc. matchups single-elimination on a weeknight and rolls right into the quarterfinals the weekend after the season ends. I know that's just a pipe dream, but that's what I'm hoping for.

The BC men open with a little game of shinny against New Brunswick. What are you looking for on Saturday night?

GS: REVENGE.

JG: Ha. Yes. For those of you who weren't there (i.e., pretty much everyone who is sane), the Eagles traveled up to New Brunswick in January of 2009 to play in the... it was some sort of challenge cup.

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Grant and I were there, along with two other friends. We witnessed BC split the two-game set, then lose the... Cup thing (?) in a shootout. Big bummer. But the New Brunswick fans were great, and one of them gave me a UNB jersey which is still in my closet somewhere. I mailed him a BC jersey in exchange. Hooray, diplomacy

GS: I'm still upset that we didn't force the shootout in the second game to force the shootout to decide the... Cup thing.

JG: On a serious note, Canadian college teams tend to feature older guys who maybe played Major Junior but didn't pan out. So they might not have the talent level of the NCAA teams they play in preseason, but they come in with a size advantage, an age advantage, and a few weeks of playing together under their belt. Basically, it's great preparation for playing Merrimack.

GS: Too bad that won't be as relevant as it would have been the last few years.

JG: These games tend to be shockingly physical and you always just hope to get out of them without an injury. We've had a few Canadian teams in that get completely run out of the building, but UNB usually puts up a good fight when they face American teams as they are consistently one of the best teams in Canadian college hockey. For perspective, last year UNB lost to UNH 3-0, lost to Maine 7-3, and tied UML 3-3.

GS: Oh God, that reminds me... didn't Petrecki destroy some Varsity Red in the first game up in New Brunswick and get ejected? The whole rest of the weekend all the New Brunswick fans kept asking us "Ooh, so that's what hockey's all aboot for you yanks in America, eh?"

JG: Yes, yes he did.

GS: That was one of the best stupid trips we've ever made (which is really saying something). Make sure you show the visiting New Brunswick fans some extra-good hospitality and treat them to a beer or two like they did for us.

JG: You bet. If there are Varsity Reds fans out there making the trip, come find me in Section OO.

Away from the Heights there are a few other games on tap.

Maine plays Quinnipiac in a game that counts up at Alfond Arena. And Merrimack travels to Union in a pretty big non-conference game to start the year, because yes, Union really did make it to the Frozen Four.

GS: That's silly.

JG: The rest of Hockey East eases in with exhibitions. BU faces Toronto and Northeastern faces St. Francis Xavier on Sunday afternoon. After they face us, UNB heads up to Orono for a big ol' regional rivalry game with the Black Bears on Sunday evening.

So, prediction time. Each week we should make our predictions for every Hockey East game/series, every BC women's game/series, and make an out-of-conference prediction.

Alright, here goes:

The ladies shake off some early rust and nip BU 2-1 on the strength of two goals by Carpenter.

The BC men roll over New Brunswick 4-0 and at least one freshman lights the lamp.

Maine should dispatch Quinnipiac at home.

Union will thump Merrimack. Since Union really did make the Frozen Four. (That really happened.)

And out of conference...

GS: Slim pickins this week...

JG: There's not much to choose from, so let's enjoy the lulz that Alabama-Huntsville will be playing the BAMA club team in an exhibition.

Huntsville prevails despite Nick Saban's stifling defense.

GS: HAHAHA I had no idea... that's the greatest exhibition I've ever heard of.

JG: We laugh about BAMA hockey but it's totally out of insecurity. We all know that once BAMA or Clemson or Texas decides to take hockey seriously they are going to run rampant on everyone within 10 years. Let's enjoy this while it lasts.

GS: Alright this is what I've got. Take it to the bank.

The BC women might show a bit of rust but a solid outburst in the 2nd half of the game overtakes the Terriers and we win 5-2.

I don't think the BC men will have much trouble with New Brunswick but I'm definitely throwing the Varsity Reds some love with a couple of theirs hitting the back of the net. We'll win 4-2.I agree on Maine and Quinnipiac, I'm a fan of the Q but Maine will take them at the Alfond.

Union and Merrimack play to a 1-1 draw, in a game that will somehow or another feature much fail.

And as much as I'd love to pick Huntsville to overtake the Alabama club team (God, this is such a fantastic matchup)... I'm going with a draw on that one as well, 3-3.

I love to pick draws. It's such a winning prediction strategy, all the time.

JG: Totally.

Hopefully this first edition of weekly banter wasn't too inane. We'll have more to chatter about once the games start... which is THIS WEEKEND, YES!

GS: Sport! Athletic competition!

JG: Check back later this week as we return to preview who'll rise or fall in Hockey East with a game of "Buy or Sell."

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